This project was undertaken to provide a way to help harm reduction agencies reduce the harms that can and have happened during leadership and other major transitions.

As the harm reduction movement approaches age 40, organizations have come and gone and so have leaders. Sometimes these transitions have been seamless, clean affairs but, at times, they have been catastrophic upheavals that have leveled important agencies doing invaluable work.

All the stakeholders in this project – funders, authors, and all the people they spoke with – have seen and experienced these transitions, felt their repercussions and want to learn from our collective successes and failures. As a movement, we can then get better at making sure that inevitable changes in leadership result in stronger, more creative, vibrant and functional organizations that continue serving their missions and participants.

If you read nothing else read the following few points about succession planning. Prepare, make some short term goals and finally make long-term goals to be Ready4Change:


  • Make conscious choices around culture and org design.
  • Learn harm reduction leadership “best practices” and practice them
  • Look at organizational power objectively and be transparent about decision making.
  • Delegate.
  • Identify and mentor emerging leaders.
  • Cross train and “proceduralize”.

Short Term

  • Talk with Board of Directors/primary decision-making body.
  • Ask Exectutive Director/leadership about succession planning (if that’s not your current position).
  • Collect login & password info in one place and make sure that at least one other person has access.
  • Save important personnel & organizational documents in one place and make sure that at least one other person has access.
  • Share checklist draft.

Long Term

  • Mentor your board(s) to better support leadership around transition.
  • Conceptualize plans for 3 different transition scenarios: short term/temporary, planned permanent, unplanned permanent.
  • Include succession planning in strategic planning.
  • Talk about leadership transition as a normal situation that organizations should expect to happen, thus planning for it is part of an organizational sustainability process.
  • Document other important aspects of the organization such as relationships, vendors, contract/grant information and so on.
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
Stephen Hawking

For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. 

James Baldwin
This project was developed by:

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