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Custodians and Succession Planning

11 Oct 2023

Guest blog by Sophie Hayles: Custodians and Succession Planning


Guest blog by Sophie Hayles, Arts & Business NI Board member and CEO at the Crescent Arts Centre. 




There’s a term we use a fair bit at The Crescent Arts Centre - ‘custodians’. At first it sounded a little crusty and formal, but the more, as colleagues, we inhabit it, the more we like it. Why? Because ultimately it’s about taking care of something, and in many ways evokes similar feels to the term ‘curator’ (arguably hyped into megalomanic taste-making tendencies in some art forms in the last decades, but which at its roots is about taking care of a collection - from the Latin curare: to take care of).

As staff of a civic building, I take strength in the perspective that we’re here for a period of time to sustain the organisation into its next phase. Of course, we have agency to make decisions about the kind of organisation we want it to be while we’re here, but ultimately we’re looking after it and ensuring its relevance for the future.

My job is to ensure a ‘healthy’ organisation: I think regularly about what that means in practise. With all that ethical confidence in mind, I’ll admit to being a little rocked, and therefore excited, a few months ago when I caught sight of B&G’s Workshop on ‘Succession Planning for CEOs of Non-Profits’. It wasn’t that it incurred new thoughts necessarily, but the idea of sharing them made my posture a little better, and my resolve a little stronger: As custodian of an organisation, what is it exactly that I want to leave, to pass on? And is it about me? My colleagues? The Board? Our Funders, our Partners? Ben and Gerald guided us beautifully.

We were encouraged to talk practicals:
 What are the core/unchanging things that you think sit at the heart of the organisation?
• What could change and why?
• What are the essential qualities for Leadership, and Board?
• Funders and Partners need to know there’s a Succession Plan - for staff and board - do we have one?

There was also ample space for the emotions: while change is a natural process, it’s also hard. Change is not simply a Job Advert, it’s a process of understanding and processing dynamics and relationships at multiple levels. And this is what our sector, in theory, does beautifully: we’re a collective network that makes change. As a result of participating in the Workshop I have many more questions for B&G about Board Succession Planning. Not least around effective ways to keep Board Members meaningfully engaged once an official term ends.

I look forward to listening and learning with you at the A&B NI annual Governance conference on 12 October.

Our Funders & Partners

Arts & Business NI is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.