Hiring a Nonprofit Executive Director – First Steps for the Board

by William J. Moran, J.D., M.S.Ed.

Hiring a new nonprofit Executive Director is likely the most important decision a nonprofit Board will face during its tenure.  So the first steps in this process are critical.

First, assemble the Board Search Committee.  Put your best board members on this committee.  Especially important is the committee chair.  Pick someone well respected among the Board…perhaps a former chairperson of the Board.  Four to five committee members is a good number.

To be honest, using Board members as the search committee is a double-edged sword.  The Board is the governing body and should have full ownership in the search process.  Also, individual Board members have invaluable perspectives and experience in the CEO search.  On the other hand, most Board members are “amateurs” when it comes to nonprofit organizations, governance, fundraising and other skills needed for the position.

Therefore, if possible, the search committee should include a member (or advisor to the committee) who is experienced with nonprofit organizations and the leadership skills needed for this position.  One option is to hire an executive recruiter who specializes in nonprofits to act as the “advisor” to the committee.

Usually, the current Executive Director (if he or she is in good standing and still in the picture) should not be a voting member of the committee. You do not want the current Executive Director picking his/her successor.  Also, his or her presence may bias the search process by hampering others’ ability to freely discuss the position’s history and the skills needed to move the nonprofit forward.

On the other hand, the current Executive Director can have valuable input into the skills and experience needed for this position.  He/she knows the job better than anyone and can serve as an important “advisor” to the committee.

Also, it is best not to have other senior staff on the committee. They should not be picking their “boss.”  But again, senior staff are invaluable as resource individuals to help define the position and the skills needed for the position.  Their input and feedback should be actively sought.

Here are some agenda items for the first several meetings:

1. Interim arrangements needed to run the nonprofit during the search period (Is there a senior staff person available?  Should you hire an interim Executive Director?)

2. Define the search process

3. Decide whether to hire a nonprofit executive search firm

4. Brainstorm critical skills and experience needed for the position

5. Develop a written job description (Have this reviewed and approved by the committee and key stakeholders)

If you are looking at a nonprofit executive search firm, here are some things to consider:

* Is the recruiter experienced in nonprofit organizations and nonprofit Board governance?

* Is the recruiter an expert in the position to be hired?  If the position is for an Executive Director, has the recruiter been an executive director?

* Does the recruiter have a network of contacts in the “community” where candidates are to be found?

* Is the recruiter a self starter? Will they be pro-active in the search?  Will they actively pursue individuals who may not apply but would be a good fit for the position?

* Does the recruiter have a sound process for identifying and screening candidates?

* What is the recruiter’s style in working with the search committee?  Collaborative?

If you have an engaged Board, a strong search committee, expertise in nonprofit management and a robust search process, chances are you will end up hiring a great Executive Director.

Bill Moran, The Moran Company, specializes in nonprofit executive searches for fundraising staff and executive directors. www.morancompany.com

© 2012 The Moran Company “We find great nonprofit executives”