Recruiting Nonprofit CEO/Executive Directors – Maintaining Confidentiality

By Don Harkins
Senior Search Consultant
The Moran Company “We Find Great Nonprofit Executives”

Any change in senior leadership can be unsettling for a nonprofit. Confidentiality is key when it comes to recruiting and hiring a new CEO/Executive Director, and yet transparency on how the process will proceed can help counteract the tendency for such changes to create organizational angst and/or confusion. Finding the right balance between privacy and openness is essential.

The following questions are important to answer in an upfront way with staff, and, perhaps, other key constituencies (i.e., major referral or funding sources):

  1. What is the rough timeline anticipated to recruit and hire the next CEO/Executive Director?
  2. How will the nonprofit be led during the transition if it’s expected that there will be a break between the outgoing CEO/Executive Director and the incoming Executive Director/CEO?
  3. What attributes are Board members looking for in the next CEO/Executive Director?
  4. Will there be a regional/national search conducted?
  5. Will an executive search firm be assisting the Board?
  6. What role—if any— is the staff expected to play in the interview/ selection process?
  7. How can a staff member “throw their hat in the ring” if they meet the requirements for the position?

While being transparent about the issues outlined above can reduce angst and confusion during the transition, there is a real need to also be careful about maintaining confidentiality regarding the candidates that choose to apply. From a practical standpoint, the nonprofit wants to attract the best possible candidates and treat them all well. If the experience is a good one, a strong external candidate may choose to explore other/future opportunities within the organization even if he or she is not selected for the current vacancy. On the other hand, not being careful regarding candidate confidentiality may turn off a strong local candidate who might have otherwise been a contender for the current job, or create unnecessary internal turmoil if it becomes known that a current staff member is applying.

It is often helpful to have an outside executive search firm assist in the identification and screening of candidates. This way, a greater level of confidentiality can be maintained by this third party recruiter as applicants are pared down to the strongest candidates before scheduling interviews with the broader Board Search Committee. At the point the Board (and perhaps key staff) begin to receive information about the specific candidates, it is critical that all recipients of that information understand the importance of keeping that information confidential.

Preserving and protecting confidentiality about the applicants extends to the following details (if shared):

  • Personal identifying information such as name, address, telephone number(s), email address(es), age, and marital/family situation
  • Person’s current employment situation, if employed
  • Person’s prior work history and educational background
  • Most recent wage rate
  • Comments offered by those being contacted as “references”

Additional considerations in treating candidate information as confidential extend to when and where discussions about candidates are held, maintaining control over the distribution list(s) for emails/memos, and making sure candidates know how to maintain contact with the nonprofit as they go through the process. By exercising these precautions, all applicants can be assured their candidacy is being treated as confidential, which will help the candidates feel confident that the organization is operating in a professional manner, thus inspiring confidence in the process and the organization.

Read more on a similar topic about what personal questions to avoid asking applicants in one of our previous articles: Nonprofit Interviewing: Legal Questions for Interviews“. We work with Boards and Search Committees as part of our recruitment process to develop appropriate and useful interview questions. If The Moran Company can assist your nonprofit with an upcoming executive search, simply contact us for a free 30-minute consultation for your organization.

Want more articles like this delivered directly to your in-box?  Sign up for our E-Newsletter.

© 2018 The Moran Company, “We find great nonprofit executives.” We specialize in searches for nonprofit executive directors, directors of development/fundraising staff, and other top nonprofit leadership.