You Need to Hire an Executive Director for Your Nonprofit — Now What?
In the chaos of the 2020 pandemic, many individuals in the nonprofit arena have experienced downsizing, rightsizing and organizational employment reevaluations. As the tide of uncertainty moved in a variety of directions, organizations lost valuable employees, including executive directors. As we move into the fall of 2021, many organizations have determined to organizationally regroup and begin to look for new employees plus leadership.
This activity has put new stress on nonprofit boards and remaining organizational executives to determine employment search strategies. As a result, I have been personally contacted for advice by several organizations in this regard. Many need this advice, counsel and guidance as to the nonprofit executive search process because the executive director departures were unexpected. Search expertise for this key position did not exist within the existing organization.
The Moran Company noted that when the executive director suddenly departs, someone must run the organization. Options include using current senior staff as an interim, not only as a necessity, but to see if an inside candidate emerges. Consider using a present board member to volunteer as an interim executive director (They will need to resign from the board during this period and not serve as board chair following this assignment). Hire an interim executive director for a specific period between executive directors if this person would not be a candidate for the full-time position. You need time for the search process to take place for maximum effectiveness.
A blog by Donor Box indicates that hiring a good nonprofit executive director makes a difference in the future of the organization. The board depends on the executive director to effectively direct day-to-day operations of the organization. When considering hiring an executive director, understand what skills are needed, as well as the budget and salary level you are ready to pay.
Also consider the factors involved in finding the right person by determining who meets the essential requirements of the job, how candidates compare with what is needed and who would be the best executive director for the organization at this time in its history. You need to determine your current needs, outline the position description and salary range, create a process to screen applicants, assess candidates through a rigorous interview process, hire the successful candidate, draft an employment agreement, and enable the new leader to have a thorough orientation process.
An additional article by Moran Company emphasizes that hiring an executive director is likely the most important decision a nonprofit board will face during its time in office. The board needs to place its best members on the executive director search committee. Then determine the interim executive director process, define the search process and steps to take, figure out if a nonprofit executive search firm is needed, plus create a written position description. Also, the board should establish a timetable for this scenario to begin and possibly end.
A Bridgespan article reinforces the position that an organized search committee is a key factor in the successful recruitment of an executive director. This committee starts with the recruitment of an outstanding search chair with quality leadership skills. It is important to build consensus between committee members. The search chair needs to keep the board chair aware of the search process, recruit the search committee, create a structure for search committee meetings and identify someone to manage logistics. This includes establishing a system for developing, interviewing and selecting candidates to continue through all aspects of the search process.
The search committee, when recruited, should consist of five to eight people. Make sure various constituencies make up the search committee. Determine if you need or want to engage a search firm to direct the search. A position description needs to be created and discussion should ensue regarding establishing an applicant pool.
The committee needs to establish criteria for screening and advancing candidates in the search process. The committee should interview five to eight potential first-round candidates in which two to three candidates advance to the second round. Reference checks come into play as the candidates progress. The search chair and search committee need to create a package to offer to the finalist with the search chair/board chair presenting and negotiating the offer.
To get to the final verdict, the successful candidate will have to answer a variety of key questions. Joan Garry believes there are 10 questions every search committee should ask executive director candidates and these candidates must be prepared to answer.
These questions are as follows:
- Tell us why you want to lead this organization.
- Offer your assessment of the programs and services of our organization.
- What do you believe is the key to successful fundraising? Tell us a story from your experience that represents that vision.
- How will you balance the inside/outside element of your role?
- If I took one of your direct reports out for coffee to get the real skinny on you, what would they say?
- What do you see as the role and value of the board in your success as an executive director? Can you offer us a few examples?
- Executive directors often find themselves “working the room” at a gala, cocktail party or some other kind of community event. What is your approach?
- Tell me about a professional failure you experienced and what you learned from it.
- As an executive director, you will be both a leader and a manager. How do you see these roles intersecting?
- It is six months into your tenure. How will we know we made a great hire?
- Bonus — What else should we know about you?
- Bonus — Is there anything else you would like to ask us about the organization?
- Bonus — In your preparation for this interview, can you tell us about the best of class organization that could serve as a model for our organization?
A Causevox blog also provided nine “must ask” interview questions for executive directors. These include the following questions:
- What is your management philosophy?
- What is your experience with strategic planning?
- Do you have experience budgeting?
- Tell me about your comprehensive fundraising experience.
- What is your leadership style?
- How would you handle criticisms from the media?
- Can you tell me about a time when you handled a complex problem?
- How well do you work with a board?
- What is one thing you would do differently for this organization?
- Bonus: What is the mission, vision and values for this organization?
In summary, your executive director is the chief administrator, fundraising leader, chief communicator, budget leader, major strategist, management leader, and board cheerleader for your organization according to chron.com. If that position is vacant, you must learn how to recruit for this position. Your organizational goal is not to survive but thrive!
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.