5 Traps That Can Derail a Nonprofit Search for an Executive Director

by William J. Moran, J.D., M.S.Ed
The Moran Company  “We Find Great Nonprofit Executives”

Here are some traps that may derail a nonprofit looking to hire their new Executive Director.

1. Not Doing the Pre-Search Preparation

  • Review the current strategic plan. The strategic plan sets the direction and priorities for the organization. A review of this plan will help determine the skills needed in the next Executive Director.
  • Identify the top objectives or challenges facing the nonprofit and the new Executive Director.
  • Based upon your review, decide what attributes are needed in the new Executive Director. Put these attributes into writing and have the Board approve them. That becomes the Position Description. You should keep this Position Description in front of you as you are interviewing.

2.  Not Picking the Right People for the 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. This committee should be integrated with current Board leadership so that the Board will have full ownership in the Committee’s decisions. One option is to use the Board Executive Committee as the Search Committee.
  • It is important to have Search Committee members who have significant nonprofit experience. The Search Committee often is only made up individuals from the for-profit sector. Yet it needs to have a solid perspective on what it takes to run a nonprofit. There are certain nonprofit skills not found on the for-profit side. For example, the nonprofit process often is more collaborative. It takes skill to partner with a Board of Directors. One usually needs fundraising experience, as well. One way to get this nonprofit perspective is to use the retiring Executive Director (if there is one) in an advisory role. An alternative is to work with a nonprofit search firm.

3.  Relying Too Much on Posting of the Position and Review of Resumes.

  • Board members are volunteers. They have limited time. However, simply posting the position and reviewing the resumes that come in limit the candidate pool. You are only looking at active job seekers. What about all the individuals who are not actively looking for work but might be interested? These are often the best candidates. Frankly, it may take a professional search firm to actively seek out these “passive” candidates.

4.  Not Being Responsive to Candidates.

  • You are “recruiting” the best candidates. The best candidates are interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. They have other options. They will look for hints and clues about you as a Board and nonprofit. If you are not responsive to their inquiries, or if you do not do what you say you will, they begin to wonder if you are such a great organization. They will back off. You have to put your best foot forward.

5.  Not Supporting the New Leadership.

  • Once the hire is made, the Board needs to set expectations and support the new Executive Director. This is especially true if changes are needed in the organization. Change brings conflict and resistance. The Board Chair and new Executive Director should meet regularly. (Breakfast once a week is not too often.) Expectations for the first 6 months and 1 year should be agreed upon. On the for-profit side, coaching often is provided the new CEO. Consider that for the new Executive Director.

For more information about onboarding the new Executive Director, view our previous blog post, “Get the New Nonprofit Executive Director Onboard: The Critical Period After Selection”, written by Bruce Scott. At The Moran Company, we customize our recruitment efforts and are invested in your long-term success. To learn more about how we can assist your nonprofit with an upcoming executive search, simply contact us for a free 30-minute consultation for your organization.

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© 2017 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. www.morancompany.com