Even if you are not facing an imminent vacancy within your organization, you may wish to begin preparing for what can be a “long” process. Executive searches can take several months from start to finish, even if you end up hiring someone already known to your nonprofit. Either way, there’s “no time like the present to get started!”

So How Do I Start?

If your goal is to hire the right person, consider forming a personal committee to start the process.  This doesn’t mean that all hiring decisions need to be made collectively, but it does mean that you can rely on other team members whom you trust to share valuable insights throughout the process.  By forming a personal committee, you can begin conversations about what you need to do if there was turnover with an Executive Committee or Board.  Even if your current executive director is not leaving, by having a committee in place enables your team members to have information available to them but also allows them to be on the lookout for potential successors.

One objective might be to determine if the organization should hire an executive search firm. Before outsourcing that search, look in your community and have conversations with other nonprofit boards throughout your state. The best person for the job may be a current board member, employee, or volunteer.

What’s Important in this Process?

To ensure your team will be ready to act when necessary, keep comprehensive, up-to-date job descriptions for key executive positions. They should detail required knowledge, skills, and abilities.  But don’t forget attitude!  Attitude is equally as important as qualifications.  Your organization’s strategic goals should also be integrated into the job descriptions. As part of ongoing succession planning efforts, your search team needs to periodically re-evaluate these descriptions. If, for example, your nonprofit is moving in a new direction, your next leader might need a different set of skills and experiences.

Also, begin thinking about how your team will conduct the executive director interview process. Who will be involved? What format will you use?  Will you use a one-on-one type of interview or group interview process? Perhaps most important, begin preparing questions that reflect your organization’s needs and culture.

Why is Compensation Such an Important Topic?

Although you may not be ready to discuss a specific salary, your nonprofit’s board and the search team should have a common philosophy about compensation. Factors that influence compensation decisions can include:

  • Your nonprofit’s size and complexity,
  • Its geographic location, service category and financial stability,
  • Desired qualifications, and
  • Competitiveness of the total package relative to comparable organizations.

One thing to consider is whether your salary range is in line with similar regional or national organizations, or with similar positions in the nonprofit sector. Also, determine whether compensation will be fixed or if the individual may receive a bonus or incentive pay.

Make it Effective!

Hiring the right executive director is too important to leave it alone until the last minute. With a written plan in place, your organization will be ready to conduct an effective search whenever it becomes necessary. In conclusion, cultivating, identifying, asking, and nurturing a strong nonprofit board now for a future executive hire will make the hiring process easier, less stressful and will help shape the organization for future growth and hiring opportunities!

Cathy Drzal for the Align Team