May 22, 2024


Business – Your Game

Nonprofit Organization President Search To-Do List

You’re a board member of a nonprofit organization where the President/CEO (possibly Executive Director) just announced he/she is leaving. What do you do now?

For more than 30 years in higher education and as a trustee or director on nonprofit boards I watched this scenario from several angles: trustee, candidate in a search, administrator directing a search, incoming president, outgoing president. What I’ve learned is that, while most trustees are business owners who’ve hired and fired, few have selected a nonprofit executive. Trust me; it’s an experience that’s “way different” from corporate.

Nonprofit executive selection processes are typically open, public, “political,” lengthy affairs in which stakeholders frequently assert their “right” to participate in the selection process if not actually to make the choice. In the cacophony that often follows it doesn’t take long for trustees to wonder who let the dogs out.

So, to maintain some sanity the next time your nonprofit executive leaves, follow this To-Do List, itemized in approximate chronological order:

  1. Address President’s transition with Board of Trustees.
  2. Announce presidential transition to personnel and public.
  3. Establish Search Plan, including committee structure, participants, procedures, etc.
  4. Establish President’s Search calendar.
  5. Establish a communications strategy for informing trustees, personnel, students, et al.
  6. Establish a President’s Search budget and institutional account for cost accounting.
  7. Publish Chairperson’s statement on the critical importance of confidentiality.
  8. Determine whether to appoint a Search Consultant: individual or firm.
  9. Consider whether, where, when to schedule a Board of Trustees retreat, as needed.
  10. Restate the vision and mission of the organization and clarify leadership needs and opportunities with the Board, personnel, and constituency.
  11. Develop President’s Search link and page categories for organizational website.
  12. Create website mechanisms for constituent questions, participation, and nominations and authorize individual(s) to review this information.
  13. Appoint Search Committee, select Chairperson, and charge with tasks and timeline.
  14. Appoint, as required, relevant advisory committees and charge with tasks and timeline.
  15. Develop Search documents: Position Announcement, Job Description, Opportunity Profile, Applicant Questions and Procedures.
  16. Post Search documents on organizational website.
  17. Identify associations, periodicals, and websites for posting Position Announcement.
  18. Determine name to grace cover letter emailed or mailed acknowledging inquiries, and write this letter.
  19. Determine information requested of applicants: Resume, Answers to Applicant Questions, References, and for faith-based organizations, possibly a statement of religious experience.
  20. Direct inquiries and applications be submitted electronically or mailed to the organization, search consultant/firm, or post office box contracted for this purpose.
  21. Determine authorized recipient for email or mail pertaining to the search: Search Committee member, consultant, Director of Human Resources, administrative assistant, et al.
  22. Determine what criteria will be employed in screening applicants.
  23. Determine how and by whom applicants will be informed when they are released from further consideration.
  24. Assign Human Resources to administer standard psychological tests to semi-finalist or finalist candidates.
  25. Determine when and how many references will be requested from semi-finalists and/or finalists, who will contact these references and when, and what questions will be asked of all references.
  26. Establish interview process, including whether off-site “pre-interviews” will be scheduled and who will participate.
  27. Identify interview questions and coordinate who on various committees will ask.
  28. Determine when and where the Search Committee will interview semi-finalists and/or finalist(s) and whether candidate’s spouse will be invited (a common nonprofit organizational practice).
  29. Determine whether, then when and where advisory committees will interview semi-finalists and/or finalist(s).
  30. Determine when and where the Board of Trustees will interview finalist(s) and whether candidate’s spouse will be invited.
  31. Consider whether finalist(s) must be asked to return for additional interview(s).
  32. Identify how and when a new search will be initiated and communicated if the right candidate for President is not identified in the President’s Search.
  33. Make Search Committee recommendations to the Board of Trustees.
  34. Schedule Board of Trustees meeting for Board vote on recommended finalist.
  35. Establish approximate compensation and contract (if any) to guide Chairperson in negotiations with finalist on behalf of the Board of Trustees.
  36. Seek ratification by the Board of compensation and contract.
  37. Coordinate with appointee the content and timing of internal personnel communications, news releases, and other public relations announcements of new President’s appointment.
  38. Identify dates for first day in office and, as appropriate, recognitions and celebrations.

It’s a big job. But if it’s done professionally with integrity, it’s worth it. Remember, aside from establishing an organization’s strategic vision, there’s nothing a Board of Trustees does that’s more important than selecting the best and right President of the organization. Happy hunting.