Navigating the Executive Search Process for Nonprofit Organizations

Navigating the Executive Search Process for Nonprofit Organizations

Navigating the Executive Search Process for Nonprofit Organizations

Hiring the right executive leader in the nonprofit sector plays a critical role in the future direction of the organization. This executive search process can be just as challenging as it can be rewarding, but it is assuredly worth the effort and time. Given the potential of what the right people in the right leadership positions can achieve, attracting and assimilating those leaders is crucial. Whether you are looking to hire a new CEO, CFO, or other key executive position, there are several tips, tools, and resources available to help you on your search.

Change at the executive level requires strong Board leadership. With advanced notice comes the opportunity for succession planning, and in the case of abrupt departures, tactical transition planning becomes invaluable. Many organizations find themselves striving to make good on promises to diversify their senior talent, increasing the diversity of voices in decision-making positions. On top of that, staff are asking for greater transparency in the recruiting and hiring of their leaders and teammates. Additionally, in a new world environment full of remote and hybrid positions, qualified candidates now need to bring a range of both in-person and virtual leadership skills. If like many organizations yours does not yet have clearly defined search and hiring steps and/or criteria, hiring an external executive search firm which already has these processes refined and polished, is an incredible option. More on those firms later.

Who Are You Looking For?

If the Hiring Committee on the Board of Directors doesn’t know what they want in an executive candidate, how can they be expected to know when they’ve found what they’re looking for? While yes there is a space for happy accidents and just having the right feel with someone, the Board should have tangible reasoning to connect those gut feelings to. In order to achieve this, before beginning the recruiting process, the importance of open dialogue among Board members during the creation/re-writing of a role description cannot be overstated enough. Be careful and deliberate in determining what skills and attributes are best suited or required for the role. It can be tempting to create the job description or list of needed attributes in response to failures or issues with the outgoing leader, i.e. if the outgoing leader was too collaborative and didn’t make enough decisions, don’t only look at candidates who are only decisive and isolated decision-makers. Was the problem with the old leader having too much feedback injected into their process? Or perhaps it was rather that the feedback was not harnessed and used appropriately? Again, focus on what works versus what did not. Also crucial to this determination process is salary discussions. Be clear in determining what salary the organization is ready to pay for this position, and then hold to that as you move forward.

Once all the pieces have been discussed, compile the information into an updated job description that includes key responsibilities, qualifications, and other relevant details. Depending on how long the previous leader has been in place, much has likely changed both in the world outside the organization as well as the world within it. Making sure that the job description is accurate to current organizational needs is critical for attracting the right candidates and for setting appropriate expectations for the search committee.

The Search

Once a clear understanding of the position has been established, the search process begins – and it starts with a search plan. The plan should include a realistic timeline for the search process, potential candidates, and an agreed upon plan for how all candidates will be evaluated and vetted. Next comes candidate sourcing and searching, from posting it on websites to spending time hunting through job boards. Potential candidates must then be thoroughly and equally vetted through a rigorous process of reviewing resumes and cover letters, engaging in rounds of interviews, checking references, conducting background checks, and more.

Don’t Rush the Process

This is not a process that can be rushed. If you think you don’t have time for all of this, take a step back and think about how many hours will be spent working through problems with the wrong hire or even the time to potentially replace them, starting the entire process over from the beginning. Poor planning and lack of attention to searching for your next nonprofit leader can negatively impact current staff and the organization’s mission. While the right hire will rarely be a quick process, it will be worth it, as the wrong hire will result in huge expenditures of lost time, lost opportunity, and lost momentum.

Still don’t think you have the time and bandwidth for this process? Or don’t have the needed expertise for an executive leadership search? Never fear! Your helpful executive search firm is here! Finding candidates and hiring ideal executives is not something many people are well versed in, and as with any problem, turning to the experts is always a good idea. At Scion Executive Search Nonprofit, we specialize in nonprofit leadership and in matching the right candidate to the right organization. One could say we love the challenge of finding the puzzle pieces that fit together best. We know that strong leaders come in a wide range of packages and with a variety of backgrounds, and our inclusive recruiting practices strengthen our candidate pool.

Think Long-Term

Navigating the executive search process is daunting and a huge time commitment — there unfortunately is no way around it. However, with the right tools and a positive and collaborative attitude, search committees can find their new senior staff member with relative ease. Always remember throughout the process to maintain clear and open communication with all stakeholders – including current staff, the candidates themselves, and other board members. Transparency and honest communication will help keep everyone on the same page and keep the process running smoothly. Using an executive search service, especially one that has a strong background of working with nonprofit organizations, can alleviate much of the heavy lifting, leaving your team to focus on their mission.

Scion Executive Search – Your Nonprofit Executive Search Partner

Not sure if an executive search firm is right for your organization and your executive search process? Contact us today to learn more about how the executive search process works and see if our executive search teams can’t make life a little bit easier for you. Our clients each receive unparalleled reach into national and local networks, containing millions of nonprofit executive candidates. From executive leadership in social services to foundations, Scion Executive Search Nonprofit stands ready to connect you with the talent you’re searching for.

About the Author

Bailey Olderog, Technical Writer (she/her/hers)

Bailey Olderog brings her passion for storytelling and language to her role as technical writer at Scion Executive Search (SES). She is dedicated to telling the stories of others, and it has been her lifelong effort to make contributions that ensure that even the quietest of voices are heard.

Bailey has spent most of her career in service to those who serve. Her extensive public sector experience includes ghostwriting for elected officials and military generals, authoring investigations and public reports, and bringing a voice and audience to those without a platform. She believes language is an art and enjoys using language to advocate for others in ways that are professional, clear, and respectful.

Veterans’ mental health and support have been the guiding star in her career; Bailey volunteers at and has extensively advocated for veteran organizations in her native Texas. She has spent over a decade researching PTSD in veterans, using her research and connections to advocate for positive change and support for military families. She has written extensively on behalf of service members in need of assistance, as well as for military leaders seeking authentic ways to connect with their personnel. She has organized events and supported advocacy efforts for organizations such as Gideons 300 and Texas Veteran County Service Officers. On a nice day, you can often find her volunteering at a park or trail cleanup.

Bailey received her degree in political science from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where she also minored in studio art.