Executive Search Process Timeline for Nonprofit Searches

Executive Search Process Timeline for Nonprofit Searches

Executive Search Process Timeline for Nonprofit Searches

The executive search process is critical for any nonprofit organization that is seeking to find the right candidate for top-level positions, as a leader’s ability to effectively guide the team in a positive direction, shape organizational vision, and foster a healthy work environment is instrumental to ongoing success. The search for a new executive leader requires a significant investment of time, resources, and expertise, things that a busy organization doesn’t always have the capacity to tackle effectively. Recruiting executives is not a quick process – the stakes are high and it’s critical to think of the executive search process as an intentional investment of time- now is not the time to move so fast that options are not able to be considered. Identifying and acquiring an executive leader often takes much longer than lower-level positions, and this is by design. Given the complexity and risk associated with false-positive outcomes, savvy nonprofits often choose to partner with an executive search firm. With an experienced partner by your side, you will benefit by leveraging the expertise of the firm by identifying and securing exceptional talent to lead the organization while upholding growth and mission alignment. However, before hiring an executive search firm, an organization must establish its Search Committee.

Search Committee

A central and critical element of an effective executive leader search process is your organization’s Search Committee. Determining both who will be on this committee and what individual responsibilities will be for each Search Committee member is paramount. Additional factors to discuss with the team include clearly articulating what an ideal candidate will possess with regard to experience and skills, identifying where flexibility exists with regard to desired skills and experience, planning ahead for search committee members to be present for check-in meetings and multiple rounds of interviews (being present for all rounds is ideal), how many rounds of interviews will be needed, who will lead the committee internally and serve as the primary contact/liaison to the executive search firm, etc.

Time, Objectivity, Experience, & Confidentiality

While it may feel like a big step to sign up with a search firm as your partner, it is essential to consider the value a search firm brings to the table as the leader of recruitment. In addition to providing you with private access to their cultivated network of leaders, executive search firms also ensure maximum ROI – optimizing efficiency through proactive strategic planning and facilitating processes that ensure objective and unbiased outcomes are achieved. An executive search firm will advise your organization and Search Committee on best practices, and work tirelessly to ensure optimal outcomes by serving as an advocate for both your organization as well as candidates engaged – ensuring that the views of all parties are thoughtfully considered and represented.

Research Search Firm Options

The first step in using an executive search firm is researching your options. Although there are a lot of firms out there, it is important to identify a firm that specializes in nonprofit searches and has a strong (proven) track record of success. If you’re not sure where to start, HuntScalon lists the top 60 executive search firms serving the nonprofit sector, and Foundation List has a great list of executive search firms broken down by category of specialty. Encourage your Search Committee to consider factors such as the firm’s reputation, the depth of experience (including work with similar organizations and experience recruiting for similar roles), as well as understanding what the firm’s fees will cover (i.e., length of placement guarantee, are the fees all-inclusive or will there be additional fees, etc.). It is important to recognize the value of the firm you are selecting as they are your public-facing partner. While fees are important to consider, it is essential to consider how this firm will be representing your organization publicly.

Once you have determined your top firms, set up further learning conversations so that you can ask questions and interact with your proposed partners (determining whether or not there is potential for synergy). In addition to including the entire Search Committee in the further learning conversations so that everyone is able to understand the structure of the firm’s executive search process, their fees (and all that is included- i.e., guarantee period, reference verifications, etc.), as well as communication cadence/general expectations. Once you have identified a partner, it will be time to sign a letter of engagement and you’ll be off to the races!


Your search firm partner is an expert contracted to produce optimal recruiting outcomes on your behalf. Trust in their guidance, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and know that your partner is working with the best of intentions to ensure incredible results are produced for your nonprofit.


Job Description and Search Criteria

Your search principal will set up meetings with stakeholders to identify and discuss search criteria so that an effective and accurate position announcement can be developed and shared publicly. Through strategic calibration meetings, the search principal will be able to guide the committee toward reaching a consensus- which is critical to achieve before the search goes live (and candidates are engaged).


Successful executive candidate search outcomes are achieved by creating a close and trusting relationship between Search Committee members and your selected executive search firm partner. Honest and prompt feedback from the Search Committee is necessary as the recruiting firm’s candidate consideration/engagement process is evolutionary. Provide your search partner with honest and prompt feedback so that the information you share can be harnessed proactively and shape/further refine the direction of the search. Your executive search firm of choice is an expert and their recommendations stem from their years of experience in this space.



Our Process

Here at Scion Executive Search (SES), we work with our clients to customize the schedule for every retained search so that key deliverables are produced at times that meet the needs of both the organization as well as the schedules of the stakeholders involved. We know that each search is unique, as are the needs of each organization we partner with, and we break our search out into the following general phases.

Phase 1:

In the case of a search for a new Executive Direct, our experienced executive search principals will work closely with the Search Committee to define and sign a contract and finalize any particulars of the arrangement, after which the search principal will conduct a search intake as well as finalize the search announcement.


Phase 2:

In Phase 2 our search principals conduct a detailed analysis of our extensive nonprofit network as well as review candidates who have applied for consideration directly. Throughout this time, SES search principals carefully evaluate each candidate by reviewing their work histories and conducting screening interviews. Once we have determined the top candidates for consideration, a full slate is shared with the Search Committee for further consideration.


Phase 3:

Your SES search principal facilitates all communication regarding interview coordination. We match schedules, provide calendar invitations, and work to keep all stakeholders aligned and engaged. After candidate interviews have taken place with the Search Committee, a finalist is selected and reference verifications are completed by the Scion Executive Search team.


In Sum

Using an executive search firm is incredibly beneficial for nonprofit organizations seeking a new leader to spearhead their mission. Executive search firms possess the expertise and resources necessary to identify and attract top talent while facilitating an effective and smooth transition process that benefits all parties involved. By working with an expert who takes the lead in your important search, the clear and structured timeline you’ll follow will ensure that the entire process of hiring an effective and well-aligned leader will be completed effectively and successfully.

Is an executive search firm right for your organization? Contact us today to learn more about Scion’s executive recruiting process and to explore how our search options can ease the hiring process for you. Scion Executive Search clients receive unparalleled reach into national and local networks containing millions of nonprofit executive candidates. From executive leadership in social services to foundations, we are ready to connect you with the talent you’re searching for! Contact us today to get a search started or visit our website to find out more about us!

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.