5 Key Strategies to Hire a Nonprofit Leader

5 key strategies to hiring a nonprofit leader

So you have a top executive position to fill, where do you start? Hiring leaders is a tough task, especially in a tight job market. Thousands of seasoned nonprofit leaders are predicted to retire over the next 5 years. A smooth replacement process will be crucial to long-term success.

While every search is unique, here are 5 key strategies you can use to hire a nonprofit leader effectively:

1. Define the short and long-term goals for the organization. Are you looking for a leader to steady the ship, usher in a new era of growth or maintain the status quo?

Defining the goals for your leadership search is the first step in the process of finding a new leader for your organization. It will help keep you on track as you conduct research and interviews, narrowing down potential candidates based on the roles you need filled, particular skills or experience required, and other attributes that are important to your organization.

2. Focus on the opportunity, not the job description. Don’t agonize over dues and requirements, but focus on the mission and what makes your organization a great place to work.

When utilizing the resources you have available and reviewing the mission and vision for your organization, selecting the best candidate for a leadership position is much easier. This can be achieved by creating a profile of the characteristics required in prospective leaders, focusing on your mission as it relates to your vision.

3. Give yourself time and flexibility. Whether you need a fast hire or have lots of lead time, be prepared for things to go sideways.

Creating space for flexibility in the hiring process will better equip you to deal with any malfunctions or issues that may come up, and also allow you to determine whether or not a candidate is unable to perform the tasks required of their position.

4. Decide on hiring an executive search partner. Some key factors on making the decision: 
  • How much time is available within the organization (or the board) to coordinate the process. We estimate that outreach and candidate screening alone takes about 30-40 hours, for example. 
  • How much hiring experience and expertise is available internally. If your board is new or hasn’t hired an ED in a long-time, an external partner may be helpful in guiding discussions and moving things along 
  • Inside tip: Many boards are tempted to “post the job ourselves first” and engage a firm later. This can delay the process, disengage hiring committees and in small communities, it can create the impression that there is something wrong with the job if it is open for a long-time. 
5. Look inside the organization first. Whether you decide to grow people from within or engage staff and board to provide recommendations, your organization’s best advocates are your staff and volunteers.

A candidate who has previously worked in the company can come with some advantages such as being aligned to the company’s vision, having prior knowledge of processes and policies, being versed in background information on competitors or targeted markets, or having existing relationships with employees.

Hiring a leader is a difficult but essential task for every organization. Taking on the leadership search process can be daunting, but it does not have to be. By implementing these five strategies in your hiring process, you can be confident in finding someone who will thrive in their position.

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