A Board’s Role in Hiring the Executive

Executive Search concept with globe on blue world map background

On Nonprofit Radio this Friday, there will be a repeat broadcast of my conversation with Tony Martignetti on the subject of the board’s role in hiring the executive. In connection with the initial broadcast, I previously posted 10 Tips for Boards on executive succession. Here, I’d like to discuss further the 7th Tip:

Determine the qualities, expertise, experience, perspectives desired in the new executive. You may be looking for someone quite different from your current executive. Such determination should be made thoughtfully with lots of discussion. Don’t simply ask each director to prepare a list on her or his own and allow a consultant to collate the responses.

How does the board make the required determinations? What is required of the executive? What is desired in the executive? Of course, the answers to these questions depend upon several factors, including:

  • The particular priorities of the organization (e.g., expansion, contraction, collaboration, turnaround, program management/development, financial management, fundraising, team-building).
  • The specific role of the executive, particularly with respect to such priorities (e.g., Is the executive responsible for leading the fundraising or does she or he work with a fundraising manager/development director?).
  • The organization’s mission (but see The Trouble with “Passion for the Mission”, Blue Avocado).
  • The organization’s size, programs, and key stakeholders (experience managing 10 volunteers in a small animal rights organization with a 5-member rubber stamp board may not easily translate to managing 1,000 people in a nonprofit hospital with a 20-member contentious board).
  • The organization’s existing and desired culture (see Making the Right Hire: Assessing a Candidate’s Fit with Your Organization, Bridgespan Group).
  • The compensation package that can be offered to the executive.
  • Other attributes of the position and the organization that a candidate for the position may find attractive.
  • The immediacy of the need to fill the position (but consider the possibility of hiring an interim executive director – see Why and How to Hire an Interim Executive Director, N.C. Center for Nonprofits)

It’s often appropriate for the board to delegate such matters to a search committee, an HR committee, or other committee. But the hiring of an executive is such a core task for a board that I would recommend that input from all board members be actively solicited, and that all board members meet their duty of care in providing their input on what may be the most important decision made by the board.

There’s a helpful post from consultant Joan Garry that I recommend: The Five Attributes of a Great Executive Director

Often search firms and committees look for certain skills in hiring an Executive Director. This is a mistake. Attributes are more important.

Similarly, while experience may be one of the strongest indicators of ability, attributes can be a better indicator of potential. See Why You Should Hire for Potential, Not Experience (Fast Company). Again, how an organization weighs factors like experience and potential in making a hiring decision will depend on its own particular needs and circumstances.

The selection of an executive is likely far more important than the planning of an event or a particular fundraising strategy. Boards need to devote an appropriate amount of time and effort discussing what qualities/attributes, expertise, experience, and perspectives are desired in the new executive. They must also understand that it will almost certainly not find the perfect candidate with all the desired characteristics and will need to determine what characteristics would be most important to the organization, particularly over the next few years.