Why Nonprofit Executive Search is Not as Easy as One Would Think

David A, Mersky ImageOften our clients believe that they can undertake a search on their own—deploying their resources to understand the opportunity and describe it in a fashion that is appealing.  Then all they need do is list it on any of a dozen or more web sites and social networking services and wait for the ideal candidates to knock down their door.

The dirty secret is that it is not quite so simple and further it is a misuse of significantly limited human resource to devote time to do the kind of assessment, define the position, create the marketing plan to attract the right applicants, screen them, interview them in a way that sells the opportunity as well as gets to know the candidate well enough to extend and negotiate an offer that will be accepted. We are hired when they realize that the most efficient and effective way to find the right candidate is to outsource the nonprofit executive search to a firm that understands the field.

There are many obstacles that most clients—whether volunteer lead and managed or professionally directed—can avoid, particularly when you are seeking a “C” level hire.

For instance, through the obvious methods of listing a job, you may get many to apply.  But, it is likely that most will lack the sought-after qualifications, experience, or education.  We tell clients that if they receive even five truly qualified applicants, they should consider themselves fortunate.

Another challenge is the inflated position description—the agency that is seeking someone who can “walk on water.”  That person does not exist.  Particularly, when searching for a successor, the pattern is often to replace—and, in some cases, replicate—the former, much beloved leader. And then add in any additional skills you wish he or she had.

It is better to look at the tasks and responsibilities and determine if the organization should be realigned by repurposing current staff and then, assessing what you need in a candidate.  And, when you have selected the person who has the right chemistry to fit into the culture and work with the staff and board of the agency, be honest about that person’s strengths and figure out how to accomplish the things that need doing but are not in the new hire’s wheel house. Do they need additional training or can someone else take on some responsibilities? Our nonprofit executive search includes regular meetings with the new hire to ensure they can succeed. No one is going to be perfect, but you can set your nonprofit up for success.

Finally, when you are contemplating a search you should be able to articulate a set of strategic priorities based upon a vision for the next five years.  The process of creating a shared vision and the goals and tactics to achieve them will inform the search and provide a tentative roadmap for your new leader.  Not to do this—and depend upon the new leader to figure out what your expectations are is a path fraught with peril.

When you understand the needed skill set, and have the accurate position description and the strategic priorities in hand, you are ready to begin a search that will end with the ideal candidate for your nonprofit.  We can even predict that if you are prepared, you will then know for whom you are looking and recognize him or her, often within minutes of the beginning of the first encounter.  Moreover, it will provide a path to success.

Let me know if we can help you with your next search…it will save you both money and time.  And it comes with a guarantee of success.