What should a nonprofit organization consider when hiring an executive director?

To help your nonprofit hire an executive director, we asked nonprofit leaders and business executives this question for their best tips. From building a list of important responsibilities to finding a strong cultural fit, there are several things your nonprofit might want to take into consideration when hiring an executive director.

Here are ten things a nonprofit should consider when hiring an executive director: 

  • Build a List of Responsibilities
  • Balance Integrity With Efficiency
  • Prioritize the Needs of the Nonprofit
  • Look for a Servant Leader
  • Consider Hiring Internally
  • Invest in the Person Who Needs a Chance 
  • Find a Strong Cultural Fit
  • Seek Out a Director With a Network
  • Center The Most Impacted
  • Evaluate Public Relations Skills

10 Considerations For Nonprofits Hiring an Executive Director

Build a List of Responsibilities 

The executive director at a nonprofit organization is an essential leader in managing the overall operations internally and externally. A wide variety of leadership and administrative duties are a part of this role. From hiring employees who support the mission to optimizing budgets and overseeing fundraising — these important responsibilities all fall under the nonprofit Executive Director job description. The role of a nonprofit executive director requires a versatile individual to orchestrate many moving parts. When considering hiring for this role, make sure you have a clear list of the roles and responsibilities this individual would take on at your nonprofit. From there, you will be able to determine the skill set, personality, and experience needed for this role. 

Jon Schneider, Recruiterie


Balance Integrity With Efficiency

Although nonprofits prioritize goals differently than financial, the efficiency of their performance defines their impact. Balancing the perspectives of frugal and optimal use of resources with your organization’s overarching objectives is one of the main challenges for a nonprofit’s executive director. Selecting a candidate fixated on only one of those may result in lower total impact due to a lack of the organization’s efficiency or coordination.

Michael Sena, Senacea


Prioritize the Needs of the Nonprofit

When hiring an Executive Director, the most important thing to do is to undertake a skills matrix activity and identify the areas where the organization is lacking. For a nonprofit, fundraising is usually a priority. However, there are many other skills required to make an organization function well. Starting your recruitment process with a clear understanding of what the organization requires will streamline the process.

Ineke McMahon, Path To Promotion


Look for a Servant Leader 

They absolutely need to share our values and the mission to help people across the world. They naturally want to give more than to take, which is what we call a “servant leader,” as we need more of those in general for any business. It’s important to point out that there are many other traits we look for when we need to hire a new director, but I think when a person is more concerned about giving than taking, many of the other traits usually come as a package deal, such as empathy, listening skills, compassion, and stewardship. 

Chris Kindler, Alight


Consider Hiring Internally 

Promoting an existing member into becoming an executive director means fewer adjustments and more authenticity. It is a great way to preserve the nonprofit organization’s roots because he is already aware and immersed with and in the principles and experiences of the organization. You can also see that an internal hire is genuinely dedicated even before becoming an executive director.

Joe Flanagan, VelvetJobs


Invest in the Person Who Needs a Chance

Most of the directors I’ve hired had one thing in common; they just needed a shot and someone to trust them with a leadership role so the world could see them shine. I choose folks that executives usually skip over due to bias and a lack of diverse friend groups. Most of my directorial hires were highly grateful for the chance to advance, and they put their souls into it every step of the way. Most importantly for me, when they left, they now had a resume that could open doors for them for the rest of their lives. That’s the potential in hiring a director that I value the most. Who can I help by giving them the shot? Loyalty isn’t hard to come by if you do business right, and every hire is not just an investment in your company but an investment in people!

Khafre Jay, Hip Hop For Change, Inc.


Find a Strong Cultural Fit 

When hiring an executive director for a nonprofit, cultural fit is a critical component. Aligning on company values is important for any organization. However, the nonprofit world is more mission-based than the private sector. Professionals in the nonprofit sphere tend to be more motivated by altruism than money. This driving sense of self-sacrifice can make a culture clash between workers and executives all the more jarring. It is important to hire a director who understands and emphasizes the wider workforce and embraces the collective mission.

This director should strengthen the vision and reinvigorate the mission with new ideas rather than trying to overturn prior efforts and bend the company to their will. The team will get on board more quickly with a leader who is as committed to the cause and the spirit of the organization as every other employee.

Michael Alexis, TeamBuilding


Seek Out a Director With a Network 

In a certain sense, you can say nonprofits are the societal glue because they connect people with a shared sense of purpose and “do” jobs that neither the government nor the private sector fulfills. This gives your direction on what to look out for when hiring an executive director for a nonprofit: their network. You want someone who is strongly embedded in the local and regional society. This will benefit your nonprofit organization from their network with anything from fundraising to simply getting work done.

Hays Bailey, SHEQSY


Center on Those Most Impacted

An executive can lead an organization to transformative impact by constantly, intentionally, and sincerely placing the most highly impacted members of their service population at the center of strategic decision-making. This means going beyond forming advisory committees for show or at the behest of funders. It means actively asking members of your target population how you can serve them better — inviting them to challenge leadership decisions and service delivery methods. It means compensating for their time and labor and making it a priority to build your programs around the needs they state. There’s no executive quality more challenging and none more vital to nonprofit leadership!

Ari Taylor, Y2Y Network Inc.


Evaluate Public Relations Skills

Nonprofits sometimes hire former news anchors or other local celebrities as their executive directors, thinking they will succeed simply by virtue of being well-known. However, after the initial media splash, those stars often burn out when it’s discovered they don’t have the tactical skills to lead a non-profit. Instead of a nice face and big-name, go for someone who has excellent communication skills and a background in marketing, communications, or public relations.

Chryssa Rich, Primary Health Medical Group


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