BLUF: need advice on effectively organizing stakeholders around the search for a non-profit executive director.

In one of my lives, I’m involved in a non-profit that provides services directly to a special needs population. We’ve come out of start-up mode but are not yet fully established. The board is supportive but not deeply engaged. The executive director who established the program is moving on. Stakeholders include the board, the families of those served, the service providers, and funders.

1. Should the Search Committee solicit input from every stakeholder group at the start of the process? Should it proceed with input from the board only?

2. How should the committee communicate its process, and its progress? Note: the committee is seriously considering altering the responsibilities and roles to improve the effectiveness of the organization. The board may need to be educated in this regard.

3. The job description was written by the outgoing Executive Director. He was extraordinary, and it is hard to imagine finding someone who could fill the position as it is currently defined. How can expectations be managed? Should we consider changing the description once we find a worthy candidate who may not be perfect?

4. If current key staff members are to be considered for a more significant role as part of this process, when should they be brought into the discussion?

Advice on any or all of these questions would be deeply appreciated. If there are questions I should be asking but am not, advice in that regard would also be appreciated.

Many thanks,


HMac's picture


Regarding the solicitation of input – how important is each of the stakeholder groups in the eventual decision? I’d try to match this up – if a group is important to the decision – or important to the success of the new hire – I’d probably spend extra time seeking their input.

One caution though: seeking input shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as “being involved” (e.g., screening, interviewing, decision) – and if I’m only seeking input, I’d go out of my way to thanks them and tell them when they will next be involved in the process (like, maye, welcoming the new hire!).

Regarding communication, I’d actually tying communications to be triggered by specific events: for example, we’ll communicate after each round of all interviews, after references, after acceptance…Don’t let the communication be tied to a calendar, because you may find yourself stuck with nothing substantive to report.

Regarding the job description: I’d leave some wiggle room! Ultimately it seems that the job description of the Executive Director should be “owned” by the Board, since he serves at their pleasure. His job description reflects his biases (consciously or not), the job as he conceived it, at the time he was doing it. I think I’d try to couch it as very valuable “guidance” but subject to updating.

Not sure what you meant by your fourth question – are they be considered for the job itself? Or do changes to their roles affect the Executive Director’s role? Sorry, not sure what you’re getting at here…


jhack's picture


Thanks. Question 4 is related to 3. If we redefine the scope of executive director (and the adjacent roles), it may be that existing staff could fulfill new roles. Nothing's been decided, and if it were to evolve in that direction, any discussions would of course indicate organization changes.

Hence the sensitivity of the conversation.


HMac's picture

Got it. You're probably best then to hold off on any discussions with staff until you have your candidiates for the Executive Director - because it's THEIR particular skillsets that would influence whether and what type of role changes might take place, right?