The Search For a New Nonprofit CEO Needs To Be Realistic
By Eugene Fram
Boardmember.com in its October 11, 2012 issue carries an op-ed item by Nathan Bennett and Stephen Miles titled, “Is your Board About to Pick the Wrong CEO.” Although targeted to for-profit boards, all of the five items listed can be applied to nonprofit boards. Following are my applications to nonprofit boards.
1.There Is Interpersonal Conflict On The Nonprofit Board. If there is a high level of interpersonal discord, the board is setting up the new executive director for failure, no matter how strong the executive’s background or talents. The same can be said if the staff is “at war” with the board. If the person is tainted as the board’s change agent, she/h can not be a collegial leader.
2. There Are Irreconcilable Differences regarding the mission, vision and values of the nonprofit organization. Any ambivalence between board members, or board and a significant group of staff members, on these important issues will lead to discords that might motivate the staff to seek union protection.
3. The current nonprofit CEO has too much say. Traditionally nonprofits do not involve the outgoing or terminated executive in the search process. However, this division, on occasion, can be carried too far because the outgoing person has some knowledge that can be helpful to the incoming executive. This issue provides the board with a fine line to walk. Which path a board takes is highly situational.
4. There Is Insufficient Diversity or Inclusiveness. Nonprofit boards generally need to seek a wide range of candidates in terms of internal vs. external, gender, ethnicity, and age diversity. In the 21st century, is calling for inclusive boards—making certain there is adequate representation of all major stakeholder groups.
5. There Is a Lack of Succession Experience. With the frequent turnover of nonprofit board leadership, for example, when board chairs are only in position for a year or two, there often can be only a modest understanding of the executive director search process and how to effectively conduct it. “When there isn’t enough attention paid to appointing (board) people who can effectively accomplish the (search) task, all the well-intentioned advice … won’t be enough to allow anyone to be sanguine about the outcome of a succession hunt.”
As the old Chinese proverb states, “A wise man (or woman) learns by his own experience, the wiser man (or woman) learns by the experience of others.” Here is an opportunity to learn from others.
Eugene, you have clearly laid out the issues that have to be considered and resolved in hiring a new CEO at a non-profit organization. While the board has an important role to play through its search committee, the organization might be better served to work with a reputable recruiting firm to make sure the person being hired has the wherewithal to manage some of the difficult challenges that you rightly pointed out. The board would need to be honest and transparent about itself and the organizational culture so that the recruiter selected can be armed with good information and the candidates selected for further consideration know what to expect if chosen for the position.