The Search For a New Nonprofit CEO Needs To Be Realistic


The Search For a New Nonprofit CEO Needs To Be Realistic

By Eugene Fram      Free Digital Image 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 in the article can be applied 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, there is a focus on 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 for nonprofit board members to learn from others.


  1. I would add that there are many nonprofits where the Board is isolated from staff, other than the senior management or sometimes only the Executive Director. This wall between staff and Board makes for Boards to be ill-informed about the day-to-day operations, challenges, successes and failures of the nonprofit. How on earth can a Board having such little knowledge of the work being done hire the next nonprofit CEO?


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