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Five Keys to Finding a Dynamic and Strong Nonprofit Leader

Time will tell how the current crises affect the transition of executive leadership across the nonprofit sector. Change may be delayed, as nonprofits continue to steady their financial situations. Or it may be accelerated, as organizations pivot, pursue new visions, or simply view now as an opportune moment to embrace the next generation of leadership. In any event—and 2020 has taught us that any event is possible!—nonprofit boards have the responsibility to be prepared.

Indeed, hiring an executive leader remains among the most important responsibilities of any nonprofit board. On BoardSource’s list of “Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards,” selecting the Chief Executive is number two. No matter the external circumstances, the fundamentals of hiring a dynamic nonprofit leader do not change.

Organizations still need to…

  1. Create a strong volunteer search committee. Consider those who know the organization and the good work that it does, as well as those who have a vision for what the organization can be. The committee can include more than board members. Consider other key stakeholders: those in the community who are impacted by the work, who are key to funding the work, or who have great ideas for moving the organization forward.
  2. Create a compelling job profile that is clear about expectations and opportunities. The profile must be grounded in solid fact finding and discovery: surveying stakeholders about organization- and sector-wide strengths, challenges, and opportunities. A clear, compelling position profile will equip you to develop a strong candidate pool.
  3. Network and develop the candidate pool. This stage is straightforward, but time-consuming. Take the time to do it right. Broadcasting the message—sharing the true opportunity for the organization and the position—can have an impact that endures beyond the search process.
  4. Assess candidates in an objective way. The search committee and board have an awesome responsibility: determining which candidates have the passion, skill, and cultural fit to drive the organization forward. Of course, following best search practices supports effective decision-making and hiring.
  5. Set the executive up for success with effective onboarding. The search committee’s work is not finished when the offer letter is signed. In many ways, the work begins at that point. Developing and implementing a solid onboarding plan is a critical, and often overlooked, step. Good onboarding equips the new executive to quickly and successfully impact the organization.


An executive leadership transition is not easy. Committees and boards must dedicate significant time, weigh complex factors, and make thoughtful decisions. But board members can be assured that this work is essential. An effective transition positions an organization to better achieve its mission—the heart of why we are all dedicated to the sector.

Because of the importance of this process, many organizations elect to retain a search partner. Hiring a new executive is a pivotal investment in the organization’s future, and outside consultants can tap national networks, offer specialized tools, and use industry experience to make the process the best it can be.

Benefactor Group has helped many nonprofits place and onboard dynamic leaders through inclusive search processes. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Ron Guisinger at [email protected].

has more than 25 years of human resources management experience in both the public and private industry sectors.

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