How To Turn Your Executive Search Into A Capacity Building Opportunity

How To Turn Your Executive Search Into A Capacity Building Opportunity

Working in the nonprofit sector comes with its own unique set of rewards and challenges. Our diverse sector of helping nonprofit organizations attracts a myriad of dedicated people who work tirelessly to advance their causes wholeheartedly. Working in the third sector does, however, comes with its own unique challenges, ranging from cultivating and stewarding contributors to motivating and mobilizing volunteers.


If your organization is in the process of or will be searching for new leadership, there are many ways to streamline that process so your cause will reap the benefits in the long run. For nonprofits hoping to make great executive hires, here are a few things to keep in mind to help your search succeed.




Many people who will making a hiring recommendation or selecting a nonprofit leader are not in the sector itself.  A facilitated discussion about what a transparent and participatory search process should look like must be agreed upon before actually getting started.  Some search committees appreciate receiving a formal training on successful leadership search processes. What’s important to always remember is that there are many stakeholders of a nonprofit who have a vested interest in its leadership’s success.


A good nonprofit executive search process accounts for a different set of dynamics that aren’t generally present in private-sector hiring. Setting up a communication process that people can trust is fundamental. Establishing and following a specific timeline is crucial. From knowing when jobs will be posted online and in print, to knowing when you’re hoping to have the new person fully onboarded, having a clear timeline of the hiring process creates deadlines as well delivers on the expectations of candidates, stakeholders, and search committee members.




A nonprofit leader helps to create and sustain success for an important cause.  It’s extremely important that people involved in a recruitment and selection process have a general idea of what the organization’s future “Picture of Success” looks like.


The success factors inform the kinds of questions that should be asked of a potential new leader, provides a lens of experiences to look for, and a “check and balance” between hiring what an organization “wants” in its next leader versus what the mission truly “needs” in further evolution in service to others.




When an entire organization of programs and people are at stake, it’s vital that those individuals charged with securing new leadership are clear about their expectations about performance upon accepting the job.  There will be, of course, many things to learn and a discovery process is a natural part of any new position.


A new Executive, however, should walk into a position with the expectations of its leaders clear. The interview process will also help the search committee to weigh the fairness of their requests as candidate reacts to their expectations and begin a negotiation process of what everyone would agree are realistic expectations.




Once an ideal candidate has been recruited, having a straightforward onboarding process is essential. Time is easily wasted by not having a thoughtful entry into the organization which could include setting up and understanding available technology, a calendar of key meetings with key people, a planned introduction to employees and volunteers, a checklist of vital documents and their location, a list of largest contracts, and an inventory of other pertinent information.


Some organizations have thoughtfully reassigned a key staff person for the executive’s first week to act as an “onboarding assistant” who can help manage a thoughtful welcoming and orientation process.




The most significant mistake a search process can make is ending it at the hire.  Those involved should conduct an evaluation of their process, what each participant earned about their organization, and what ideas were generated for the organization that should be documented and sent to the new leader.  On matters related to the performance expectations of the new position, the outcomes of the interview discussion should be typed up and turned over to the board chair.


What makes a search process a capacity-building opportunity for a nonprofit organization lies in its leaders seeing their work as evolving an organization to better serve the community, not finding someone to do it for them.


At Third Sector Company, we believe in cultivating leadership among the nonprofit sector. Our Leadership Search and Support Program is built to help nonprofits of all kinds find their future leaders and evolve their organizations.


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