Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Search for a New Executive Director in a Small Nonprofit

Whether an organization is large, medium or small, it is a very big deal when an Executive Director leaves. But when it happens in a small nonprofit there are usually limited resources available to keep things afloat AND conduct a search for a replacement.  This is an area that I am working in specifically – executive search for small nonprofits.

When I get a call from a Board President about conducting a search s/he is often at one end of the spectrum of possibilities.  There is the person who feels that the organization is in crisis and worried about how they will continue to operate in the interim and wants somebody “really fast” before the whole place falls apart.  The other scenario is a Board and Board President that are clueless about how the Executive Director handled a zillion things concurrently and really kept the place together.  They are sometimes all too happy to have a breather from the expense of an Executive Director and have a chance to do some things their way.

No matter where on this spectrum an organization’s leaders are, it is a big deal when an Executive Director leaves.  Don’t panic and don’t be oblivious about the impact of a departing ED either.  First step – read my article In the Interim - Appreciate and Use that Time Between Leaders.

Although each search is unique, here is the outline of the process I use.

Step One: Make Sure You Know What You Want and What You Can Afford
When I first meet with a Board President and search committee I do a lot of listening.  I try to find out what are the most important skills their ED must have, what are their expectations and what kind of relationship an ED can expect to have with the Board.  I gather background information about the organization and write a draft job description so that we have a starting point to describe the job. 

I ask about salary and benefits and advise them about its reasonableness.   This can be an interesting discussion.  If you want someone with advanced skills and experience and demonstrated results it will cost you.  If you are willing to hire someone in their first ED position you will pay less.  These candidates can bring energy and new ideas to the position but you will have to give them some breathing space to grow into the job.  The job description draft is then finalized.  Benefits are also important.  If all the other employees are part time or hourly the small nonprofit is sometimes unprepared to deal with the expectations for medical and 401K and perhaps tuition reimbursement benefits.

Step Two: Finding Qualified Candidates
I always post a full job description at Idealist.org and the Foundation Center and for a New Jersey client the Center for Nonprofits website.  I always recommend that the job be posted on the organization’s website and that it is emailed to funders and other nonprofit leaders. Depending on the mission of the organization there may be some other key places to post the opening.  One important rule – always list when applications must be received by.

Although I am a consultant, I have the organization set up an email for me usually entitled humanresources@organizationemailaddress.org

Step Three: Assessing Candidates and Reducing the Number Considered
Here are two alternatives I have used to identify the candidates who will be considered for the position:

I set up a folder on the google G drive so that the search committee members can see all the applications and when the application date closes, I provide a spreadsheet with candidate name, my assessment based on the key skills/experience required  - very qualified, qualified, not qualified and a brief description of their skills.

As an alternative, I meet with the Search Committee and depending on the number of resumes, have a variety of ways of identifying the candidates to be considered further.  All of the resumes are reviewed – sometimes by sub-groups and then narrowed by exchanging resumes with another sub-group.

In either case, the Search Committee chooses candidates that I will conduct telephone interviews with.  Based on these preliminary telephone interviews I recommend candidates for in person interviews.  Typically I conduct 6-10 telephone interviews and the Search Committee interviews 3-5 candidates.

At this point the Search Committee needs to impress the candidate as much as they are trying to impress you. You need to put your best foot forward.  Smaller organizations sometimes need some extra coaching about details at this point in the process and having professional help can make a difference.  We discuss where the interview will be held and make sure that this space and the ED’s office hasn’t been turned into a storage area if it will be shown during the interview. These things are usually not issues in larger organizations but unfortunately can be awkward for small nonprofits.

We discuss the interview format and what is appropriate and legal to ask. Often I am asked to meet and introduce the candidate and kickoff the interview. I also play the role of putting the candidate at ease.  I am the timekeeper, make sure the candidate has an opportunity to ask questions too and wrap it up in a timely manner –especially if someone else is expected.  I then notify candidates who are not selected and provide individualized feedback to them if requested.

Step Four: Final Interview and Closing the Deal
In most cases, there is one more interview for one or two of the remaining candidates.  This interview is with the whole Board.   Again Boards of small organizations may need some coaching before the interview.  Board members who are not in the workforce or do not have management experience need to have some guidance about what is appropriate and not appropriate to ask candidates.  If the board has a lawyer or human resources professional they can provide this guidance and if not, I meet with the Board to prepare them for the interview.  The candidate may have some tough questions for the Board also – such as questions about the financial strength of the organization, its fundraising capacity and the expected board and staff relationship.

Once the Board has selected a candidate, I will ask for references, contact them and make a reference report.  The Chair or other member makes the contact directly with the candidate and makes the offer. Once an offer is accepted, I let any remaining candidates know that they have not been selected.

General Advice
One of the biggest issues I have when working with a Search Committee is usually the committee members all are busy people.  You need to remember that once you begin to advertise the position you are dealing with candidates that are on a parallel path of being on a job search.  It is important to keep the process moving so that your best candidates don’t drop out as they receive other job offers.

This is a straightforward process and if you are experienced, it is not intimidating.  If you find yourself in the position of being a Board Member in need of a new Executive Director – even if you are a small nonprofit – consider hiring a consultant to manage the process for you.  It will be an excellent investment.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Philanthropy….Begin at the very Beginning…with Children

Charlotte proudly shows her hair given to Pantene Beautiful Lengths 
Children inspire us…in so many ways. We are inspired by the way they enjoy life, learn new things, know so much more than we did are their age, are so smart and more. We are inspired by their smiles and their ability to bounce back. I am also inspired by how children have a natural propensity toward philanthropy. It makes me think there is hope for the world to become a better place.  This topic is worth a book – not just an article – so this won’t be the last article on this subject. The word Philanthropy is derived from Ancient Greek and means "to love people". A dictionary definition is “goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially : active effort to promote human welfare. Goodwill and active effort are the key words to me.

My grandson is 5 years old. When I thought about it he has already begun to develop a philanthropic spirit. I am so proud that Zach willingly shares his toys with other children and if we have a child who is younger than him visit when he is visiting, he will show them how to use a toy and help them. He does chores at our place such as when I come home from the grocery store he’ll help carry in the bags and put away the groceries. This winter we had a very, cold and snowy winter in New Jersey.  Zach’s Dad pulled over his car to help a disabled neighbor shovel snow.  Zach helped too. He is actively involved in helping others and does so willingly. When his parents were both sick recently Zach spent the day with us and when we brought him home we explained that they were sick and he should take care of himself and go to bed without their help. And he did. It’s a good start. Philanthropy begins with caring and wanting to be engaged with “goodwill.” It is so much more than writing a check. We should be thinking about philanthropy as a core value to teach children. It is an important part of wholeness in adult life and it should be something that just comes naturally. So how do we develop this?

1. Set an example and participate together - Today there are many opportunities for families to volunteer together. Whether it is cleaning up a playground, working at a food bank, or an improvement project at school there are lots of opportunities. Martin Luther King Day is a designated day of service and there are plenty of planned family ways to volunteer. Earth Day is an excellent time for outdoor volunteering – whether it be an organized larger activity or just helping an elderly neighbor with an outdoor spring cleanup.

2. Encourage what your child is interested in - If you want your children to be enthusiastic about participating in philanthropy then it has to be something that is of interest to them. It may be in helping poor children or the environment. It may be supporting children who are very sick. Explore with children how they would like to help others and if at all possible make it a hands on experience. Charlotte is a perfect example of a child with a philanthropic spirit who is an inspiration to all of us. She grew her hair long and had it cut for Pantene Beautiful Lengths so that it could become a wig for a child with cancer.  Charlotte did more than organize a fundraiser – she truly gave of herself.   She is a true philanthropist - demonstrating love of people and with a big smile on her face. I love that smile.

Charlotte's mom,  Nancy Schwartz is pretty special too.  She is a nonprofit marketing consultant extraordinaire - Check out Nancy at Gettingattention.org.

3.Read books and connect with philanthropy – There is an excellent online resource – Learning to Give – which is chock full of resources including lesson plans, activities and resources to educate youth about the power of philanthropy. It is well organized by grade, subject matter and more. I especially like the reading guides for some of my favorite children’s books including A Chair for my Mother, the Butter Battle Book, Coming to America: The Story of Immigration, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, The Brand New Kid and many more.

4. Teach the concepts – Many people in my generation were brought up not knowing anything about family finances or giving. Looking back my parents were generous with their time, talent and treasure. I was oblivious to the treasure part but I could see the time and talent part. We have taken a different tack with our children. They know about our giving patterns and that it is spread across local, national and international causes. They know the local organizations where we are involved very well. They know that we have priorities for our giving and that charities are named in our will. When our children were young we made matching gifts to charities that they gave to and this encouraged them to give even more. As adults we have given gifts in their name at Christmas in this same spirit – education for our daughter and water projects for our son. They know our “philanthropy philosophy” and as adults are forming their own. When my son started working he immediately made a commitment to make a contribution to KIVA with every paycheck. He has his own philanthropy philosophy and it developed as he was growing up.

5. Be open to a child’s lead - Sometimes our children have set the example for us. When my son was a freshman in high school he came home and TOLD us he was going on a trip to help re-build a burned Black church in the South during his Spring vacation. My husband decided to take a week of his vacation and go with him and several years later my husband and I went together. My daughter has a caring spirit and when she works with young children she is particularly thoughtful of a child that needs a little extra personal attention that can make a difference. It was true when she babysat a special needs child and in college she was nominated for volunteer of the year.

6. Provide video games with philanthropic themes – Yes, that’s right – video games. We have to meet children on their turf. Games for Change – is an innovative company producing video games with social impact themes. They have games for different ages, beginning at 7.  These games offer a much healthier excitement than Grand Auto Theft.

7. Support community service – Many secondary schools and colleges have an optional or required community service component today. Actively discuss this with the children in your life and help them find a meaningful choice rather than a simple one that will merely satisfy the requirement. Our philanthropy manifests itself differently at different stages in our lives but it is important at every stage. For children and young adults it can be bursting with energy and innocence and a spirit true to the origins of the word.

Resources available at Amazon.com: