Thursday, January 21, 2016

Finding the Best Candidates for Your Nonprofit Executive Position

You really can’t have a “If we build it, they will come” attitude about finding the best candidates for a Nonprofit Executive position. This is especially true for small and midsize organizations that are not well known.  This article is for you.  Too often some of the best ways of finding the best candidates are overlooked.  You need to actually recruit candidates – not expect that they will come to you without working at it. Volume isn’t the goal – quality and good fit are the goals.  Here is my list of actions to take to let the right people know about your executive director or other high level executive opening. 

When a small/midsize nonprofit executive leaves, the Board usually appoints a Search Committee to find and recommend the best candidates to fill the position. Once you have done the hard work of developing an accurate job description then the job of finding great candidates begins in earnest.  So what should you do?  The answer: LOTS OF THINGS!  Here’s a grocery list.

Advertise – In the Right Places
There are job boards specifically for Nonprofits.  They are low cost or free and visited by people specifically interested in Nonprofits.  Idealist and The Foundation Center list full job descriptions and yield excellent experienced candidates.  In NJ I always list a nonprofit opening at the Center for Nonprofits job board.  Your organization may belong to local professional groups that list nonprofit jobs and that can be an excellent resource. 

Your Website
I don’t understand why but some small organizations shy away from advertising an executive position on their own website.  They are afraid of getting too many inappropriate applications or having someone they really don’t want to apply.  Really?  Just discard the inappropriate applications and don’t consider seriously anyone you don’t want to.  As a consultant I have been asked to interview as a courtesy unqualified or underqualifed candidates for any number of reasons.  I conduct the same half hour introductory telephone interview with them as all the other candidates and provide honest feedback of the major criteria categories just like every other candidate.  I am an outsider and document the same information about each candidate.  The grading against the major requirements  and feedback from the telephone interview become the basis for which candidates are interviewed in person. Bottom Line: Don’t worry  about having too many candidates or one you rather not deal with.

Solicitation Letter
Send a letter to nonprofit leaders, foundation executives, funders and partners announcing the opening and asking them to pass the information on to potential candidates.  This can be the most effective step you take.  People who weren’t thinking about seeking another position, who are currently employed will consider applying  for the opening.  A funder may discuss the possibility with an individual they think is a good fit. A partner may pass it on to someone not in your network who is an excellent candidate.  Using this kind of networking can yield outstanding candidates.

Your Executive Search Consultant
Your executive search consultant should be able to identify potential candidates for you.  I always know people who are in a job search and I always reach out to people I know to recommend potential candidates.

Social Media
Linkedin and Facebook are excellent hunting ground for candidates if you already have a presence there.  LinkedIn has an excellent program for nonprofits and you should apply now and not wait until you need the service.  The premium membership (free for approved nonprofits) gives you search capabilities that are excellent for searching for Board members as well as potential job candidates.  LinkedIn has also become an excellent job board resource.  If you have an active facebook page –let your fans know that you have an opening.  You never know who may learn about your opening this way.

What other ways have you used to recruit candidates?  Please share them in the comments.


P.S.  My consulting practice is limited to executive search for small and midsize organizations.  If you would like more information about working with me please email me at