Captioning–Press (Special Page)

"Our BoardAssist candidates have been amazing additions to our Board of Directors."

Executive Director, Good Shepherd Services.
Credit: Volunteers of America
helping individuals and families in need

Seven Secrets to a Successful Search for your Nonprofit’s Next Executive Director

Is your nonprofit about to embark on a search for a new Executive Director? Finding the perfect new leader for your nonprofit is a big task and one that nonprofits can’t afford to get wrong. For help on optimizing your chances of success, we turned to executive search pro, Marilyn Machlowitz.  Thanks for sharing your secrets in this guest post, Marilyn.  

Seven Secrets to a Successful Search for your Nonprofit’s Next Executive Director

Executive Director searches start every day. Some of it is generational—long-tenured Executive Directors are retiring in droves. You know the high-fallutin’ stuff so I want to concentrate on the nitty-gritty. Often, that is where a search soars or sinks.


  1. Only embark upon a search for Executive Director (increasingly known as CEO or President) when you can approach it with momentum.  If a month or more will need to elapse between your contacts with top candidates, you may lose them.


  1. Consider an Interim Executive Director for the duration of the Search. (approximately 4 months.) There can be many reasons – enough for a separate blog. I used to be opposed and now I embrace this step.


  1. Construct the search committee with care. There is no perfect size.  It can be a great way to engage or to re-engage Board members.


  1. Consider hiring a search firm, especially one that specializes in nonprofits. Why get mired in the morass of communication or muddled in the middle when your neighbor or your nephew wants to be considered?  You may think posting a few ads online and networking will fill the position for you, and maybe it will. We receive many such calls that begin, “We tried ads…”


  1. Be realistic about how much you will need to pay your new ED. This, too, is a large subject on its own. Suffice it to say, it’s like real estate: You may think new construction in Tribeca or a Classic Six on Park should cost X but it will probably cost X+.


  1. Make time for the search meetings with your short-listed candidates. We have had board clients who provided us exactly one day for all interviews…and each is delighted with its choices who are still there years later. What may work better is providing two evenings  (even Sunday evenings) for those interviews. The secret: set these dates well ahead.


  1. Look at your Board by-laws before beginning so you know whether, for instance, the entire Board needs to vote on your new addition, or there are other  procedures you may need to follow to finish the search.   Similarly, look at your organization’s benefit plans early. Don’t wait for surprises that may eat up time at the end of the search.  After all that, it would be disappointing to lose your chosen candidate to another opportunity over either a small issue or a time lag.


Marilyn Machlowitz heads Machlowitz Consultants, Inc. Since 1997, the New York-based firm has been recruiting top talent for nonprofits and foundations. Marilyn is widely recognized and respected in the field of executive search.