Is Your Nonprofit Ready for Its First Executive Director Hire?

The all-volunteer organizations out there have some of the most dedicated and selfless volunteers. You serve as the governing board, the staff, and volunteers – all at the same time. As the organization matures, you may get to the point where you are ready for your first administrator or executive director hire. It’s a big move in the development of the nonprofit! Here are some things to think about as you prepare for that step.

first nonprofit executive director hire

Prepare a job description.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are lots of sample job descriptions for an executive director hire on the internet. You must decide what responsibilities you want to turn over to your paid staff. Have some deep discussions about the operations vs. the governing responsibilities that you have. Are you willing to leave the operations decisions to the new executive? Include exactly what you are delegating to the executive and be prepared to stick to it.

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Get the right fit.

Be candid about the challenges that the nonprofit is facing. Obviously, there should not be surprises when your new executive director hire comes on board. If there are things that you are afraid to tell candidates, get your house in order first. Don’t let a new executive walk into a crisis. 

When you begin reviewing the résumés, consider the administrative experience of the candidates. If you have a tight budget, your ideal candidate may require a higher salary than you can afford. A candidate that you can afford may be someone with good nonprofit experience, but no executive experience. Are you willing to get some coaching for an inexperienced executive? 

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Prepare for the arrival of the executive director hire.

How do you prepare to onboard the new executive director? Understand that there will be more intense engagement by the board at first.

    • Prepare an orientation schedule for the new executive and plan to give an update on every aspect of the operations. 
    • Start with a thorough financial review and be prepared to spend some time reviewing all financial details with the new exec.
    • Make sure that you have set up checks and balances in financial procedures. 
    • Update the strategic plan.
    • Have a session where the board talks about their aspirations for the organization to help communicate the passion for the mission. Establish a monthly meeting schedule for the new executive director hire and the board president. At first, there may be a need for meetings more often. Assist in developing a 30-60-90 day plan for taking the reins of leadership. 

    Letting Go

    This is the hard part. Sometimes board members feel a sense of loss when responsibilities are transferred to a paid staff person. Part of the on-boarding process should include an opportunity for the new executive to get to know the board members and volunteers in a more informal way. At any rate, it’s easier to have a frank discussion with someone that you have had a chance to get to know. Be alert to the feelings of board members, volunteers AND the new executive director hire. This is a transition for everyone, and kindness on everyone’s part will go a long way toward a smooth transition.

    The transition from all-volunteer to having a paid staff person is a big step and an exciting one. In actuality, taking time to find the right person is only the first step. Setting your first executive up for success is everyone’s job.  

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