8 Tips on Executive Search Process for Nonprofits

Just like typical profit companies, non-profit organizations also need capable leaders or executives. Primarily, these people are responsible for overseeing fundraising projects, administrative duties, compliance, and sound financial practices.

An effective non-profit CEO or executive director will ensure the long-term sustainability and success of the organizational projects.

But when a top leadership transition happens, many non-profit organizations are faced with an unplanned transition process that often compromises the day-to-day operations and management of the organization.

That is why every non-profit organization needs to establish a thoughtful executive search plan that will ensure a smooth hiring process and transition of any leadership position.

The Board’s Role in Executive Search

The Board of Directors, as the governing body of a non-profit organization, plays a major role in the executive search. It is the board that decides on the process of selecting and hiring a new CEO or executive officer.

The process starts with the creation of a committee that will supervise the executive search. Such a committee may include the board’s current chairperson, chairperson-elect, and other stakeholders.

Whoever the members are, consider they should have expertise and knowledge of the organization to effectively evaluate candidates objectively.

Engaging an Executive Search Firm

The executive search committee can decide to handle the tedious process of recruiting and hiring CEOs or they can pass it on to a reliable executive search firm. Either way is fine, but the latter is a lot more convenient.

What is an executive search firm? Executive search firms consist of experienced professionals who offer a variety of services to help non-profit organizations find and attract senior management job candidates.

An executive search firm can handle everything, from assessing your organization’s hiring needs to identifying the core skills and requirements of the job, finding and screening candidates, and creating a shortlist of senior talent.

Let’s talk about the benefits of engaging an executive search firm:

Engaging an executive search firm has plenty of benefits besides reducing the workload of the board.


Organizations often fail into the trap of hiring candidates with similar qualifications and skills as the previous hires, without considering how those with fresh skills and perspectives can help the organization evolve and grow.

As a third party, an executive search firm is guaranteed to create an unbiased approach to the hiring and selection process.

Access to more talent

According to Cause Leadership, a nonprofit executive search firm, most organizations don’t have full-time HR departments, so promoting executive job roles can be challenging.

Search firms have access to talent pools that can be difficult to find with the own efforts of an organization’s board.


Executive search firms are made of industry experts who specialize in finding top talents for high-level roles. Aside from their skills in recruiting and screening applicants, they also have in-depth knowledge in creating job requirements.

Choosing an Executive Search Firm

Working with a search firm can be the easiest way to find the perfect candidate for CEO positions. Check out these tips when selecting a search firm:

Create a draft outline for the job opening

Create an outline for the job description and your ideal candidate profile. This helps you select the type of firm that is best for your organization. For example, do you need an executive firm that focuses on hiring local talent? Or are you looking for candidates from a specific area or country?

Identify at least three potential search firms

The right firm can help organizations find the best leaders or CEOs. When consulting with a search firm, consider asking about their experience and any information you might find helpful.

Create a Succession Plan

Creating a succession plan ensures that the board knows what to do even if there’s no transition taking place. Even if the current executive director has no intention of leaving, it’s wise to plan about the future leadership.

A succession plan covers routine turnover as well as immediate transitions when there’s a need for an interim director or there’s a need to replace a CEO with little notice.

Develop a Source Lead

Regardless of whether it’s the board or the executive search firm that will spearhead the selection of CEOs, it helps to create a source list and a strategy.

If it’s your board committee that will perform the executive search, create a master list of potential sources and assign a committee member to contact each.

Evaluate the Role Requirements

Your new executive director doesn’t have to be a copycat of the previous one. Even though the former director has done a great job in his role, it’s important to evaluate the current needs of your organization and what you require from the new director.

Evaluate the current responsibilities of the executive role and decide whether you need an additional leader to lighten the burden, or if some tasks or responsibilities can be passed on to other leaders.

Develop an Onboarding Plan

A successful executive search does not end once you find the perfect candidate. Create a separate board committee to lead the onboarding process. This should cover knowledge transfer, board chair check-ins, training, and more.

Revisit the Plan

Your succession plan needs to be re-evaluated regularly to ensure that it is still aligned with your organizational needs and requirements. Be committed to keeping your executive search plan updated.


A thorough and well-thought executive search plan is the best way to ensure that your non-profit organization will find the right person for an executive leadership role. Again, the board of directors has a key role to play, whether you are conducting the search or hiring an executive search firm.

Speaking of executive search firms, these companies can greatly help you reach a wide pool of talent. Since they have the expertise and experience, these firms can make the search a lot easier and more convenient.

Don’t forget to create a succession plan so you don’t rattle when there’s an immediate transition of executive roles. Lastly, make sure to revisit your plan to ensure that it fits your organization’s needs.