12 Steps for Conducting a Successful Search for Your Nonprofit’s Next CEO

12 Steps for Conducting a Successful Search for Your Nonprofit’s Next CEO

Your nonprofit organization’s CEO has just announced her retirement. She plans to leave at the end of the fiscal year—only four months from today. She graciously leaves the room so you and your fellow board members can begin to discuss the next steps and the hiring process. The door closes and there is no discussion. Just a heavy, uncomfortable silence. Is that a cricket you hear?

Take a deep breath and know that you will get through this. You just need a strategy—the right strategy. Whether you decide to hire an experienced search firm or conduct the search internally, here are 12 steps that will lead you to, and through, a successful nonprofit CEO search:

  1. Identify the strategic challenges the new chief executive officer will be faced with in your organization along with the skills and experience needed to effectively address them. What is your desired future direction? What specific strategic goals and implementation plan needs to be developed to achieve the new vision?
  2. Conduct an objective, in-depth assessment of your nonprofit organization and board governance to determine your strengths and any areas in need of improvement related to best operating and governance practices.
  3. Develop a comprehensive customized position and ideal candidate profile for the CEO. This profile will include the specific competencies and experiences you are seeking in your next CEO.
  4. Conduct a targeted search into organizations and sectors that align with your organization to identify executives with the relevant skill sets and qualifications required by your organization.
  5. Develop a list of qualified prospects for consideration.
  6. Approach potential candidates to test their interest in the new position, communicate the strengths of your organization, and persuade strong candidates to consider the new opportunity.
  7. Organize a board-level search committee to screen candidates and schedule interviews.
  8. Present the most qualified candidates to meet with the search committee after conducting in-depth interviews and reference checks.
  9. Select the most qualified candidate and offer them the position.
  10. Negotiate a compensation package and other related benefits.
  11. Notify all candidates who applied and interviewed for the position and thank them for applying.
  12. Provide a plan for onboarding and ongoing support for your new CEO.

In my new book, A Guide to Recruiting Your Next CEO: The Executive Search Handbook for Nonprofit Boards, I explain why each of these steps is crucial to a successful CEO (or COO or other C-suite) search. I also give practical tips and advice for making sure that each step does more than contribute to the search process. Taken together and implemented thoughtfully, they become 12 keys to an impactful future for your organization.


Dennis C. Miller is the Managing Director of The Nonprofit Search Groupwww.thenonprofitsearch.com and author of A Guide to Recruiting Your Next CEO: The Executive Search Handbook for Nonprofit Boards, scheduled for release on October 10, 2017 by Emerald Lake Books.