The Nonprofit Board’s Number One—Yet Least Discussed—Responsibility

The Nonprofit Board’s Number One—Yet Least Discussed—Responsibility

It was such an honor to be invited to become a nonprofit organization trustee. Although you had been involved with this organization for many years, you had no idea how much went into its work. There were important decisions to be made regarding programs, finances, fundraising, and facilities. It took a few years, but you finally feel like you have a handle on your role and responsibilities as trustee. Then it happens: Your CEO announces that she is retiring at the end of the fiscal year. Wait. What?

You probably should have seen it coming. Recent studies have estimated that more than 75% percent of current nonprofit executives plan to leave their positions in the next five to ten years. If your board is like most, you rely heavily on the CEO to keep the organization operating smoothly and moving forward toward mission fulfillment. The job is complex, requiring a leader who understands the complexities of the mission-focused, not-for-profit business model. You want the right person, and you want them on board quickly.

CEO recruitment is one of the top responsibilities of the nonprofit board. Yet if your board is like most, it is also the least considered, until the moment the need arises.

There are two major reasons to bring thoughtful discussion of leadership succession planning into your board room. First, we are experiencing the expected retirement of a baby boomer generation that sought out careers in the nonprofit sector because of the social change and movement culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Second, the economy, the sector and society have changed, requiring chief executives with new leadership competencies.

In the past, a passion for mission along with skill sets ranging from program development, grant writing and community relations were considered sufficient when selecting an executive. This is no longer the case. Today, nonprofit boards are seeking leadership skills that include visionary thinking, social entrepreneurship, relationship building and emotional intelligence, along with the ability to build collaborative relationships and a positive brand identity. In addition to all of that, you will want a CEO who will fit into the culture of your organization.

I wrote A Guide for Recruiting Your Next CEO: The Executive Search Handbook for Nonprofit Boards to help prepare the millions of nonprofit board members in our country to address this challenging responsibility.

In the new Guide, I describe the entire search process, beginning with the role of the board and search committee. I outline the CEO leadership competencies sought by today’s nonprofit boards, the interview process, reference checking, negotiating the offer and how best to onboard the selected candidate. I close with advice for successfully onboarding the new CEO.

The Guide is designed to provide readers with a much better understanding of the entire executive search process, whether for your next CEO, COO or other C-suite executive, and to provide boards with the tools they need to successfully recruit their next CEO. With knowledge, confidence and teamwork, you will learn how to select the best CEO to lead your organization forward.

Dennis C. Miller is the Founder & Chairman of DCM Associates and author. Learn more about his book, A Guide to Recruiting Your Next CEO: The Executive Search Handbook for Nonprofit Boards.