For many small nonprofit boards, hiring a search firm to find their next executive director simply isn’t an option financially. Organizations can do the search themselves, but should involve people in the process who have experience in searches, and to follow best practices. What follows is an overview of the process that will result in the best possible hire on a budget.
The Art of Gathering
How We Meet and Why It Matters
By Priya Parker
After reading this excellent book, I understand much better why some gatherings work, and some don’t. Why a too large room changes the atmosphere of a meeting. Why just allowing people to wander off at the end of a three day retreat feels like such a let down. Whether you are organizing a small get together of friends, or a large conference, this book will help you connect people with each other better.
Priya Parker has organized her share of gatherings and has many lessons to share. She starts by having you think about the true purpose of your gathering. Why do you want to have a birthday party? How can a networking event be more than just that? Can people be encouraged to ask for help with a vexing problem? Have a defined outcome, not just an event because you feel you should have an event.
She then walks through each step of the event. Who you invite to your meeting matters. It is OK to keep the guest list limited, because more people doesn’t necessarily make the gathering better. Think about the location and how it is set up. How can you make a contained space for your gathering? Even a picnic blanket sets a boundary. Net, she talks through being a host and how to have gentle control over the group. You aren’t bossing them around, but you are setting ground rules to ensure that everyone has an enjoyable time. Parker includes much more on creating a good gathering from the opening to the closing.
I’ve certainly been to my share of gatherings where there was no official start or end, and you were left wondering what you should do. At one event I was at recently, the organizers got on the microphone to yell at guests who went back for seconds and tell them they couldn’t do that. It isn’t an event I would return to! On the other hand, at a wedding I attended, the family got most of the guests involved in a fun and easy group dance that connected the broad group of friends and relatives with each other and got everyone up and moving.
There are a million posts out there on how to thank someone who is retiring by buying them a gift. But how meaningful is a plaque or clock after someone has spent decades serving their community as a nonprofit leader? How can you thank someone in a way that really connects to their work and reminds them that they are valued?
The first day for an executive director, or any nonprofit position, sets the tone for their career. It’s a critical part of the entire onboarding process.
There are plenty of ways to do the first day right and make the new hire feel welcomed and excited. Here are some of the basics:
Here’s a selection of items to include in your board manual. Many of these documents you already have. If you find you need to create documents, your current board members will appreciate having them as well, so be sure to share them with everyone. Keep everything brief, but informative.
Consider whether it makes more sense to have these as printed documents, or if you would rather create a shared online area to store them. Every board and board member is different in how they prefer to receive information. Google Drive is a low cost solution that nonprofits often use for sharing documents.
After decades of being a volunteer, and supervising volunteers, I have seen a lot of fantastic volunteers, and a few that just left me baffled. The ones that show up every week consistently and help with whatever needs to be done were awesome. The board members who jumped in and helped at events in so many ways. I’m currently volunteering on a political campaign and the staff are excited to see me every time I come in, and they always check in to find out when I’m coming back. That motivates me to keep helping.
Being an interim executive director is a challenging role, and one that not many people have the training and experience to complete successfully. I have had two interim director roles, but I knew I had much more to learn. In late January, 2019, I attended the Interim Executives Academy developed by the Third Sector Company.
The training gave me a solid foundation to use to grow my skills as an interim. It was also helpful to meet other interim directors and talk about our challenges and our successes.
There were three fundamental aspects that I learned during the training:
For large nonprofit organizations, a chief financial officer (CFO) is a critical part of the management team. A CFO provides a high level of financial knowledge, and helps the organization understand their finances on a deeper level, as well as create plan strategically for its financial future.
For smaller organizations, this level of knowledge isn’t affordable. Some organizations are able to hire a CFO on a contract basis for a limited number of hours per month, but for many, even that cost is too high. This means the executive director needs to develop their financial knowledge to help the organization thrive.
For small nonprofit organizations, paying for bookkeeping software seems like a large expense. Luckily, any organization with a 501(c)(3) designation can get QuickBooks Online for just $50 per year through TechSoup. Spending $50 per year will save your nonprofit tremendous time and energy down the road, plus it lets you create professional looking reports from QuickBooks to give to funders. If you have more than a few transactions per month, you’ll want to get started with QuickBooks.
The government shuts down, making your grant reimbursement is two months late. A critical piece of equipment breaks down and has to be replaced. An unexpected need for services comes up. These are all examples of when a reserve fund would be quite valuable.
In my time as an executive director, my biggest regret is not setting up a reserve fund at the beginning, and consistently funding it. There was always a need for programs or supplies or more staff, and when we had money, we used it.