Conducting a Great ED Interview

Interviewing someone for an executive director position is not as easy as hiring for any other position in a nonprofit (or business for that matter). Making a good hire is critically important to the organization. It’s frustrating when I see board members rush through the process or assume it is easy to do.

I’ve shared a number of resources previously including How to Make a Good Hire, the Advantages of Using an Executive Search Firm, and the Value of Using an Interim Executive Director.

Here I provide some sample questions you can use in initial screening interviews and second-round interviews.

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Exit Interviews

Inevitably all employees are going to leave their position. You’ve prepared through good succession planning, but there’s still a huge advantage to talking with the departing person before they go and getting their input on the organization. Take time to do an exit interview and make use of the information you receive.

There are many advantages to conducting interviews. Besides the information you gather, it just helps the employee feel valued, even when they are leaving. And you know that a former employee can be an ambassador for the organization in the community, so it helps to end on a high note.

There are a few pitfalls to watch out for during exit interviews. If at all possible, the employee’s direct supervisor shouldn’t conduct the interview. If that’s your ED, can a board member with some HR experience do it? You’ll get more candid responses. You could also contract with an HR professional to conduct the interview. Also, make sure to prioritize the interview so it actually happens. Holding exit interviews consistently is key to gathering a better picture of how staff feel about the organizations. Finally, if the departing person doesn’t want to do it, don’t force the issue. Offer to let them give you written feedback instead.

You can even consider holding board exit interviews. There’s something about having a final conversation that helps people be more introspective and share information you might not have otherwise heard. Plus it just gives the board member a positive feeling to know someone cared enough to interview them at the end of their service.

Here are some useful questions to ask.

  • Why are you leaving your current position?
  • When did you start considering moving on?
  • What prompted you to look for other positions?
  • Were you given the resources you needed to do your job well?
  • What did you like most about your job?
  • What did you like least about your job?
  • What are you most proud of from your time with the organization?
  • What skills and qualities should we look for in your replacement?
  • Do you have any recommendations for the organization for the future?

Exit interviews are a great way to get feedback on your organization. As part of a consistent evaluation process, they will help you see how you can improve.

Board Source shares some great tips on exit interviews for board members in this article.

Departure-Defined Succession Planning

A wide range of terms are used in succession planning and the type of plan you create varies depending on your current stage in the process. I covered the basic types of planning necessary for all organizations in my article on succession planning. In this article, I will provide an overview for those organizations that have a long-time executive director who is planning far in advance for a transition.

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Practical Tips for Addressing Issues with Employees

It’s never easy to tell someone they are doing something wrong, and it is especially hard if you’ve put off doing it. It’s easy to hope that a minor issue will go away. But it also doesn’t help anyone to let an issue linger. Think about the effect it has on other employees who may see someone getting away with shoddy work. Or think about how much time you are wasting worrying about talking with the staff person. Not to mention that the staff person can’t correct the problem if they don’t know it is an issue.

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Creating a Leadership Development Plan

Good succession planning is about more than choosing a successor to the executive director. It needs to encompass planning for all leadership roles to strengthen the organization for the long term. A key component is leadership development planning, which provides a structured method to build leadership capacity.

As a young program manager at a social service agency, I was lucky to have many supervisors who were great mentors. They encouraged me and stretched my skills. They expected me to learn how to budget for my program, ask hard questions, supervise and mentor staff, communicate clearly, and develop partnerships in the community. They supported me in learning these skills by stretching my thinking and giving me opportunities to take on higher-level tasks. When I left that role to become an ED of a nonprofit, those leadership skills helped me tremendously, although I still had plenty to learn.

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Crafting an Operating Manual for Your Organization

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As your organization grows, you will develop the best ways to carry out certain tasks. Sometimes these are best practices in a nonprofit, other times they are simply the way your bookkeeper or funder wants you to do things. The more of these procedures you develop, the more important it is to document them.

In addition, as your organization grows, more staff will be taking care of different duties, and no one person will know how to do everything. It’s important for everyone to document their work.

This documentation has a wide range of uses. First, if you take a vacation, it makes it much easier for others to cover for you. Imagine how much easier it would be to prepare to leave for a two-week trip if you have all your day-to-day tasks already documented. Second, if you do leave your position, it will be much easier to hand things off, and know that the organization will be in good hands moving forward. Third, documenting this information will allow you to see where you can delegate tasks. If you can train someone on a task now, why not have them take it on permanently? Finally, having this documentation will help you be more efficient. In creating the manual, you’ll be able to think through your regular tasks and find ways to do your job more efficiently and effectively. You’ll also have all the information you need documented in one place. For example, you’ll have instructions on how to fill out that complicated form you have to fill out only once a year.

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Basics of Accounting and Payroll for Small Organizations

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.

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Should you hire for passion or for experience?

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Some people have a ton of skills, making them great candidates for executive director jobs. But do you need to them to demonstrate that they have a strong passion for your work? It’s going to be hard to find someone who has both the skills and passion. Both can be developed, but you have to assess whether they are a good fit for your organization at the current time. Below are some considerations to help you make a decision.

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How Do You Define Full-Time?

Do your employees struggle to fit in kids’ activities, doctor’s appointments and errands during the work week? Do they use work time to talk to their kids’ teachers or to check in with their elderly parents? Are they feeling overwhelmed with all their responsibilities both at work and at home? Reduce the number of hours they have to work, and everyone wins. Flexible schedules is one benefit most nonprofits can offer, and it is highly valued by employees.

Somehow, American culture has gotten stuck on the idea that 40 hours per week is full-time. In reality, employers can choose to define full-time as fewer hours, and doing so has huge benefits for your workforce.

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