An Executive Director Search on a Budget

Many small nonprofits aren’t ready to hire a search firm to find their next executive director. Organizations can do the search themselves but should involve people in the process who have experience in searches and follow best practices. Below is an overview of the process that will result in the best possible hire on a budget. Keep in mind that this method will take a significant amount of the board’s time to carry out.

  1. Committee Formation: Assemble a search committee comprising five to eight members, including both board representatives and external stakeholders such as executive directors or individuals experienced in executive director searches. Appoint a committee chair to lead the effort.
  2. Effective Communication: Entrust the committee chair with the task of keeping the entire board and staff informed throughout the process. Overcommunication is preferable to ensure everyone is on the same page and supports the final decision.
  3. Needs Assessment: Conduct a comprehensive review of the current executive director’s role and job description. Interview the incumbent ED, staff, and board to identify organizational needs. Establish clear expectations for the incoming executive director.
  4. Compelling Job Posting: Develop an enticing yet realistic job posting that will attract potential candidates. Set a salary range to include in the job posting. (Here’s why.) A good data source in Nebraska is the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands Salary and Benefits Survey.
  5.  Strategic Job Posting: Advertise the position on platforms in your community. In Lincoln, Cause Collective and the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands are the best. Also, look for relevant national nonprofit groups. Leverage your organization’s network and promote the vacancy. While LinkedIn is suitable, Indeed and Facebook may not be the most effective options.
  6. Proactive Candidate Search: Actively seek out potential candidates through recommendations from peers, funders, past board members, and staff. The best candidates may not be actively job hunting, so proactive outreach is crucial. More details on finding good candidates.
  7. Screening Process: Establish a systematic approach to screening candidates. Rank resumes based on predefined criteria and expectations, narrowing the pool to 5-10 candidates. Have a small group of committee members conduct initial phone interviews to assess suitability for the position and organization.
  8. Structured Interviews: Develop interview questions that focus on past behaviors in specific situations, as this offers the best insight into future success. Structured interviews are more effective and minimize bias.
  9. Full Committee Interviews: Schedule interviews with the entire committee present for each candidate. This ensures balanced and fair evaluation.
  10. Reference and Background Checks: Conduct thorough reference checks and, if necessary, background checks, ensuring that questions are of high quality.
  11. Finalist Selection: Hold a committee meeting to discuss candidates and choose one or two finalists.
  12. Board Engagement: Schedule meetings between the full board and finalists, potentially including a presentation by the candidate. Consider involving senior staff as well.
  13. Decision Making: The committee provides a recommendation to the board, which ultimately makes the hiring decision.
  14. Offer Finalization: Work out the details of the job offer and employment agreement, and present them to the selected candidate. Negotiate terms and plan for a successful onboarding process and first day.
  15. Ongoing Communication: Maintain transparent communication with all candidates throughout the process, acknowledging applications upon receipt and notifying them of their status at each stage.

The duration of this process varies depending on several factors, but a realistic timeframe is four to six months if the board puts in the necessary time. Patience and thoroughness are key to securing the right executive director for your nonprofit while managing budget constraints effectively.

Hiring an executive director takes careful thought and significant amounts of time. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the process, feel free to contact me for help at or 402-730-2532. I have resources to help you along every step of the search process.

Leave a Comment