Executive Leadership for Nonprofits

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Why would our nonprofit want to hire an Interim Executive?
A.
Temporary leadership from an interim executive, who has no vested interest in “the way we’ve always done it,” offers a nonprofit the time to make necessary changes that will better ensure the likelihood of success with the next permanent leader. An interim can bring in a specific set of skills that the organization needs during a difficult transition, provide a neutral perspective and serve as a transitional leader after the departure of a strong or well-respected leader.

Q. How will using a professional Interim Executive help our Board of Directors?
A.
An interim executive will evaluate the organization and strengthen it prior to the permanent leader taking charge. This allows the Board to focus on its most important role…hiring the next staff leader.

Q. How will our staff respond to an Interim Executive? What about our members or stakeholders?
A.
An interim executive pays close attention to the personal and organizational dynamics that occur during these transitions. Creating a calm, sensitive environment helps provide an important balance for staff and stakeholders.

Q. Why does our organization need a strategic plan?
A.
Strategic planning is crucial in order to be certain the Board and all staff members are clear about the direction of the organization and the priorities to achieve its goals. An effective strategic plan provides alignment of all committees’ charts of work and for all staff members’ performance objectives. The simpler the better, too! Too many goals diffuse the focus and reduce the chances of achieving any of them.

Q. Is it alright to have the Executive Director alone create the strategic plan?
A.
Board members and key stakeholders need to be involved with key elements of the plan to make sure there is agreement on the goals and priorities. The Executive Director can certainly make recommendations and provide leadership in the process, but engagement of volunteer leadership and other constituents is critical.

Q. How many years out should we plan for?
A.
In this economic environment, three years is a good rule of thumb. Changes will inevitably occur, so expect to refresh the plan slightly every year or at the mid-point.

Q. How do we know if we’re achieving our goals after the plan has been established?
A.
Creating a simple scorecard that is reviewed quarterly by the Board of Directors will help everyone be clear on how the implementation compares to the original plan, and then corrections can be made as appropriate.

Q. Why would we want to bring in an outside consultant to assist us in strategic planning?
A.
It is important to recognize what is involved in strategic planning when answering this question. Strategic planning includes external analysis, interviewing stakeholders, typing up meeting notes, and facilitating Board discussions or a Board retreat. The Executive Director may not feel like he or she has the time for this additional workload. Secondly, he or she may prefer to be seen as an objective and good listener, hearing what the other stakeholders have to say. The whole process can take up to four months.

Q. What’s the ideal size for a Board of Directors?
A.
That depends on the expectations for the Board as a whole, primarily with fundraising. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Q. What are some typical Board Governance roles and responsibilities?
A.
This varies, depending on the business model of the nonprofit. All Boards are responsible for fiduciary oversight and hiring of the CEO. But that is where the similarities end. Frequency of Board meetings, the need for committees, and, of course, fundraising expectations can vary widely.

Q. How many Board meetings should we have each year?
A.
Younger organizations frequently require more of a hands-on approach from the Board, thus more frequent meetings. As an organization matures, the Board can get work accomplished through committees and meet as an entire group less often.

Q. How do we hold Board members accountable to follow through on their commitments since they are volunteers?
A.
The Board would first agree on minimum expectations for each member and communicate those expectations. Then expectations can be tracked with an annual or periodic scorecard that will be given to each member explaining how well they are performing. It is the role of the Board leadership to talk to any member who is not fulfilling these expectations.  By following this common accountability approach, all Board members then have confidence their colleagues are fulfilling their responsibilities and the team keeps getting stronger.