Job descriptions for the CEO/executive director role can be expansive. They can also lead to limitless responsibilities that can send the most high-performing executives looking for the nearest exit before they even enter your nonprofit’s door. While some senior-level positions require leaders to wear many hats, candidates want to know that you have set reasonable expectations for what they can achieve as a new hire.
Organizations have an obligation to build a strong framework around the CEO so that he or she is successful in the position. While it’s critical that CEOs bring top skills, experiences, strategies, and vision to their roles, they won’t be able to achieve success without adequate support and resources.
Here are some ways that your organization can avoid limitless CEO responsibilities during and after the search for your next CEO:
Determine the most important goals that your incoming CEO must accomplish in the first, second and third year
It’s easier to recognize when a candidate is the right fit for a CEO role if you outline the main issues that your team is struggling with and then juxtapose them with the candidate’s professional experiences or capabilities. The goals that you set for your CEO must be specific. Your team should develop benchmarks that determine how you will know that your CEO is successful in the role—and this should be done before you begin the interview process.
Identify the deficits that your CEO has and understand that it’s your board’s responsibility to create scaffolding around the CEO
Sometimes candidates will bring different skills with them to a specific role or organization. The ideal candidate for the role is not always the most perfect candidate. All professionals have limitations and strands of weaknesses. An effective interview will not only identify what skills your organization needs in order to thrive but also determine the skills that your potential CEO doesn’t have. Are there tasks that your CEO will need guidance on? What tasks won’t he or she have time to complete while focusing on key objectives? Identify the skills that are essential to address the most demanding issues that are affecting your organization as well as the skills that a candidate lacks that are not deal breakers and are coachable.
Decide what kind of organizational culture you want your CEO to set with the responsibilities that are outlined in the job description
If CEOs are given an unreasonable amount of responsibilities and limited professional or lay support, they will end up struggling to juggle them all. As a result, the ethos of your organization is set by the criterion that your employees need to work harder rather than smarter. The organization will not be as strong as it should be if your CEO is overwhelmed by responsibilities that are not goal oriented or achievable. It’s about efficiency and not necessarily about working long hours to achieve results.
Recognize opportunities for collaboration
Although smaller nonprofits don’t always have the resources to provide additional support to the CEO, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people already on your team that can help your CEO become more efficient in the role. In fact, supporting the CEO is the primary function of a nonprofit board. Some of the tasks that are assigned to your CEO might also require collaborations between various members of your team. That means that while a major role of the CEO in fundraising may be to act as a chief storyteller, the CEO shouldn’t be the only professional in your organization responsible for articulating or exemplifying your organization’s story. Your entire organization must promote a culture of philanthropy and take pride in representing the organization to the community and the world. It can’t be the expectation that this is to be done solely by the CEO. Partnerships and collaborations between the CEO, board, and staff are necessary to accomplish your organization’s goals.
Don’t be afraid to evaluate, refocus and set course corrections
Oftentimes the downfall of many CEOs is that their support and evaluations are not given in a constructive or meaningful way by the board or upper management. Failing to communicate with your CEO about the need to reexamine the organization’s objectives can cause things to go amiss beyond repair. If you recognize that there is room for improvement early on in the process, address it immediately. Scheduling regular check-ins allows you to pinpoint potential challenges. Boards may want to conduct mid-year evaluations or discussions about course corrections without a punitive response. This is an opportunity for your team to create a strategy with new perspectives.
Having the expectation that your CEO has to do it all without any kind of support puts both your organization and your incoming CEO at risk for failure and disappointment. Your leadership should instead strive to develop responsibilities that are manageable. Your future CEO will have a better chance of meeting, and in some cases, exceeding, your expectations.
The preceding is a guest post by Dara Klarfeld, a vice president at DRG, a national leader in nonprofit executive search. She specializes in conducting executive searches in education administration. She is also passionate about developing talent pools of next generation senior leadership in the nonprofit sector.