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Want To Be In Charge? Join A Non-Profit Board.

Want To Be In Charge? Join A Non-Profit Board.

by Marilyn Machlowitz

Many of us were shocked and saddened by the headlines concerning leadership change at Planned Parenthood, and wondered what its next steps will be. Many people who have retired from long careers serve on non-profit boards, and they fear the risks inherent in any leadership transition. Rightly so. Planning for and executing such succession after the departure of a long-tenured and/or legendary leader--or any leader when the non-profit is involved in critical matters—is a tall order.

Now that you’ve joined a nonprofit board, you are highly likely to be tapped to join (or even chair) its next CEO search committee. Why you? Part of the reason will be your warmth, wit and wisdom. But, let’s face it, part of the reason will be that you’re viewed as having the time, now that you’ve ditched your day job. So here are some considerations that may make your job easier, and more successful.

  1.  Involve the entire Board in in strategizing. You don’t need the full weight of this process on your shoulders alone. With the Board, figure out what is needed, today and tomorrow.

  2. Contemplate possible organizational pivots due to unforeseen and undesired events. What if the economy tanks? What if a key staffer departs?

  3. Compose the search committee with care. Recognize it is truly a transition committee.

  4. Plan for pre- and post-search involvement. Select a search firm. You don’t want to do that after a DIY search fails.

  5. Update your knowledge of interviewing law. Under New York State law, for instance, you no longer can ask a candidate about her current salary.

  6.  When you vet candidates, go beyond and beneath the resume. It is tempting to fall in love with a back story or a pedigree. Those may be more compelling for the press release than for the long haul. Ask detailed and probing questions about her experience, and about her knowledge of your specific non-profit and its goals.

  7. After you have selected a new CEO, invest in a leadership coach for her. Coaching should be part of onboarding, not just a corrective measure after problems surface. By then it is often too late. 

Machlowitz Consultants, Inc., a NY-based executive search firm, has helped leading organizations (Ford Foundation, High Line, and more) recruit top talent since 1997. The firm had no involvement with Planned Parenthood’s transition issues.

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