Possibly the most crucial decision that a not-for-profit organisation board will make is the selection and appointment of the group's CEO*. The ability of the organisation to survive and thrive may well depend upon this choice.
While a mediocre CEO may succeed at keeping the organisation ticking over, a great CEO can:
In undertaking the task of finding a great CEO for your organisation, you need to keep in mind that to at least some degree, one group's trash is another group's treasure – i.e. a great CEO is not really a great CEO unless they suit your group.
There are two major factors that will decide whether or not your search is successful – knowing what you want and how you go about finding it.
Your first step should be to form a CEO search committee. Although the full board will ultimately be responsible for making the final decision, the search committee will lead the process and help to narrow down the options.
It is vitally important that your organisation knows what it wants before it begins its search. Knowing what the group is trying to accomplish will make the task of choosing someone to take you there that much easier.
The next step is to set out exactly what skills, experience and other qualities that you want your group's new CEO to have. Think about:
Be as specific as possible. For example, if fundraising is the key issue for the organisation, it may be imperative that the key selection criteria would include proven experience in this area, such as government lobbying and the ability to secure corporate sponsorship. If you are planning to expand the organisation interstate, it would be important to hire someone with appropriate networks in that state and experience in establishing new offices.
Your position description should cover the following points:
The candidate profile should include more information than the job description, explaining in detail the sort of person you are looking for. It will be extremely useful in the advertising, interview and final selection phases.
Desired or essential qualities could include:
You have two choices here – your committee can handle the search itself, or if you have the funds you can hire a professional headhunter.
If you opt for the latter option you will need to:
Pare down the application pile by comparing each against the minimum qualifications listed in the position description.
For the second cut, rate the quality of each applicant's experience against the candidate profile; this should leave you no more than eight or 10. These are the people you should contact to invite them in for an interview. Inform the unsuccessful candidates in writing that they have been unsuccessful.
The interview is the opportunity for the committee to more meaningfully assess the qualifications, experience, interpersonal skills and values of the candidates. In order for this to happen the candidate needs to be made to feel at ease and the committee should be well briefed in terms of the information it seeks and the questions it needs to ask. The committee also needs to:
After each interview allow some time for each panel member to rate the candidate individually (using a score out of five for each criterion can be useful). When all of the interviews have been done you can use the individual scores or observations to inform the discussions surrounding final selection.
Sometimes a clear candidate will emerge as the top choice and the committee may proceed to checking the references of the preferred candidate.
Most often, however, you will find that two or even three candidates appear equally desirable. In these cases, you may need to hold a second round of interviews, perhaps by the full board instead of just the committee members.
At times, the final selection between two or three candidates will depend on their referees' information.
The importance of checking references of the final short-listed applicants cannot be over-emphasised. It is a good idea to develop a checklist of questions to be asked and to restrict the checking process to just one or two members to ensure consistency.
Before embarking on the reference checking process, the committee should consider the following points, which have practical, as well as legal, implications:
The committee must now make a recommendation to the board for approval. The selection committee should try to present a united front in its recommendation as dissension at this point makes the process difficult for the board.
Assuming the recommendation is accepted, consideration must now be given to determining the terms of the offer that might be made to the successful candidate, including salary, benefits, and other contractual arrangements.
It is a common practice to make a verbal offer and, once accepted subject to a specific offer, a written offer can be sent. When this negotiating process is completed a letter of appointment should be drafted and sent to the candidate with provision for copies to be signed indicating acceptance.
For a more detailed account of the
best way to find a great CEO for your community group, refer to the Our
Community publication, Finding the best people: The essential steps for recruiting a great Chief Executive or Coordinator for your community group.
* In this help sheet we use the term "CEO" but it is intended to apply to whatever name your group has for its head person (coordinator, general manager, chief executive, etc.)