When faced with a nonprofit leadership transition, it isn’t surprising that the board of directors will rush to get the job posted and the search underway as quickly as possible. While it may feel like time is of the essence, our recommendation is to take time upfront to consider together—as a board—what your vision for the organization is and how that will shape your organizational priorities and determine the qualities and experience you’ll look for in your next leader.
We’re not talking about conducting an exhaustive strategic planning process, but we do believe it is essential for the board and staff to reach agreement upon a shared vision—a vision that can guide the organization no matter who is at the helm. That means that everyone—board members and staff leadership—should be able to provide very similar answers to questions like these:
- As we look out 3-5 years from now, what does success look like for our organization? What will we be doing? What will we be achieving?
Schedule a board meeting where you take time to answer these questions together and make sure everyone is on the same page. Don’t spend time trying to draft the perfect vision statement; just make sure that everyone shares a common understanding and supports the elements of that vision
From there, the discussion can move on to answering these two questions:
- To achieve the vision we’ve described, what then are the organizational priorities we and our next leader will need to advance together?
- What does our vision for the future and the priorities we’ve just described tell us about the kind of leader we need to help us get there?
Consider how helpful it will be in recruiting a new leader to be able to clearly articulate the organization’s future direction. This clarity will offer essential guidance to your search committee and ensure that the candidates you interview hear consistent messages as they consider this opportunity. What’s more, a board and staff with a shared vision and a clear sense as to the strategic priorities should be able to move ahead with purpose rather than “treading water” as the organization conducts the search process.
It is a rare organization, and a rare board, that is so lacking in vision that they would hire someone and say: “Tell us where we should be heading.” Rarer still is the job candidate who would sign-on to such an organization.
Board members, begin your executive search process by getting clear about your vision for the future and what you see as the strategic priorities to help you get there. That shared sense of direction will guide you in determining the kind of leader you’ll need in the future, give your staff a sense of purpose, and help you attract and hire a leader who is ready to embrace your vision and join you in achieving it.