Guest Post: 4 Executive Search Tips for Nonprofits - Heller Consulting

Guest Post: 4 Executive Search Tips for Nonprofits

Executive Search Tips Nonprofits Change Management

Big changes at your nonprofit can be scary, but there’s no doubt that they’re also exciting. When your organization opens the search for your next chief development officer or another top-level executive, you’re looking for a dynamic individual with ideas about how to increase support for your organization. Your nonprofit will want to find and compare the best candidates to ensure your future success.

Whenever you choose to make changes at your organization—from launching a new software system to hiring your next executive—you’ll need to have strategies in place ahead of time to make the transition process as smooth as possible for your entire team. 

Today, we’re taking a look at some of the ways you can choose the best possible executive for your organization and transition them into their new role effectively. We’ll show you how your organization can:

  1. Partner with a fundraising consultant to identify the strongest candidates.
  2. Define the responsibilities of the position you are seeking to fill.
  3. Look for candidates who fit your organization’s culture.
  4. Develop an effective onboarding process to ensure a smooth transition.

Finding the best leadership for your organization can be a challenge no matter how many years you’ve been around or changes you’ve gone through in the past. One tried-and-true (and highly effective) strategy is to partner with a fundraising consultant who can help your organization identify the best candidates for the position.

Tip 1

1. Partner with a fundraising consultant to identify the strongest candidates.

When it comes time to make decisions about your nonprofit’s new leadership, you want to make sure that you’re not overlooking any possible candidates who may be particularly well-suited to your nonprofit. 

The professional expertise of a fundraising consultant is especially helpful as your organization works to identify all possible candidates and choose the best one to help you reach your goals.

Partnering with an experienced fundraising consultant can help your organization find many more potential candidates than would be possible on your own. If you like the idea of working with a professional, check out Averill Fundraising Solutions’ guide to hiring a fundraising consultant for advice about how you can make the best choice. Before you hire a consultant, you’ll also want to make sure:


  • Your consultant has executive search experience. Look at potential consultants’ websites, search around for reviews, and communicate with other organizations like yours so that you find a fundraising consultant who has plenty of experience when it comes to finding new leadership for nonprofits.
  • Your consultant understands your nonprofit’s goals for your new executive. Decide whether you’re looking for an executive who can help your nonprofit grow by soliciting more major gifts, redefine your organization’s goals, or take on different responsibilities. Your consultant will be most helpful in your organization’s search when they have a good idea of the type of leader you’re looking for.
  • Your organization understands how you will pay your fundraising consultant. Your organization is highly likely to benefit from the experience of a professional fundraising consultant when searching for your next executive. This makes your fundraising consultant a worthwhile investment! You can learn more about consultant fees and payment systems here.


With the help of your fundraising consultant, your organization will be able to reach out to a larger pool of potential candidates and find the best executive for your nonprofit from among them. Before you begin reaching out to your top candidates, however, be sure that your organization has defined the responsibilities that they will be expected to assume if selected.


2. Define the responsibilities of the position you are seeking to fill.

While it’s almost certain that your next executive will be responsible for developing strategies to increase giving to your organization in some way, the routes through which they accomplish this goal will vary according to your organization’s needs. 

Whether on your own or with guidance from your fundraising consultant, your organization must establish your new executive’s role within your organization before officially opening your search.

Any executive your organization considers hiring should be an expert in the art of asking supporters to give, but there are several strategies through which your organization may choose to approach this overarching goal. Revisit your organization’s long and short-term goals before opening your search for new leadership, determining whether you’re looking for an expert with the most experience in:


  • Soliciting major gifts. Major gift asks and donation requests are sure to be central components of your new executive’s role within your organization, as these gifts are crucial for the continuation and growth of your nonprofit’s work. Understanding each of your top candidates’ approaches for soliciting major gifts is essential in choosing the right individual for the role.
  • Establishing strategies to achieve goals. Your organization knows what you want to achieve, but it’s likely that you’re looking for a new executive who can develop effective step-by-step plans to help you reach those goals. Define your own objectives before you open your search so that you can ask potential candidates about their plans to help your organization achieve your goals.
  • Finding creative new directions for your organization. Perhaps your organization would like to reach out to supporters through a new medium, look into corporate sponsorship opportunities, or address a cause you haven’t focused on in the past. Decide whether your organization wants to continue along a path you’ve already defined or spend more time exploring new opportunities, as this will influence your decisions on new leadership.


Once you’ve defined your goals for your new executive and determine what you want to ask and learn about each candidate, you can begin interviewing them. As you do so, make sure that you’re looking for the individuals who would best fit within your organization’s existing culture.


3. Look for candidates who fit your organization’s culture.

Every nonprofit is unique, not only in the causes they address and the means through which they address them but also in the ways in which their team members interact. 

Especially when your new executive is coming from outside of your organization, it’s important to take the time to make sure that they will fit well within your organization’s culture.

One good strategy to get an initial idea as to whether a candidate will be a good fit for your organization is to have them meet and interact with members of your team at all levels. You’ll want to value your team members’ input on each of the candidates, as you’ll all be working together to achieve your goals in the future.

As you get to know each candidate, take note of how effectively they engage socially with your team members and plan to do so with your supporters. Their job involves regular interaction with your nonprofit’s staff as well as volunteers, supporters, and potential major gift contributors. A personable individual with exceptional communication skills will likely be a strong candidate. 

Equally important, look for someone knowledgeable and passionate about your organization and the causes you address. Look for a candidate with plenty of experience working in your particular sector of the nonprofit world, both because they’ll be a good cultural fit and because they’ll be well-connected to other important individuals working in and supporting that sector.

With a careful review process and plenty of dedication from your organization, you’re sure to find the right new executive from among a pool of highly qualified candidates. The process isn’t over yet, though. To make the transition in leadership as smooth as possible, ensure that you have an effective onboarding process in place.


4. Develop an effective onboarding process to ensure a smooth transition.

Your nonprofit’s efforts to find the right new leadership don’t end once you’ve hired your favorite candidate. To make the transition easier for them and for the rest of your team, have an onboarding process in place before your new executive begins their term.

To develop this onboarding process, address each aspect of your organization in which your new executive has a role and develop a step-by-step plan for transitioning them into each of those roles. Be sure that you’ve provided them with sufficient and appropriate training.  Provide context so that they know where they can go to learn more about different components of your organization and the work in which you’re currently engaged.

New leadership is a major change for any organization, but the transition process doesn’t have to pose a large challenge. Instead, it has the potential to open new doors for your organization as you revisit and refine your goals and develop new strategies for achieving them. With enough advance planning, your nonprofit is sure to be ready for change

Once you have successfully onboarded your new executive, you can incorporate their unique experiences and perspectives as you plan for your next major project or fundraising effort. If your organization is planning to undertake a capital campaign under your new leadership, Averill Fundraising Solutions’ guide to capital campaigns is a valuable resource that your team can consult.

Whether your organization, under the guidance of your new executive, is planning a capital campaign, restructuring your fundraising strategy, or improving your communications with supporters, having the right person in the role is essential to your success. 

The executive search process may seem daunting for your organization, but with enough advance planning and the help of a knowledgeable consultant, it doesn’t have to be! Use the resources available to you so that you’re able to identify and hire an executive able to boost your nonprofit’s efforts.