Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hiring an Interim ED

I am currently in the midst of my third assignment as an Interim Executive Director. I really enjoy these assignments, as I get to really learn about a number of different organizations, help them through some transition or another, and then move on bringing that experience with me.

That explains why I like these jobs, but, if your nonprofit is in the midst of an executive transition, why should you hire an outsider consultant as your Interim instead of somebody already on staff?

An "insider" can be a good Interim ED under certain circumstances, but there are dangers as well. I can tell you about one agency I'm familiar with that made a major error with an insider Interim.

Upon the retirement of their long-term ED, the Board was pleased to promote a certain senior staffer to Interim. This staff person had been groomed by the previous ED for the position, and the Board expressed confidence in her ability to lead the organization during the transition.

The key words there are "during the transition." The Board simultaneously began a major search for their permanent ED. The Interim, of course, applied, but so did many well qualified outsiders. While the Board, staff, funders, etc., all loved the Interim, one of the outsiders was hired to be the new Executive Director.

The Interim was demoralized to return to her staff position after being in the leadership post for nearly six months (and having been praised for her performance). She considered it a slap in the face, and so did many of the other staff. The new ED shortly had to contend with many key people resigning and leaving for other organizations, including the previous Interim ED.

Had an outsider been brought in as Interim, her feelings may have still been hurt at not getting the big job, but it would not have been such a public and obvious insult. Much of the fall-out would have been avoided.

What can you learn from this?

If your Executive Director (or really any other important position) is leaving, look inside your organization first and before the ED leaves. If there are no internal candidates that you feel good about promoting, hire a consultant to be your Interim ED before going to an external search. You can always promote the internal candidate after an external search, but taking away the leadership role once assigned is a hornet's nest you'd be better off avoiding.

1 comment:

  1. very valuable experience - thanks for sharing your thoughts. We've all seen horror stories like the one you describe, without realizing that they are often preventable!