Mike English | Vice President

In this insightful interview, Mike English, a seasoned expert in non-profit leadership transition, shares his wisdom on the challenges non-profits face due to high turnover rates among executive directors. He discusses the importance of finding the right leader to fulfill an organization’s mission and offers strategies to navigate leadership transitions smoothly. From setting up a search committee to conducting rigorous interviews and managing internal candidates, English provides a comprehensive guide to non-profit leadership transition. This interview is a must-watch for anyone involved in non-profit management, offering valuable insights to ensure the long-term success of your organization.

visit them here: morancompany.com


What Nonprofit Questions are Answered?

  1. Why is the turnover rate for non-profit executive directors so high?
  2. How can a non-profit find the right leader for the organization?
  3. What should a non-profit leadership transition process include?
  4. What are the potential challenges in a non-profit leadership transition, and how can they be avoided?
  5. How can a non-profit manage internal candidates during a leadership transition?

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(00:00) looking Kansas City a better place to live work and play this KC care segment is brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation kauffman.org. as an executive director running a non-profit organization is no easy task they are staffed to manage or a lack of Staff fundraising Financial oversight programs and events to attend a board to work with and volunteers to recruit and work with and so much more it’s running a business despite the tax designation statistics indicate the turnover rate for executive directors is between 18

(00:36) and 22 percent the expectation is a non-profit board can look to navigate a leadership transition every four to five years so how can a non-profit find the Right leader for the organization and fulfill its Mission what should a search include what are the bumps in the road and how can you avoid them well we’ve gone to an expert in this space as part of our ask the expert series and we welcome back Mike English he’s vice president for search strategies and Senior search consultant for the Moran company which is based here in Kansas

(01:07) City and conducts these searches on a daily basis Mike comes to us having been a guest on the show a few years years back as an executive director himself turned the page so welcome back Mike we’re glad to have you thank you Ruth it’s great to be here all right well we want to share with our audience uh you navigated your own search for your replacement and then I decided it was so much fun you wanted more right yes I had been an executive director for for some different non-profit organizations for oh gosh

(01:40) about 20 years and most recently was executive director at Turn the Page KC a local non-profit organization um I was there about eight years um you know I I was ready to move on I think it was good for the organization too as this happens I think at a for a lot of people in in that role and so um we conducted kind of our own search and and um I was a big part of that and really enjoyed it so like you said I I’ve made that transition to to working in executive search for non-profit organizations uh full-time uh with the

(02:11) Moran company what was that transition like for you you had been at the home for so long so I wonder jumping the fence right it you know it was it was it was good I I really enjoyed uh the non-profit culture and the people in nonprofit organizations and that includes staff and board and so that in this role I get to work with um non-profit boards all over the country and so it’s been it’s been pretty seamless because it’s it’s you know that’s a role I know really well and so um as I do this work it’s um I really

(02:50) enjoy kind of trying to make that match between what the organization needs and and people out there that can do it well well let’s Dive Right In I I started the show with some statistics that I think might surprise some folks you know changing a leader every four to five years what’s behind that that seems like not long tenure right it is you know it’s it’s not easy work being an executive director and so there there is certainly I think some burnout that that executive directors face um after a number of years and so

(03:29) um I think that’s that’s certainly part of it and you know what we you know and and the person hired isn’t always the the best fit and so what we really try to do is make sure that that match between executive director and board and organizational culture is really strong and really the right fit so that we get a longer tenure in that in that organization so yeah I think it’s the the reason behind that turnover is probably simply just it’s not easy work and um it really is important to find a

(04:02) really good match between organization and and or um executive director this might be an odd question but I’m wondering what’s like the failure rate overall kind of in the industry when you do go and you hire somebody and it just doesn’t work out right it’s a good question it’s it’s you know for search firms like ours um typically executive search firms provide a one-year guarantee and so if the individual leaves in under a year the company does that surge again for free and so um typically firms measure that

(04:43) as the success rate so you know what are the um percentage of placements that last the year and also once a person lasts that first year they’re um more likely to be there long term for for us I think it’s over 95 percent of our placements uh last over a year and of course we’re doing more and more searches each year and so um we’re not quite sure you know how long people will last because they’re still in the role and hopefully won’t be a long a long time but you know when an organization invests in a search and

(05:14) brings in professionals to help conduct that search in my experience it’s more likely to end up with a long-term placement all right let’s start at the very beginning you’re that board president and you get that call that letter that email that says I’m leaving for whatever reason right how do you begin as that organization take us through that kind of thought process right the first the first kind of um variable is how long um is that person going to stay what is your notice in terms of when is that

(05:54) person going to leave if you have if you have ample notice and it’s maybe it’s a retirement or it’s a person who’s um just decided to to move on but is willing to stay several months until a replacement can be found uh that’s ideal and so what that board president um would do and what we recommend that person do is is establish a search committee and so that’s a committee of board members typically sometimes with staff as well uh to serve as that um representation of the board when conducting a surgeon at this point

(06:27) and this is how we get work of course those search firms will determine they want to hire a firm to to lead the search and so that’s when we kind of come in the process and um and help the organizations um in some cases or in a lot of cases unfortunately there may not be that sort of notice so that executive director maybe has found a new job and it’s going to be leaving in a few weeks or maybe they’re leaving abruptly and in those cases what most nonprofits will then do is um find an interim executive director

(06:59) and that’s that’s an important step in order to provide some stability into to find that interim executive director uh that non-profit May identify a senior leader within the organization so maybe your CFO or a chief development officer someone who who they can ask to serve as that interim a lot of cases that’s the board member will offer to serve as that interim executive director and then there there are people out there that um that are Pros that are maybe that are retired directors or Consultants that

(07:30) can come in and be hired to serve as an interim so if it’s an Abrupt departure an interim can really help to provide that stability while that surge takes place so so those are the two scenarios longer term or more urgent search and those are kind of the first steps the the board president would take how critical is it to find the right person to be that interim it’s it depends on the circumstances of the organization so um it in some cases you’ll have a non-profit that’s really in um chaos or in flux

(08:08) um and if that’s the case uh it’s really important to find the right person to help provide stability maybe clean up any issues there might be because you don’t want a new permanent executive director to come in uh to a situation that is that is chaos and so that would be the most important time to find a really solid interim is when there are things that need to be stabilized um in other cases where it’s maybe it’s a the organization is in really strong shape a lot of non-profits boards will

(08:44) see this as an opportunity maybe to test somebody out right so you’ve gotta okay in your leader that could be a great internal candidate and by appointing that person the interim executive director and then conducting a search at the same time they can really you know see if that person is successful so um there may be some um uncertainty there by appointing a current staff member as the interim but it’s a good opportunity in some cases how often do you all encounter uh you know being involved in a search where

(09:15) they say we don’t want that interim as our executive director we we want a caretaker keep things stable I’m just curious where that lands it’s a good it’s it’s a good question I would say about 50 in my experience will will have a board that um uh if there’s an interim in place that person is uh is going to be an internal candidate for the position um and and you might be thinking well why would you even do a search if you’re gonna point an interim that you may end up hiring well for for one one things

(09:50) that what I mentioned before it’s an opportunity to give that person a chance to prove prove themselves but then also I think by um it’s it provides credibility to that person if they are ultimately hired as the permanent executive director because they they provided area they conducted a search so in in other cases there the expectation is that the interim executive director will not be a candidate for the job it’s important to be upfront about that uh with that interim executive director um and so uh in those cases that’s about

(10:25) another half of the searches that at least I’ve been a part of where there is an interim the expectation is that person will um be there Just As a caretaker I want to Circle back you had said you know setting up that search committee it’s usually some board members may include staff what’s your opinion about also bringing in I guess I would say clients recipients the people that you actually serve with what your nonprofit’s mission is is that part of the mix it is and I I think it’s that’s a really

(10:57) important part of the mix in terms of gathering feedback and input on the attributes that the organization should be looking for and so in all of our searches we conduct uh interviews and surveys of recipients of clients of um of stakeholders at the very beginning and then develop what we call the position profile that then helps us uh work on that search um and so I think no matter what that’s a very important first step in terms of the search committee itself that’s the committee that it’s going to

(11:32) be interviewing and ultimately making the decision about who to make the job offer to and so um in most cases that is limited to board members um and in some cases staff will be a part of that as well um to a lesser extent uh General Community stakeholders or clients are part of that so the search committees together you’re doing the homework at the beginning of what do we want in a leader um an attribute survey I guess or uh what is it we’re looking for how important is it in that part of the process is it what we’re not

(12:12) looking for very important very important so so that once that recruiting starts or that that posting of the position is is made then um everybody understands what you’re now looking for because there may be some very strong candidates on paper that um that the organization there there’s there’s maybe some you know it could be a management style or a personality style that the organization knows would create conflict with staff and you do know that and then that may be a management style you can avoid for

(12:48) example if um an organization and a lot of non-profits are this way or really looking for a collaborative leader then um you know that you’re not looking for sort of a very top-down my way or the highway away type leader and so then during that Outreach and those interviews the the search committee knows okay well this is probably not the best fit for our culture how do you really ascertain that as you said people look great on paper how how do you find that out if somebody’s uh this is how I run it this is how it goes or I love to sit

(13:26) around and have that cup of coffee and really find out what it’s all about right I think the first thing you do is you ask them and there are clever ways to do that in an interview is it because when you when you ask about a person’s leadership style um most people are going to give an answer that they think you want to hear right and maybe it’s true maybe it’s not but but by by asking about scenarios and and practical examples there are ways to really uncover what their management style is and and those questions that I

(13:57) find are most helpful about conflict so how have you how do you handle a certain conflict give us an example and those questions can can help ascertain what that person’s management style really is and then of course once if it’s a finalist candidate and you’re doing references that’s something that you can really find out by checking references so we kind of jumped over the uh you’ve got the job description you put it out there in whatever places and and are there places that you would recommend that you should

(14:26) absolutely be posting these kinds of positions yes for sure if it’s Kansas City the the non-profit connect is is the probably go-to place for posting non-profit jobs and executive director jobs um since we work in cities all over the country uh we typically try to find that um that type of non-profit Association organization to post that position um and then the um there are a number of different job sites nationally that we typically use um that help us to find um candidates by sector or um some that are good at helping to generate a more

(15:10) diverse portfolio of candidates and then of course LinkedIn is is really emerging as a a great place to circulate positions and get candidates you know I would say for our searches we probably get over 50 percent of our our candidates see the job or hear about it from LinkedIn that’s interesting we’re talking with Mike English the Moran company filling Us in on all those critical things that we should be doing if you’re looking for an executive director Mike so you’ve got the job description out

(15:39) there it’s floating around in all the appropriate places how long do you wait to start you know saying okay we have enough and what is that critical number well so we put a time limit on it so we put about a six week recruiting period so once that position is posted we have it posted an application portal open for six weeks and during that time we’re doing active Outreach as well so um the some of the best candidates you’ll find for a job aren’t necessary they’re not necessarily looking and so

(16:16) um by getting the word out talking to lots of people we’re able to kind of uncover or um uh I guess uh new candidates that may not see that on a posting so after about six weeks uh we then move quickly into that Final Phase which is evaluating applications identifying who we want to interview and then moving through a few rounds of interviews and to kind of narrow the field and find the perfect candidate so I wouldn’t put a necessarily a number of applicants uh numbers out there but a but a time period is is a good way to

(16:51) you may have you may have a hundred you may have 200 candidates you may have 20 but if you’re doing you’re recruiting you’re an Outreach well you’ll have the right person at the end okay so going back to that search committee then who conducts the interviews you know sometimes search committees are really big sometimes they’re not so big right who does the talking are they asking I like a search committee that’s got maybe four or five people on it and and so during the interviews with the

(17:24) candidates and to do multiple rounds of interviews we find it’s it’s it’s a good start to do it over Zoom um and so over Zoom or whatever platform you use um and so that way you can you know interview several people um over zoom in a first round and and um sort of divide up the questions or the topic areas uh is a good way to make sure that the full committee is engaged in participating and talking on on the call and asking those interview questions so um and then after that sort of what we call the zoom round that

(18:00) maybe that initial round or that semi-finalists around candidates then it’s important to bring them in in person and so then that search committee again will interview maybe two or three kind of finalist candidates and then um at that point a non-profit has to decide do we want the full board to have a say in this higher and be part of that interview process or are they delegating that uh decision-making power to the search committee and that really varies by the type of organization and the size of the board if the full board is going

(18:34) to be a part of that interview um then there’s uh then there’s typically a nut you know structuring that around a board meeting meeting maybe the most sort of convenient way to set that up and then at the uh and then it’s just up to the nonprofit how they want to handle that that interview at that point let’s talk about questions what do you ask and what can’t you ask yes that’s good that’s a good question we have a we have a whole list of questions that we can’t ask that we always provide our clients and so

(19:08) um those are you know obvious legal questions like you can’t ask a person’s age or their marital status privilege and those kind of things um and then in terms of questions to ask um I like to match up we talked about that position profile that’s developed at the beginning I’d like to make sure we’re matching up our questions with what we’re looking for and so um the the jobs usually entail some leadership working with Boards of directors um managing people raising money um understanding finances communicating

(19:46) internally and externally those are sort of those General topic areas that we try to ask questions about and then as I mentioned before those questions um are most effective when you can really drill in and ask for concrete examples of um how much money has the person been responsible for raising that’s a that’s a usually an important question for a smaller non-profit they want to make sure that the person can raise money so um matching up those topic areas with what you’re looking for and then asking

(20:18) for a person’s experience maybe their um their point of view perspective or strategy and then trying to drill in on specific examples is a really good way to make sure you’re you know you’re getting what you want an executive director how long should that interview last the um I would say that are that the so the way we handle interviews is we like to interview a lot of people and so our initial round of interviews we may have 20 people and so each of those interviews are usually about 30 minutes

(20:50) and then we kind of narrow the field to maybe five or six people and then that next round of interviews will take um we schedule those for about 45 minutes to an hour and then have a final round which is usually over an hour with the individual and because it’s a executive director role um it’s it’s also important to make sure that there’s an opportunity for that person to really ask a lot of questions so um at this point of the of the interview you know the candidate is is in a way interviewing the organization as well

(21:24) and so um setting that interview that final interview where there might be two or three candidates for about about an hour and a half to two hours um that’s a good length of time to make sure that you’re getting everything you need to know about the person but also they’re getting an opportunity to make sure they want the job I’m so glad you brought that up you know I’ve heard people talk about going through interviews like this and they come out they they feel like they’ve been interrogated but nobody really you

(21:51) know allowed them to ask a few questions so that’s such a key critical point how important or I’m trying to find the right way to ask this how critical is it for that final candidate or two to be able to have some interplay with the staff it’s it’s really important on both sides so for the again you’re going to make an if this is the person you want you’re going to offer them the job and you want them to accept the job and most people are not going to be comfortable accepting that job until they’ve met the

(22:30) staff and so um there should be an opportunity for them to to meet the staff um and then uh on the other side you really want to make sure that the staff um feels part of the process like they had a chance to the person before they’re being hired that can be a little tricky setting it up in a way so that the staff has input and has a role um but but may not be a formal interview with the staff and so I like to set those meetings up as um somewhat less formal uh where the the candidate meets the staff um and so that uh ultimately when that

(23:11) person has hired the staff feels comfortable um and the the candidate takes a job because they’ve had a chance to meet the staff and they feel good about where they’re going I’ll ask this question I think I probably obviously know the answer but I’ll let I’ll let sport answer how does a non-profit decide whether they do this internally versus going to a company such as Moran yes um we get a lot of inquiries from organizations that are um trying to decide that and so a lot of it depends on a budget

(23:51) and whether they uh you know they have the resources to to pay a search firm to do the search and as well as their own capacity to do it so um if a non-profit feels like they have the expertise on their board and the time to put in the process uh then in a lot of cases they’ll decide to do it on their own and um one of one thing I want to stress about the time commitment is that to do a search and get a good result there really needs to be a lot of effort into that recruiting and that Outreach to find candidates because you can post

(24:25) a job and you may just not get a lot of interest in it um because like I said before a lot of the best candidates aren’t looking they’re not looking at those job boards since you need somebody to do that outrage and so if the board has um the time and the capacity to do that they could do that on their own um but if the organization um is really uh you know wants to bring in professionals and that’s where we get hired to come in and kind of lead them through the process because it’s it’s probably the most important thing you’ll

(24:54) do as a board member um for a non-profit organization is to make a hire of a new executive director and so um obviously I’m biased but I think that search firm isn’t is really important in order to to make sure it may cost some money but you’re making sure you’re getting that right person it’s an it’s an investment you’re getting you know you’ll it’ll really benefit the organization in the long term if you find the right person all right we’re at the point that you’ve

(25:22) got the candidate that’s the person you want how long should it take between we want you Mike versus Mike giving a decision right I would say not more than a few days so okay um it’s because what’s happening at this point too is you have gone through this process and you’ve narrowed the field down to maybe two or three people and in most cases uh there’s a favorite but there are also others that would also be great so when you make that offer uh you don’t want it to drag on too long because if you do in the personal but

(26:04) ultimately declines the offer then um you may have lost your other individuals that you also like and so setting a so what search committees often do is prepare prepare an offer letter um with a date by which they expect a reply in a decision um and so if it’s a you know if it’s a Friday or that offered is made uh maybe giving that person the weekend to think it over and make sure that that they’re all in and then hopefully get that decision by Monday gotcha I was going to ask what’s the percentage of people that get offered

(26:41) and say oh thank you I don’t know that’s a good question it does happen um what the searches were involved with uh there’s it’s a pretty rigorous process and so and we do a lot of um have a lot of discussions with candidates to make sure that their um they’re committed to this that they’re really all in the other thing I try to do is make sure that we’re upfront about the salary from the get-go and so the salary I I think can be that can be one reason people decline an offer probably the most probably the

(27:17) biggest reason but if if that person really knows and we remind them throughout the process this is the salary range are you comfortable with that does that does that work um then when the offer is made that’s not going to be a reason they decline that offer um but what what can happen is a person may you know if they’re looking for a job they’re they’re they might be entertaining other opportunities as well and so right in some cases they’ll decline your offer because they’re taking another job so

(27:45) um that’s another thing to be cognizant of when conducting a search is you may not be the only Suitor for this person and so um again that’s another once those interviews start I think it’s important to kind of be um efficient about the process otherwise you may lose candidates we’ve just got a couple minutes left tell us some real big don’ts instead of dues what are the domes well I think so um one big don’t I would say we talked a little bit about internal candidates before um and so I think it’s important to be

(28:23) very um transparent with that internal candidate about about the process so um one don’t I would say is to um uh treat an internal candidate um unfairly or poorly during the process or um you know allow them to have the perception that they were treated unfairly or poorly because that person would often will then leave um the organization and that’s probably a valuable part of your your organization and so um we try to make sure that those internal candidates it might be the CFO the development director whoever it is

(29:01) um feels like that feels good about the process um so that they don’t leave so that that would be one one don’t the other I would say um is uh and this is my personal opinion don’t hide the salary um because again that’s the probably the biggest reason why this can fall apart at the end is if a candidate had different expectations about what that that salary is going to be um and then uh finally I would say don’t let it drag on um we have our props that takes about about 12 to 14 weeks from start to

(29:35) finish um once it’s posted I mentioned we have a six week recruiting period and then once interviews take it’s you choose only three weeks or so from when we schedule interviews to when an offer is made um and so what can happen with a busy board of directors is that scheduling gets in the way and then all of a sudden it’s you know three weeks in between each round of interviews that’s that you’re going to lose candidates during that time and so um I always recommend setting up your schedule right at the

(30:08) beginning for everybody so put that you know semi-finalists and finalist round of interviews on your calendar right now um so that um nothing gets in the way once you get to the end because if you drag it on too long your your um more likely to lose really good candidates just because they find something else he’s Mike English he’s with the Moran company check out their website www.morancompany.

(30:40) com my thanks this was great I’m so glad to get you on as the expert appreciate your time my pleasure thanks for having me thank you for tuning in to KC to KC cares Kansas City’s non-profit voice were produced by charitable communication you’re saying what was brought to you by the Marion Kaufman Hoffman Foundation www.kauffman.

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(31:23) 5 FM thank you for joining us I’m KC cares thank you