organizational management

Should a nonprofit hire a consultant to lead its executive leadership search?

The executive leader of your organization is leaving and now your team is faced with the tremendous task of finding a replacement. You're having visions of late nights spent sifting through resumes, reviewing interview notes, and calling various board members while searching for the perfect candidate.

Worried there might not be enough coffee in the world to get through the process, you consider seeking outside help. But do you really need to hire a consultant? What would you get for your money? And can you really afford it in the first place?

Staff members at Dunleavy & Associates have helped dozens of nonprofit organizations standing at these critical crossroads find the answers they need. The first thing we advise our clients to do is develop a positive mindset about the whole process: Anxiety is normal, but so much can be accomplished when you focus on the opportunity presented. This is a unique moment to regroup as an organization and bring together team members, board members, and stakeholders to reflect on the past and plan for the future.

The leader’s impending departure creates a tremendous amount of pressure to post the position and start receiving resumes. This is a knee-jerk mistake. First you need to take a step back and determine, "What is our strategy for the next era?" and "Who do we need to lead that strategy?"

An outside consultant can provide valuable insight in guiding this internal discovery process. Specifically, the consultant can help you identify responsibilities that should be in the executive director’s job description and responsibilities that should be shifted to other senior members of your team. Clarifying the job description will allow you to develop a posting that reflects your current needs and attracts the right candidate. You'll not only engage existing leadership and strengthen your organization, but also set a clear path of priorities for the incoming executive director.

If this is the first time in institutional memory that you are seeking a new leader, it's easy to underestimate the amount of work that goes into a search. Even if you're not planning to restructure responsibilities, a lot of groundwork is needed to ensure a strong foundation for the process.

Doing the groundwork is too big a job for one person; you'll need to form a transition team. Ideally, this team blends expertise from across your organization, including finance, communications, analysis, and even organizational psychology. In our experience, the team will need to devote more than twenty hours of combined time each week and have the ability to successfully lead focus groups, communicate with stakeholders, frame out operational priorities, and, of course, lead a comprehensive search for your new leader.

If your organization lacks the skills, knowledge, or time needed to conduct a search in this manner, it's likely that an outside consultant is needed. Hiring an executive director is one of the most important decisions an organization can make, and even a high-caliber candidate may turn out to be the wrong choice for a nonprofit if compatibility pitfalls aren't identified and avoided.

You don't need to break the bank to get outside help, either. Any good consulting agency knows that many nonprofits operate on tight budgets, and will work with clients to share responsibilities and minimize fees. Hiring a firm such as Dunleavy & Associates means you won't waste time learning how to conduct a search and ensures you'll find the best possible leader for your organization.


How a volunteer planning committee can make or break a signature event

Kate Goffredo Dougherty

By Kate Goffredo Dougherty

A signature event can be a truly seminal moment for a nonprofit. Execute well, and your organization is likely to receive a windfall of donations and a surge of support from stakeholders and prospects. Execute poorly, and you may find yourself with dwindling coffers and finger-pointing within the ranks.

That’s a lot of responsibility to place upon the shoulders of a volunteer planning committee. Fortunately, there are tried and true methods that Dunleavy & Associates has honed while helping to plan signature events for our nonprofit clients.

The first thing we tell any nonprofit in the early stages of planning an event is to assemble a committee of volunteers with a diverse set of networks and availability. It’s best that committee members have varying work schedules, ensuring someone is always available to complete tasks, and also varying social and professional networks, creating a large pool from which to solicit funds. A tried-and-true recipe is to have high-powered committee members use their network to pursue large donations, while volunteers with more free time handle day-to-day administrative or communications tasks.

Once you have formed the volunteer planning committee for a signature event, the next step is to organize. Subcommittees and their chairpersons should be selected on merit, and tasked with clearly defined responsibilities. Exact positions will vary based on the needs of each event, but all subcommittees will work best when chairs are chosen for their skill set and experience, not their seniority or patronage. In most cases, it’s wise to select a committee chairperson who is high-energy and experienced in planning, and who can take charge, grease the wheels daily, and motivate the committee throughout the process.

Perhaps just as important as utilizing the strengths of the people you do have, is to recognize the weaknesses presented by skills that are lacking. Common examples are organizations that are planning an event for the first time and don’t have experience in securing a location, or those that lack the capacity to handle the large volume of communications that successful event planning requires.

You’ll need to fill these gaps, lest one becomes the Achilles heel of your event. If you’re unable to find the expertise or capacity required within your own network, it’s at this point that enlisting the services of a firm such as Dunleavy & Associates should be considered.

Once you have all of your role players in place, it’s crucial to make sure everyone knows what is expected of them and follows through on those responsibilities. Often times, well-meaning subcommittee members will step outside the lines; a person responsible for securing a location will start nosing around the catering menu, or a volunteer tasked with calling donors will start shopping around for flower arrangements. While their intentions are to help, such blurring of responsibilities often ends up wasting time and annoying committee members already assigned to those tasks.

If you’re not sure you have the right people or enough experience to knock your next signature event out of the park, be sure to follow these best practices and consider bringing an organization like Dunleavy & Associates on board if there are gaps within your volunteer team.

About the author: Kate Goffredo Dougherty is Senior Project Manager, Operations at Dunleavy & Associates. With a background in nonprofit administration, Kate oversees the lion's share of Dunleavy's operations, and shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their operational and organizational management. She also specializes in event planning.

How much administrative support does a nonprofit board need?

Kate Goffredo Dougherty

By Kate Goffredo Dougherty

Time can be an easy thing to under-budget. A 20-minute drive into the city? Try 45. Half an hour at the grocery store? More like an hour and a half. A few minutes after dinner for a stroll around the block? Forget about it.

But time is the key factor when deciding how much administrative support a nonprofit needs to give to its board of directors. Over or underestimation of time commitments on either side can result in leadership breakdowns with ramifications throughout the organization. So how can this be avoided?

Follow this golden rule: Boards do not have a lot of time. Never lose sight of the fact that board members are almost always volunteers, with jobs and other commitments that will take priority over your organization. Even the most enthusiastic board member will at some point find themselves running short on time when life's other responsibilities come calling.

For this reason, you must treat your board's time with respect. Expect little of it, and make the most of what you do receive by giving extra emphasis to organization. When board meetings roll around, be prepared.

Don't use word-of-mouth to determine who should be attending or what will be on the agenda. Instead, send out an email a week in advance with all of the necessary materials and a list of who will be speaking. If neither your board nor your administration has its ducks in a row prior to a meeting, you'll end up wasting time or, even worse, arriving at crucial decisions based on faulty information.

Administrative support shouldn't conclude with the meeting, either. Although it can be a cumbersome task, have someone take thorough minutes and commit to spending a few hours after the meeting to cleaning them up and sending them out. You have your board's attention and the meeting is fresh on their minds, so follow up immediately. They can't be expected to jump back into the fray a week or two down the line.

Occasionally, board members can actually be the ones who underestimate how much of their own time is needed. We see this often with organizations that lose an executive and decide to temporarily shift responsibilities to the board. Board members optimistically believe they can divvy up the time, but they often fail to realize the extent of responsibilities: tax filing, banking deposits, invoicing, event organization, and even day-to-day communication with employees and stakeholders.

These responsibilities should rarely, if ever, be given to board members, because these situations can quickly degrade into disorganization and lost revenue. For that reason we always advise nonprofits to enlist administrative support services provided by a company like Dunleavy & Associates when faced with an absence, even if only for a short period of time.

About the author: Kate Goffredo Dougherty is Senior Project Manager, Operations at Dunleavy & Associates. With a background in nonprofit administration, Kate oversees the lion's share of Dunleavy's operations, and shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their operational and organizational management. She also specializes in event planning.