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When Your Nonprofit Might Need an Interim Executive Director
(And the Questions You Should Ask First)
Interim executive directors (interim EDs for short) are usually thought of as “those folks who hold down the fort” at nonprofits when boards expect a long gap between executives.
But what do interim EDs do, exactly, and how do you know when – and if – your nonprofit needs one? If you do need one, how do you choose the best one?
They’re Different. They’re the Same.
Interim executive directors have many characteristics and tasks in common with permanent executive directors. In some instances they don’t. Most interim EDs were executive directors at one time in their lives.
“The interim EDs we recruit for the Executive Transitions Program [ETP] are able to do everything an executive director can do,” says Hez Norton, Third Sector New England’s executive transitions program manager. “They bring the knowledge of organizational dynamics, the operations skills and the art of management to the table.”
Executive Transition Program interim directors, Hez reports, oversee budgets, supervise staff, manage programs and improve operational systems – all with an in-depth understanding of transition issues in non-profit organizations.
“Interim EDs really work to prepare the organization for the new executive director – to help make sure that the new ED will have success,” Hez adds.
On the other hand, it is unusual for an interim executive director to conduct individual fundraising for the comparatively short time he or she is with the organization. An interim ED will also to be the public face of the group. The interim ED’s role is to support the board and staff and to implement the overall fund-raising plan.
In the ETP model, the interim ED is not involved in the search for the new executive director.
When Should You Have an Interim Executive Director?
Sometimes a senior staff person or even a board member can step temporarily into the role of executive director until the nonprofit can hire a new CEO.
But in many cases, the organization would be better served by an outside expert. Here’s why:
Articles on Executive Transition
Hez adds, “Sometimes a ‘start-up’ nonprofit will hire an interim ED before they fully begin operations and aren’t quite ready to hire full-time staff yet. I’ve seen other circumstances where boards just wanted to take a ‘breather’ between EDs. Hiring an interim ED gave the organization time to ask questions, strengthen systems and get ready for the new ED.”
You Want an Interim Executive Director; What Should You Know?
Hez Norton suggests five essential questions – and answers – you should expect in your search for the right interim ED.
Who Was That Masked Man?
Norton, who has been an interim ED, laughs when asked if they are seen as “Lone Rangers” who leave “silver bullets” behind.
“Not really. Interim EDs arrive at difficult times and often help organizations make difficult choices. It’s not about popularity contests. Our goal is to leave an organization in a better place than when we came and to really prepare the new ED for success. We have a commitment to supporting nonprofits, and we like the challenge, but you can’t really have an ego in this field!”
Visit Third Sector New England’s Executive Transitions Program for more information about interim executive directors.