Recruiting nonprofit leaders who “fit” versus those with skills and experience may confound volunteer boards of directors
A conversation with top nonprofit leadership of an organization early in the process of seeking a new CEO brought to mind an earlier blog topic about “charisma versus competency.”
As I listened to the leaders of the organization emphasize a need for the new CEO to “fit” I asked a few questions. I soon realized that what they were seeking was really a “charismatic person” who was just like “one of them.” They were seeking a personality they would like. Personality was at the top of their list, with only lip service paid to characteristics such as knowledge, skill or experience in nonprofit leadership. Sure, those three words were among the most prominent words in the job announcement, but that’s not what the organization leaders really cared about.
In my earlier blog I stated that “[m]anaging an organization and gaining leadership respect takes more than charm.”
I know of so many instances where a charismatic figure has totally failed at nonprofit leadership and management, despite an ability to mesmerize the board with a constant ooze of personality that literally blinded board leadership to internal management and leadership problems.
Prior to my discussion with the organization’s leaders I had done a little work in advance. Membership was well below where it should have been. Financial materials were full of “red flags.” Volunteer empowerment was desired but not well understood. Staff were said to be in disarray. The mission was ill-defined and accomplishments were felt to be of variable benefit to members. And on it went.
All signs pointed to competent staff and committed volunteers functioning well below their potential and capacity. The (now past) CEO did not have the skills and depth of knowledge in the nonprofit world to competently manage the organization’s business requirements, strategically raise adequate funds, provide staff direction, and develop volunteer empowerment opportunities.
The organization’s current volunteer leaders were impressive individuals and committed, but were not ready to hear that they really needed someone not just like them. They needed someone with a different skill set and perspective. At least for some period, the organization needed to engage someone competent enough in nonprofit leadership and business management to support the board in helping them get things straightened out – and maybe even add a little diversity into the leadership mix.
If it were their own personal business at stake the leaders would probably seek the best skills and experience they could find, and then put that person to work and expect a lot. But as happens so often with boards, the nonprofit organization is looked at differently by these same people. This board was looking for a match — someone just like them. What they needed was someone with proven skills at “fitting” into nonprofit organizations and helping lead boards and staff to success.
How many other board members proceed in seeing new leadership in this fashion? Many, I believe.
Leaders I spoke with were committed and saw many needs for improving their nonprofit. What they didn’t see was a need for diversity or the distinction between charisma (“personality”) and competency in nonprofit leadership.
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(c) Rudolph Rosen 2015
Rudolph Rosen is author of the book, Money for the Cause: A Complete Guide to Event Fundraising a peer-reviewed textbook on fundraising management and increasing fundraising success through effective business management and volunteer and staff empowerment and training.