Why this matters:

Working in the nonprofit sector can be exciting for young professionals, and it’s part of the executive director’s job to mentor less experienced employees so they can grow within the organization. The candidate should be motivated to help their employees’ overall performance, and understand that the organization’s success depends on their ability to encourage employee growth.

What to listen for:

  • Experience mentoring younger working professionals
  • Strategies to help less knowledgeable employees learn and thrive
  • Passion for employee engagement and growth

Why this matters:

Executive directors are responsible for the overall budget of their nonprofit, which can be a difficult task. Creating and sticking to the budget is a critical job function. If the nonprofit fails by going over budget, they lose their financial resources. Make sure your candidate understands budgeting best practices, and is equipped with budget monitoring techniques.

What to listen for:

  • Live examples of successful budgeting
  • Budget monitoring techniques, including anticipating and resolving cash flow issues, managing shortfalls
  • Understanding of the importance of budgeting within a nonprofit

Why this matters:

Executive directors work closely with the board of directors and management of a nonprofit, so stakeholder management is critical to the organization’s success. They act as a liaison between their nonprofit and external stakeholders, so the candidate should demonstrate strategies for earning the support of stakeholders, and plans for communicating with them to encourage their support of projects and ideas.

What to listen for:

  • The ability to effectively communicate
  • Strategies to form and maintain professional relationships
  • The ability to harness empathy in order to make a difference

 

Why this matters:

A crucial responsibility for executive directors is forming professional relationships with the local or national media. They write stories or produce segments about your organization that can resonate with your existing audience and reach a network of potential volunteers, employees, donors, or partners. The candidate should understand the importance of media relations when it comes to spreading your nonprofit’s mission.

What to listen for:

  • Comfort level speaking to the media
  • Understanding of clear messaging and thoughtful communication
  • Ability to foster a professional relationship with media outlets

Why this matters:

A successful relationship between the board of directors and the executive director determines the nonprofit’s overall success. It requires regular communication and collaboration in order to set the tone for the rest of the nonprofit’s employees. This question allows the candidate to explain how they value professional relationships, mutual trust, and respect for their coworkers.

What to listen for:

  • Respect for the expertise and insight of the board of directors
  • Professionalism and an ability to respectfully disagree
  • Effective verbal and written communication skills

Why this matters:

Nonprofit work can be extremely rewarding, with employees known for their dedication to spread their organization’s mission with a broad audience. This level of commitment can be challenging, with long hours and the potential for burnout. You want to make sure your candidate understands the importance of work-life balance, so they can build strong and respectful working relationships within the organization.

What to listen for:

  • An understanding of their work-life balance
  • Willingness to seek outside help
  • Time-management skills and an ability to manage complex workflows

Why this matters:

No one is perfect. Failures can tell a lot about a candidate, and whether or not they’re comfortable taking risks and pushing beyond their comfort zone to achieve long-term goals. This question determines how the candidate views risk, failure, and success, as well as assessing their own professional limitations.

What to listen for:

  • Lack of ego, and a willingness to seek help
  • Real-life example of failure, and how the candidate overcame the situation
  • Comfort level in taking risks

Why this matters:

This question is designed to see what you can immediately expect from the candidate in their new role. Depending on the nonprofit, they may need to grow their volunteer staff, funding resources, or relationship with the media, so the candidate should have strategies to tackle each need. They can also execute plans for goals, strategies, and relationships all nonprofits can benefit from.

What to listen for:

  • Attentiveness and empathy
  • Specific plans for executing any strategies their first 90 days in the role
  • Teamwork with existing staff to seamlessly transition into the new role

Why this matters:

This question is simple, but it can reveal a lot about how your candidate views the role and what they think it takes to become a successful leader. Executive directors are the face of their nonprofit, so the candidate should be able to explain the qualities that make a good leader, and how they embody those qualities in their everyday work.

What to listen for:

  • Qualities and skills of successful leadership, including innovation, good judgment, and a passion for the cause
  • Experiences where the candidate demonstrated those skills
  • Commitment to learning from others
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