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Interim Executive Director (and Other Interims)

In an ideal world, leadership transitions would be planned and orderly. If that is not the case for your organization, never fear—there are nonprofit leaders on hand to fill in whether the transition is sudden or planned.

There are nonprofit professionals who specialize in serving as interim executive directors, finance directors, development directors, and other short term forms of interim management.  Using an experienced interim can be helpful because it allows the responsibilities to be carried forward while the organization assesses its needs and searches for the right person. While the information below focuses on interim executives, much of the advice applies to other types of interims as well.

What is an Interim Executive Director?

Bringing in an interim executive director (ED) when the sitting ED is on a leave of absence, retires, resigns, or is asked to leave is a common and effective practice. And it’s not hard to find an experienced interim. Interim EDs are generally people who have been EDs before, and now specialize in leading organizations during transitions. Bringing in an interim ED can give the board more time to hire the right person to take on the role permanently.

What do they do?

Interims strive to leave the organization in better shape than they found it. They’ll bring a fresh perspective to the organization. An interim can often see and implement changes that will pave the way for the next ED to be successful.

If the organization is struggling and its viability is uncertain, an interim can help the organization tackle major operational changes or investigate the potential for a relationship or merger with another organization.

Watch this video of Don Crocker, Executive Director and CEO of the Support Center for Nonprofit Management, talk about when to hire an interim executive:

Non-Profit NJ, Show 6.12 from Princeton Community Television on Vimeo.

How do I hire one?

Search our Statewide Nonprofit Resource Directory under "Interim Management" for experienced interims. Note: listed interim EDs/CEOs must have completed at least two successful interim ED assignments to be in the Resource Directory. We speak with nonprofit references to confirm this. You may also know of an organization that has engaged an interim, and they may be able to make a recommendation.

The board should lead the interview process. You may also want to include staff. The interim ED may only be in your organization for a short time, but it’s still important that they are a good match for your mission, values, and culture. Once the interim ED is in place, make sure they have the authority, stature, and support to make permanent decisions.

What to look for

The resources in the column to the right provide tips and tools for choosing an interim ED. A key issue to consider is whether you want someone who will be a short-term caretaker or someone who can use their outside perspective and broad nonprofit experience to make changes in the organization. If the latter, ask prospective interim about their experience providing "turnaround" management and/or merger consulting. Either way, the interim can keep the ship sailing while a new captain is being selected.

It is important to work with someone who has experience as an interim. This form of management requires specialized experience, and even a person who has been an executive director will not be as skilled in the challenges of interim management as an experienced interim.

Please note: this level of short-term executive leadership generally comes at a premium. Benefits and a reduced schedule may be part of the negotiated compensation package.

Contributed by: Jeanne K. Anderson, Jeanne K. Anderson Consulting and Jan Glick, Jan Glick & Associates