Hiring an Interim ED… Purposeful or Postponement?

By on April 04, 2012 under Change Management, Leadership

Guest post by Gretchen Flatau, Member of Greenlights’ Interim Executive Director Pool

clock - time warpIn one of my recent Interim Executive Director assignments I was surveying staff and board members about their concerns for the organization. One respondent said that it was unconscionable that the organization would hire an interim and take 6 months to hire a permanent ED. Really?

This person saw an interim as an unnecessary stopgap and would have preferred the board immediately search and hire an ED as soon as the former gave notice. But instead, the board, not only gave itself time to find the right person through a thoughtful, well-planned search but they also increased the organization’s chance for future success.

Why is it better, in many instances, to hire an interim ED? According to Tom Wolfred of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services:

  • Hiring an Interim ED provides an opportunity for an objective review of the agency. It is a chance to gather information on what’s right and what is dysfunctional.
  • It is an opportunity to remove organization barriers. Essentially a chance to fix problems of the past so the new ED can focus on the future. For instance it is not unusual for organizations to have a need to improve administrative systems. An interim ED will have the experience to identify and address those issues.
  • Hiring an Interim ED provides some distance between the previous ED and the next; creating a more welcoming environment for a new ED. Often whether an ED left on their own or were encouraged to move on, the board and staff have feelings about the change and the person that are better resolved before a permanent ED starts.
  • The Interim ED will be a mentor and coach for the new ED. The interim can serve an extremely valuable role as mentor for an incoming ED providing objective guidance and support.
  • Hiring an Interim gives the board the time to engage in a thoughtful and well-planned executive search. The future success of the organization depends on finding the right leader; the search should be done with care and consideration.

According to Wolfred, “groups that do use an interim ED emerge stronger, more financially sound, and with high levels of optimism about the future impact of their agency services.”

In my experiences as an interim ED, there have been board members who were initially not sure if it made sense to hire an interim. They were concerned about taking the time and putting off hiring an ED. But once the process is underway, board members often feel that they gain valuable insight into the organization and hire the new ED with knowledge and deliberateness that they would not have had otherwise. These boards were glad that they used an Interim ED and in the process not only helped their agencies to succeed but also became better board members through the process.


If you have any questions or would like more information about Greenlights’ Interim Executive Director Program or succession planning, please contact Tara Levy.


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