Executive Director (ED) Onboarding Worst Practices

Executive Director (ED) Onboarding Worst Practices

Continuing our series on “worst practices” below is a list of things to avoid when hiring an Executive Director for your nonprofit.


·      Failing to provide your new executive director with at least a basic orientation of the organization’s history, board structure, and to whom they will report. If you don’t have an orientation, provide ample time to connect, answer questions, provide documentation and explanations of anything they need.

·      Concealing financial problems (current or future) from the new ED. It is not uncommon for boards to play dumb or just pretend that financial challenges are smaller than they are. Don’t do this.

·      Concealing dysfunction at the organization in an effort to “protect the ED.” An incoming ED needs to know where the landmines may be so they can avoid stepping on them. Don’t blow smoke up anyone’s behind. Honesty is best.

·      Failing to get clarity on administrative and human resource issues like paid time off requests, workflow expectations, timesheets, and processes for approving things like expenditures or travel

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·      Failing to give the ED space to thrive. Autonomy is key, with thoughtful support. Don’t meddle in their business.

·      Failing to ensure basic onboarding systems are in place for health care benefits, payroll, tax considerations, etc.

·      Failing to get alignment with the ED on priorities for the first 6 months to a year. The ED needs months, sometimes 6 months, to get their bearings. Make sure the board and the staff build trust and alignment and get on the same page for every aspect of the organization. Limit surprises.

·      Failing to touch base with the ED frequently in his/her first 30 days to make sure they are feeling supported 

·      Not providing the ED with a clear job description. Many EDs assume the job posting acts as their job description, in lieu of a job description. Put some thought into a formal job description and have the board chair and ED initial it for alignment.

·      Significantly changing the responsibilities of the role without getting agreement from the ED. Every executive director should get an employment contract that protects them in these cases.

·      Shifting tasks that are the board’s responsibility to the new ED because they are paid staff. Don’t dump work on the staff that belongs to the board. It is disrespectful.

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