Making the Leap: Hiring a Director for a Growing Association

Musee D'OrsayBoth a blessing and a challenge, your industry is booming — ever-changing, growing, evolving, and becoming much more complex. New/potential members are opening variations on the traditional business model, consumerism is on the rise, legal issues abound, social and societal movements are driving transformational change, and ever-shifting regulatory environments confound. Across the nation, the country is settling back down to our new normal, and the momentum of associations is finally starting to rebound.

The smallest nonprofits, however, are struggling to stay abreast of this dynamic environment; the workload has simply become overwhelming. Because most associations do not start out with paid staff, the board of directors, and often the board chair/president alone, manages the nonprofit. They do the bulk of the work in organizing the paperwork, membership, governance, and programs. Though the mission of the association is critical, this is not a sustainable business model. These volunteers are also business owners, and are balancing all aspects of business operations, as well as personal and family life. As a result, many nonprofits, either fledgling or in the midst of a staff transition, are looking to hire paid support staff.

Through my consultation with our nation’s great association leaders, I have designed the resources associations need to make that next step in organizational evolution. This post outlines the key considerations and steps necessary to make that leap.

The Process

Though there are a few special differences, the process of hiring a nonprofit director is akin to hiring a staff member for your for-profit business. You’ll organize the hiring team/committee, formulate your vision and job description (I have a template for you!), outline the profile of your ideal candidate, advertise the position, qualify your prospects, research backgrounds and references, interview candidates, select your finalist, make the offer, and start the work. Numerous associations have found they already have an outstanding prospect without going through a formal search. Keep your eye out for these vibrant people —sometimes they already organize events you’ve attended, they lead an association management firm, or come recommended by someone in the industry.

Existential Assessment

The search for an executive director, by its very nature, provides the association’s board with a chance to reassess the association as a whole and to reevaluate its needs, goals, strengths, and challenges. Hiring an executive director is one of the most important initiatives an association undertakes. The board is dependent on the director for day-to-day operations to achieve the association’s purpose and objectives within the limitations of its resources and capacity. This is not an easy task to accomplish, year after year! In addition, the working relationship between the director and the board, voting members, affiliate members, sponsors, partners, and other agencies can significantly influence the association’s effectivity and reputation in the community.

Finding the Unicorn

Unicorn executiveAssociation directors are truly unsung heroes. They have to be incredibly results-driven, passionate, self-motivated, and organized in order to accomplish all that is needed to keep the association prospering. In one week, the director will have had conversations with an affiliate partner on organizing a fundraiser, answered a zoning question for a business-in-planning, helped another business-in-planning find a key service consultant, discussed with an upcoming affiliate member social media exposure, prepared information for an interview with a Convention and Visitors Bureau, answered questions about pertinent laws, reviewed policy wording proposed by legislators, outlined a sponsorship opportunity with the association for a tourism magazine, met with a committee to discuss new association initiatives, met with an app designer, and much, much more. It’s a jack-of-all-trades position that will always keep the director busy!

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel!

To assist you with hiring an executive director, I have created a template that provides a blueprint of sorts for finding the right candidate for an association. Based on the input of a handful of experienced state association directors, this document outlines the duties associations often perform through the year. The document is intended to be a resource for the many associations out there that are in consideration of hiring support.

Please note, if you are going to have any paid association staff, there are plenty of applicable employment laws, along with additional paperwork requirements that you will need to learn about by contacting your state’s Department of Revenue. I can lend insight here too in order to get you on the right path.

Hopefully, this post will spark dialogue in your association, and perhaps inspire positive change within your association. If you find that important opportunities are slipping by, meetings are no longer being held, or administrative tasks are being neglected within your association, perhaps it’s time to discuss the hiring of paid staff support.

Contact me when you’re ready to start these conversations; I am committed to providing the resources necessary to help your association prosper.