Succession Planning: Decide If You Need a Search Firm

By John Pearson

Note: This is the eleventh (and final) blog of 11 blogs featuring practical wisdom from the new ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning. Free to ECFA members, you can download the resource and video by clicking here.

Principle No. 11 - Discern If a Search Firm Would Be Helpful

The toolbox materials list three options for conducting a CEO search:
Option #1: Retain a Search Firm
Option #2: Retain a Consultant/Coach
Option #3: Conduct Your Own Search

But heed this warning from the authors of You’re Not the Person I Hired!a very helpful resource: “When you are tempted to rush a hire, think in terms of Return on Investment over the course of years, not months.”

Boards of larger organizations that rely on retained search firms for senior-level positions will often engage a firm to conduct their CEO search. Just as organizations have unique cultures and methodologies, so retained search firms will have unique approaches for your important search. Interview at least three firms.

In his article, “Differences Between Search Firms,” Bruce Dingman suggests that the firm selected should find at least four candidates to be considered. His article outlines other factors to consider:
• Ethical issues and “out-of-bounds” and “off-limits” industry practices
• Reputation of the firm versus the recruiter
• References of the recruiter
• Pros and cons of specialists versus generalists
• Speed versus quality
• Cautions about saving time with a recruiter’s “shortlist”
• Importance of pre-recommendation reference checking
• Recruiters’ experience with search committees

As your board reviews the resources in the toolbox, don’t skip the spiritual discernment process—which takes time. And time is a significant issue for busy board members. But note this counsel from Michael J. Lotito: “If you spend a lot of time figuring out who you’re going to hire, you’ll have to spend far less time figuring out who to fire.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: When our CEO exits (Plan A, Plan B, or Plan C), are we confident that we will make the search firm decision (see the three options above) based on God’s leading and our mission and vision? Or will our budget parameters push us in the least desirable direction?

TO DO TODAY: Download the Facilitator Guide and inspire a board member to review the numerous resources, books, and articles on selecting a search firm and interviewing candidates.

DOWNLOAD: ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 4: Succession Planning – 11 Principles for Successful Successions: “Every CEO is an Interim CEO.”The toolbox includes
Read-and-Engage Viewing Guide (20 pages) – photocopy for board members
Facilitator Guide (10 pages)
• 4 short videos (4-5 minutes each)
• Additional resources and succession planning tools

MORE RESOURCES: Follow the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom. Click here.


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.