Be honest about expectations.
Finding the right financial leadership for a nonprofit must start at the top. Of course you want someone with financial expertise, but what are the hidden expectations of the job? Is it to bring a strategic, high-level perspective to the organization for growth, or to reduce the financial workload for the Executive Director? Does the role involve managing day-to- day accounting and the annual 990 report, or providing fiscal leadership to the CEO and Board of Directors?
Compare your expectations and the candidate’s traits.
If what you really want is a financial leader to guide the organization through major growth, or perhaps a pro to creatively managing working capital, a candidate that has strong financial credentials but is weak in leadership traits is not the hire for you. Expecting someone to “rise to the position” is a huge gamble that most nonprofits cannot withstand.
Ask candid questions.
Ask candid questions to understand how the candidate approaches challenges and solves problems—not only those of a financial nature, but the inevitable challenges that pop-up when managing teams and working with executive leadership. If you have identified “analytical thinking skills, problem solver, confident leadership or effective team player” as traits that you consider important, ask the accountant to describe a situation in which these traits were displayed.
Your candidate should either be experienced in nonprofit management, or know how nonprofits work. Most—but not all—nonprofits put revenue back into their mission rather than building large investment portfolios. There are specific regulations regarding fund allocation and management. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire someone moving from corporate to nonprofit employment. It does mean you need to be prepared to assess the candidate’s agility in finding, processing and applying new information, rules and regulations.
Be prepared to share.
Be prepared to share financial information and field questions about your organization’s financial health. If a candidate wants a financial position with your organization and doesn’t ask these questions, don’t hire them.
Let’s face it. Most hiring managers are not financial experts.
Hiring managers may be able to qualify the academics, credentials, experience and professionalism of a candidate, but most can’t adequately evaluate financial leadership acuity. Building an interview process that includes middle, senior and board level participation will produce a much better evaluation process and ultimately, a stronger financial team.