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"What You Should Find Out about Your Prospective Role": Bridgestar Offers Perspective on Questions Senior Nonprofit Job Candidates Should Ask During Interviews

Conducting Due Diligence Can Lead to Constructive Partnership with the Board

Boston, MA Feb. 8, 2005 – When interviewing for senior positions at nonprofit organizations, job candidates need to get out of "sell" mode and gain genuine clarity on what needs to be done and whether or not they're the right person for the job, according to a new article in the February issue of "Leadership Matters," the monthly newsletter for senior nonprofit executives, board members and other leaders interested in the nonprofit sector.

"Leadership Matters" is published by Bridgestar, a nonprofit organization building a peer network of senior nonprofit leaders to support and strengthen the sector. An initiative of the Bridgespan Group, Bridgestar has seen its membership grow to more than 5,000 in a year.

According to Tim Wolfred, Director, Executive Transitions at San Francisco-based CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, the article's author, "it is just as important for candidates to learn about their prospective roles as it is for the board to learn about the candidates. By asking a range of questions in a style of friendly due diligence, candidates will display both a sincere interest in the job, and have a much clearer picture of the challenges should they be hired."

In his article, Wolfred offers seven overarching questions to ensure candidates for executive director positions gain genuine clarity on what needs to be done and determine whether they are the right person for the job.

Candidates should ask:
1. Will the board be committed to your professional development?
Beyond annual performance evaluations derived from the organization's strategic goals, boards should set goals and allocate resources (time and funding) to support the executive's pursuit of those goals.

2. Does the board have term limits? Term limits are a preventive measure against board burnout and inertia, as well as a way of insuring there is a periodic infusion of fresh perspectives and talents to further the agency mission.

3. Does the board regularly assess its own performance? Boards should evaluate their performances on an annual basis to determine their effectiveness in terms of corporate governance.

4. How would you be expected to support the board? Each board operates differently so it is important to ask what it expects from its executive director. Questions that can help you identify positive and negative working structures include: "How could I best support you and your initiatives?" and "Can you provide an example of a time when the executive director utilized the board well?"

5. What are the agency's strategic priorities? How would you be involved in clarifying and fulfilling them? What would the board say are the top three strategic imperatives currently in place? When did the board last visit the plan - and who drives the process?

6. How healthy is the agency financially? Reviewing the organization's financial status is an important step in understanding its priorities. You also will want to assess how well the agency tracks its financial health.

7. What are the agency's human resource practices? Has the organization faced recruitment challenges or turnover issues? Is professional development for all staff a high priority for board and managers? Is there a standard protocol for staff performance evaluations?

"For boards of directors at nonprofit organizations, hiring the best executive director for the job is critical. They should look for candidates who are not just talking about themselves but are asking questions about the organization, its priorities and how the board operates," said David Simms, Managing Partner, Bridgestar. "Tim Wolfred and CompassPoint have excellent experience understanding the questions candidates should ask and the questions boards should anticipate. As Bridgestar continues to connect outstanding senior candidates to a range of nonprofit positions, we think Tim's article will help our members – both individuals and organizations – make better decisions."

The full article is available at:

Each month "Leadership Matters" picks a different theme designed as a conversation about how to build and sustain effective nonprofit organizations. Previous issues have offered the comprehensive "Guide to Navigating the Hiring Process," and have focused on topics such as the role of the nonprofit COO, improving nonprofit accountability as well as best practices in compensation and performance evaluations. "Leadership Matters" is available to all Bridgestar members or, for a complimentary subscription, please email

About Bridgestar
Bridgestar (, an initiative of the Bridgespan Group, is a nonprofit organization building a member-driven community of individuals and organizations working to strengthen their careers, their institutions, and the nonprofit sector. Established in 2003, Bridgestar's goal is to attract, connect and support senior leaders – established and aspiring – for greater effectiveness and social impact.

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