Org 7 - Choosing a Chief Executive Officer


Part 7:  Choosing a Chief Executive Officer



After the important organizational actions at the first meeting of the Board of Directors, the next major assignment is to choose the person who will be responsible for the operation of the organization. The title of this individual may be President, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Executive Director, Managing Director or some other chosen by the board. (For convenience, that person will be referred to as CEO for the remainder of this document.) This person may be one of the founders.

Matching governance and management models


Identifying the head manager is a key to success. The type of governance model will influence the management structure. The governance and management models should be chosen to match the needs of the organization. See the table below for a simplified view of matching details. This information is derived from the board models described by Nathan Garber.1


Board of Directors Type/ Characteristics

Management Type/ Characteristics Needed

Advisory. Chosen for skills or fundraising. Role may be compromised by strong CEO.

Dominant CEO. Possibly founder or key mover. Must be highly capable executive with unquestionable ethics.

Patron. Figureheads and fundraisers. No influence. Accountability compromised.

Dominant CEO. Must be highly capable executive with unquestionable ethics.

Cooperative. Shared management between board and executive. Requires team of willing, unpaid managers on the board. Accountability an issue.

Collaborative CEO. Must be willing to share authority. May leave CEO without resources to fulfill the mission.

Must create accountability within the organization.

Management team. Board mirrors the management structure, each member having specific skills. May compromise accountability and delegation of responsibilities.

Collaborative and persuasive CEO. Must have extraordinary interpersonal skills to keep Board and management structure in sync for the mission. Will need to create accountability within the organization.

Policy board. Sets policies and monitors compliance. Provides support to the organization. Delegates management responsibility to CEO.

(Preferred model.)

Strong, capable CEO. Communicates effectively with Board and subordinates. Plans and executes strategies.



Duties of the CEO

 The chief executive officer is expected to:

Oversee the operations necessary to accomplish the mission Manage finances (from fundraising to accounting), human resources (recruitment and training), community/public relations, marketing and user services Provide leadership to the employees and volunteers Account to the board of directors for the use of resources and progress toward goals

 Criteria for the CEO


Candidates for CEO should have characteristics that fit with the chosen model of governance and size of the organization. Those characteristics should include:

Managerial experience in a profit or nonprofit organization, especially in the areas critical to the success of the organization for which he/she is being recruited A working style consistent with board expectations and one that will mesh with employees/ volunteers Passion for the cause (motivation to work and willingness to raise money or campaign for resources); a “bootstrap” mentality Good communication skills Demonstrated integrity and dependability

Before recruiting for a chief executive, the board should prepare a job description that specifies exactly what this person is expected to know and to do. [See Job Position Questionnaire.]


Recruiting CEO candidates


The operational leader or chief executive officer (CEO) for an AT organization is often the founder – the individual with the vision and commitment to start the organization. He or she may be the ideal person to serve as CEO. If so, the board should be comfortable that he/she has the experience and skills to make the organization a success. If that is not the case, then a search for the right person is necessary.


This search may be approached in a manner similar to the search for board members. The organization should devise a standard application form, and indicate if personal references and/or a criminal background check will be required. A deadline should be set for applications. This search will be conducted by the entire board of directors or by a subset of the board serving as the search committee with final approval given by the board. The selection process should be specified in the bylaws. Is the CEO chosen by a majority of the board, by the search committee, or does the Chairman of the Board have veto over the committee’s choice?


The search committee should review applications and narrow the list of candidates to three or four who meet (or come closest) to the requirements spelled out in the job description. The interviewing guidelines should be followed. After interviewing is completed, the designated board member should confirm the employment and educational credentials of the finalists. Because of legal restrictions, former employers are unlikely to answer many questions. Most managers and supervisors are trained to refer callers to the Human Resources (HR) Department to avoid liability issues. The HR Department will confirm the dates of employment, but not discuss performance. However, a supervisor of an outstanding employee will usually volunteer favorable information. The absence of this may be taken as a clue.


Educational credentials can be verified by calling the registrar’s office at the college or university indicated. If this seems overzealous, it isn’t. Unfortunately, degrees invented to enhance resumes are not that uncommon. See the Human Resources module for additional information about the verification of education, credentials and background.


1Garber, Nathan. Governance Models: What’s Right for Your Board. ©1997. Used with permission. Retrieved April 10, 2008, from



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This work is supported under a five-year cooperative agreement # H235V060016 awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and is administered by the Pass It On Center of the Georgia Department of Labor – Tools for Life.  However, the contents of this publication do not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the Department of Education, or the Georgia Department of Labor, and you should not assume endorsements of this document by the Federal government or the Georgia Department of Labor.


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Other Information

Title: Org 7 - Choosing a Chief Executive Officer
Module: Organization
Author: Trish Redmon
Audience: Administrator
Sub Title:
Organization Source: Pass It on Center
Last Reviewed: 01-25-2009 9:11 AM