Boards and Hiring Executive Directors
Welcome to the Collections Caretaker e-Newsletter from Northern States Conservation Center. The newsletter is designed to bring you timely and helpful content that is pertinent to situations we all encounter in our museum and archives work. Feel free to let us know what topics you would like to see featured in Collections Caretaker or even contribute an article.
In This Issue

10 Common Mistakes Boards Make When Hiring a New Executive Director
Featured Course
July 2019 Courses
August 2019 Courses
Conferences and Meetings
10 Common Mistakes Boards Make When Hiring a New Executive Director

By Joan Garry
As you read this, there are two things to keep in mind.
1) Great boards often screw up a leadership transition.
2) Mediocre boards always do.
The single most important job a board has is hiring/firing and THEN hiring a new Executive Director. At least a great board stands a fighting chance of getting it right.
I spoke to a board chair once who oversaw a search for a new E.D. after the current staff leader left following a long and strong tenure. The person they hired was kind of a disaster. That's being kind.
The board chair was actually terrific. I asked him to reflect. "Did you hire the best candidate?" Oh yes, he replied. Then he paused. "But it was a lousy candidate pool and I think we all knew it."
I'm not at all downplaying just how hard this job is. We're talking about a group of board members who all have day jobs, working together to make a mission-critical decision.
First let's talk about why this is so very important today and then I will offer you what I see as the ten most common mistakes boards make when hiring a new Executive Director.
"In the 1970s, a huge, new group of workers entered the workforce. These idealistic world-changers often had nonprofit intentions. Over the next four decades, the number of nonprofit organizations grew from 250,000 to 1.5 million (Hall, 2006; Salamon, 2012). This enormous generation of 75 million people came of age at a time when social justice issues came to the fore and hundreds of thousands of nonprofits were born to address those myriad concerns... Now those same purpose-driven people are turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day."  
This is a quote from a 2018 report by the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management. It's a very good read about succession planning and I needed a Bayer (aspirin) as soon as I finished reading it.
Our sector is so unprepared for the plight of retiring boomers. And as an aside, the headache inducing report above also calls out the sector for a long list of things - from poor succession plan to retirement plans to boards who hang on to staff leaders who have (their words) "lost their fastballs."
Boards should be well read on this topic of how their organization should be structured and the policies and procedures needed to retain, evaluate, grow, and develop talent. This would make for a fantastic discussion at a board retreat.
So now.
You have either fired a poor former E.D. or your E.D. has gotten a great new gig or has burned out and needs to retire or is burned out and has to continue working because the organization did not offer any kind of retirement plan.
If you think I am referencing your organization, trust me when I say this. I have seen each of these countless times. It's why I am writing this post. If anything you read today helps you avoid one of these way-too-common mistakes, it's been a good day at the office for me.
The following are not in any particular order. All ten are big and they are all common.
1. Too Much Time Crafting the Job Description
Word gets out quickly when there is a transition, causing buzz. People start thinking about their own candidacy or who else might be wonderful. You want to take advantage of that buzz. I have seen far too many search committees edit a job description to death, taking what feels like forever to get it out to the world. You lose valuable time when folks are thinking about the transition in your org. Long delays can lead people to think you hired an interim or made an internal pick.
Be honest. You want someone who can do it all and candidates know you want someone who can do it all. Consider having just one person edit/update the old job description and just get it out as quickly as possible after the transition is announced. And you always have the option of making the description super short with a big headline like "Messiah Wanted."
2. Put the Current E.D. on the Search Committee
When I left GLAAD, my board was wise enough not to ask. My opinion carried quite a lot of weight - too much in this situation. Equally important, the outgoing E.D. has a bias - probably a bunch of them. Bringing those into the search for my replacement could have swayed the process in the wrong direction.
That said, you do want to know what the outgoing E.D. thinks. Ask the E.D. to prepare a confidential two-pager of what she thinks are the skills, attributes and competencies the board should be looking for. Ask her to include any color commentary about staff management, reaction to change, etc. Anything the E.D. feels would be important context for the search committee. This will be very useful to the search and the E.D. will feel that her valuable perspective is actually at the table. Because it will be.
3. Add a Current Staff Member to the Search Committee
This can happen because boards want to be sure that key staff members, especially an MVP, feels really valued during the search. What happens even more frequently is that the staff will believe it is entitled to a seat at the search committee table. Don't make this mistake.
But do remember that nonprofit staff expects to have a voice in the work - it is a primary driver for folks into the sector. And while you may think it is odd that a staff member would be part of the decision-making process to hire her boss, remember that she won't be the one making any decisions.
4. Eliminate Candidates Without Fundraising Experience
Boards are hungry for candidates with proven fundraising experience. While typically well intended, they must beware of their own bias (let's get a great fundraising E.D. and that will take the heat off of us to fundraise). Perhaps more importantly, a focus on this experience may lead you to miss a passionate champion who is an excellent communicator and relationship builder who has exactly what it takes to be a five-star fundraiser.
If the candidate comes highly recommend by someone of note or if the cover letter makes you want to increase your gift, pay attention and meet her. Ask about how she stewards and sustains relationships. Is she still in touch with colleagues from several jobs ago? From high school?
Here's what you need:
  1. Passion for the mission
  2. Communication skills
  3. Wild enthusiasm to see the organization thrive
A story from a candidate about securing a six-figure gift can sure be enticing, but there is so much about that ask you don't know. Trust your gut. Do you want to be led by this candidate? When she speaks to the search committee do you feel your checkbook sliding out of your pocket?
5. Put a Board Member in Charge of the Organization During the Transition
I have seen this situation far too many times. It never goes well. Why? The power balance is totally off. Staff members, already shaky because of the transition, can become guarded or even angry that a board member without a deep understanding of the work is running the shop. And the absolute worst scenario is a board member as interim who remains on the board during the transition. So many mixed signals to staff and two very different hats on the board member's head.
P.S. This is especially true if that board member has ANY designs on the full time gig.
6. Hire Someone Completely Different from the E.D. You Had
I'm not sure why, but often boards go looking for someone really different from the exiting E.D. Perhaps it is about what the board has learned about the vulnerabilities of the outgoing person. That makes sense. But change for change's sake is not typically wise.
A terrific candidate with a similar background or personality will make her own mark. That's what terrific candidates do. Boards lean towards difference to avoid inevitable comparisons, but everyone will compare regardless of whom you hire.
7. Select From a Mediocre Candidate Pool
Searches are time consuming and board members are busy. Whether you hire a firm or handle this work on your own, the process is a serious time bandit. You interview the final three candidates. It's taken a long time. The transition is taking its toll on everyone, especially staff. The board feels it has to decide.
One person starts to look pretty good compared with the other two. The search committee begins to talk itself into how good that person could be. This mistake is the most common one that will haunt you. Mediocre E.D.s are just that. Mediocre. And they can last a long time because they are hard to fire.
8. Discount Internal Candidates
This is a common mistake that leads me to recommend that someone outside the board serve on the search committee. Maybe a retired E.D. in the community or a respected board member of another respected organization.
It can be really hard to see someone in a different role from the one they are in. In addition, we all carry a bit of age bias. I hear this comment quite a lot. "She'd be great but she is not ready yet." Are you sure?
I think about this one a lot. When I stepped down from my E.D. role, there were two young rock stars on staff. Neither applied for the job, but I think both could have been persuaded. Did they think they wouldn't be taken seriously as candidates? Did that keep them from applying?
Are both of them two of the most successful Executive Directors I know today (at other organizations)? Yes.
The search committee may have done the right thing not to consider these two. But I wonder.
9. Too Many Cooks
Please be judicious. A well-rounded search committee willing to do the work is the best recipe for success. What I mean is that everyone on the committee has one question to answer - Is this person the very best to passionately lead and manage this organization? With diplomacy, integrity and joy?
Any other agenda (hidden or otherwise) will spoil the search. Please avoid anyone with undue influence (I mentioned the outgoing E.D. in #2 and staff in #3). Here I'm talking about a founder or a significant donor.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are considering adding someone to the search process because you are afraid of how they will feel or what they might do if they are not on the committee, this should send off many alarm bells.
10. Set Expectations Too High for the New E.D.
Maybe there is a lot to clean up from an E.D. you fired. Or a retiring E.D. overstayed her welcome. You will want to push hard; you will be impatient.
Congratulations. You hired a rock star. Now breathe. Work with the new hire to build a solid 30 and 90 day plan, enabling her to build a strong foundation, build relationships, and establish credibility with some quick wins. And talk a lot about change management - how to be sure that folks are bought into the change that you as board members and the new E.D. see so clearly.
Many boards would not even consider allocating money for an executive coach for their new hire, especially if you invested in a search firm. After all, you hired a rock star.
I work as a strategic advisor for many new CEOs who have followed what we call a "long and strong" E.D. or who follow someone who has been fired (and we all know that if you fire someone, what you find when they leave is always worse than you thought) These folks walk into challenging circumstances and really need thought partners to get things just right.
Include professional development in the compensation package and send a really great message to your "messiah" that you want them to have what they need to be successful. Think Roger Federer. The "messiah" of tennis for over 15 years. He would never walk onto the court without his coach front and center in the Federer box.

It is so very hard to get this transition stuff right. I really hope this advice is of value to the searchers and the candidates. Our sector deserves the very best.
I spend quite a bit of time writing about building strong boards. It's that critical. Here are a few of my earlier posts to help you continue on your way:
Joan Garry is a non profit consultant with a practice focusing on crisis management, executive coaching, and building strong board and staff leadership teams. She is also a professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at UPenn.  To learn more visit her website at
Featured Course:Training for Interpretive Trainers

It's often difficult to teach interpretive techniques and principles to others
when you may have not had any formal training in interpretation yourself.  The course provides ways to develop and deliver interpretive training courses and workshops for cultural sites and staff charged with developing interpretive training for their docents, volunteers, seasonal interpretive staff, or full time interpretive staff.
This course includes a copy of our new e-textbook, the Interpretive Trainers Handbook.
Course Goals: Upon completion of this course participants will:
- Have interpretive training program lesson plans and schedule of instructions drafted out.
- Have a working knowledge of key interpretive elements they should be teaching.
Join Instructor John Veverka for MS271 Training for Interpretive Trainers starting July 8, 2019 and learn more in this informative course on training the trainers. For more about this course from the instructor himself click here.  
Early Bird Discounts Available for Full Length Courses
An Early Bird Discount is available for anyone who signs up for a full length course from 30 days prior to the start of that course.  
Sign up for a full length course up to 30 days prior to its start and save $100.00!
For our course list or to sign up:  
To take advantage of this discount, you must enter coupon code EARLYBIRD at checkout at
The Early Bird Discount deadline for July Courses is June 8, 2019   
The Early Bird Discount deadline for August Courses is July 6, 2019   
July 2019 Courses
July 8-August 2, 2019
Instructor:  Laura Elliff Cruz
Is your collection stacked, packed and stressed? Museum Storage Techniques has the solution. The course builds on its sister course, Museum Facilities and Furniture, which looks at the bigger storage environment. The Museum Storage Techniques course emphasizes the needs of individual objects and collection groupings. Guidelines for specific materials are provided. Participants learn about storage materials and mounts and the most effective use of trays, drawers, shelves and cabinets.
MS 207: Collections Management: Cataloging Your Collection
July 8 to August 2, 2019
Instructor:  Peggy Schaller
Cataloging may not be the most exciting museum task, but it is among the most important. Without a clear knowledge of your holdings, you can't protect, care for, research or exhibit them. Without knowledge of an item's history, you can't properly appreciate its value to your museum. Cataloging Your Collection covers all details needed to catalog a collection. Procedures for handling, measuring and describing all types of objects and materials are discussed in detail. Participants receive sample forms and learn the best practices for numbering artifacts, performing inventory and assessing the condition of objects. Participants practice describing everyday objects and cataloging items from their own collections or households.
MS210: Integrated Pest Management for Museums, Libraries and Archives
July 8 to August 16, 2019
Instructor:  Christina Cain
The only thing worse than mice or cockroaches in your kitchen, is finding them in your museum collection. Participants in Integrated Pest Management for Museums, Libraries and Archives learn low-toxicity methods of controlling infestations. IPM is the standard method for treating incoming items and monitoring holdings. Integrated Pest Management for Museums, Libraries and Archives discusses how infestations occur, helps identify risks, provides feasible mitigation strategies, discusses the different techniques of treating infested materials, and helps you complete an IPM plan and monitoring schedule for your institution. The course covers pest identification, insects, rodent, birds, bats, other mammals and mold infestations, as well as other problems raised by participants.
MS 211: Preservation Environments
July 8 to August 16, 2019
Instructor:  Ernest Conrad
The museum's brick exterior wall is crumbling. The powder coated metal storage shelves have active rust under the foam padding. Objects in fur storage are covered in mold. It is raining in the exhibit hall. This is the damage that occurs to museum buildings or collection when staff do not understand preservation environments. Preservation Environments is essential knowledge for any collecting institution. Everyone should understand how humidity and temperature are controlled by a building and its mechanical system. For museum staff considering a new building - and any institution planning to expand or rebuild an existing one - Preservation Environments provide important information for calculating whether the proposed improvements will actually improve the environmental control of your protective enclosure. Participants learn the advantages and disadvantages of numerous methods of temperature and humidity control. Preservation Environments does not try to turn museum professionals into engineers. Rather, it arms them with the knowledge they need to work with engineers and maintenance professionals. And helps explain why damaged occurred and how to keep it from happening again.
July 8 to August 2, 2019
Instructor:  Peggy Schaller
This course will examine the role of ethics in museums and related institutions. Topics addressed will include the differences in ethics, laws, and morals; what ethics are and where they come from; the ethical codes that museum professionals follow; how ethics affect professional practices; why ethics are important; and how ethical standards can help museums and related institutions better serve society. Participants in the course will gain an understanding of the importance of ethics in professional museum practice, how codes of ethics are written and why they are important, and will develop an understanding of the most significant codes of ethics subscribed to by museum professionals.
July 8 to August 2, 2019
Instructor:  John Veverka
It's often difficult to teach interpretive techniques and principles to others when you may have not had any formal training in interpretation yourself.  The course provides ways to develop and deliver interpretive training courses and workshops for cultural sites and staff charged with developing interpretive training for their docents, volunteers, seasonal interpretive staff, or full time interpretive staff.
This course includes a copy of our new e-textbook, the Interpretive Trainers Handbook.
Course Goals: Upon completion of this course participants will:
- Have interpretive training program lesson plans and schedule of instructions drafted out.
- Have a working knowledge of key interpretive elements they should be teaching.  
August 2019 Courses
August 5 to 30, 2019
Instructor:  Karin Hostetter
The world of museum education is as varied as the imagination. From school field trips to online blogs, from 2-year-olds to senior citizens, and from formal programs to volunteering, it is all part of the educational delivery system of a museum. In Education in Museums, survey the education programs offered at your site. Determine what exhibits and collections need better representation through education. Develop a long term plan of education program development for your site that you can use to improve services to your community.
August 5 to 30, 2019
Instructor:  Stefani Pendergast
Moving collections is a daunting task. Fragile items need special packing and care to be safely transported. Large, heavy or awkward items like dinosaurs and oversized sculptures require special equipment and support from local authorities. How do you design your project to meet the budget and timing demands of your administration? Are your collections over-packed in acidic boxes and does your move includes improving their storage and care? Collections often take up more room when they are stored properly. How do you determine your needed storage space when the collection is decompressed? Moving Collections provides an overview of how to plan and manage a move to avoid the many pitfalls. The course includes: defining your project, developing a Request for Proposal (RFP), developing a work plan, staffing, and packing protocols. Whether you are moving part of the collection within your building or moving the entire collection to another facility, Moving Collections provides a blueprint for you to follow.
August 5 to 30, 2019
Instructor:  John Veverka
There is more to a guided tour than information - you also need inspiration.  This course will help curators teach and coach their docents and volunteers to create interpretive stories and experiences that will help make their presentations "come to life" for their visitors.
This training course will help curators help prepare their docents for tours that:
1. Have an interpretive theme.
2. Have accomplishable objectives.
3. Has about 7 tour stops, each of which illustrate the main interpretive theme.
4. Use interpretive communications structure for each stop (provoke, relate and reveal).
5. Use the techniques of tangibles and intangibles in their presentation.
6. Encourage the use of multiple senses to relate to visitors.
7. Have a provocative introduction and then ending conclusion summary for the tour.
8. Have as much "inspiration" as "information".
9. Leave the visitors asking for more (when's your next tour?)
Conferences and Meetings
American Alliance of Museums, New Orleans, LA
May 19-22, 2019
Colorado-Wyoming Association of Museums, Gillette, Wyoming
May 23-25, 2019

Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Chicago, IL
May 25-31, 2019
Smithsonian Institution and Office of Protection Services
National Conference on Cultural Property Protection, Location TBA
June 19-21, 2019
Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, University of Minnesota
June 27-30, 2019

Society of American Archivists, Austin, TX
July 31 - August 6, 2019
American Association of State and Local History, Philadelphia, PA
August 28-31, 2019
Oklahoma Museums Association, Choctaw Casino
September 18-20, 2019

Mountain-Plains Museums Association, Albuquerque, NM
September 22-25, 2019
Association of Midwest Museums, Grand Rapids, Michigan
October 2-5, 2019
Western Museums Association, Boise, ID October 4-7, 2019
Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums, Hudson Valley, NY October 16-18, 2019
International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection, Denver, Colorado
October 19-25, 2019
Southeastern Museums Conference, Charleston, SC
October 21-23, 2019
New England Museum Association, Burlington, VT
November 6-8, 2019
National Association for Interpretation, Denver, Colorado
November 12-16, 2019
National Association for Interpretation,
Saint Augustine, FL
November 10-14, 2020

Submissions and Comments
How to submit an article or upcoming workshops for inclusion in the Newsletter:  
If you would like to submit an article, notice of an organizational meeting or upcoming workshop for an upcoming Collections Caretaker Newsletter, send your submission to .  
We are always looking for contributions to this newsletter. Submission deadline is the 10th of each month. 
Have a comment or suggestion?   
Northern States Conservation Center (NSCC) provides training, collection care, preservation and conservation treatment services. NSCC offers online museum studies classes at in Collections Management & Care, Museum Administration & Management, Exhibit Practices and Museum Facilities Management.
Helen Alten, Director
Peggy Schaller, Publications Manager