If you watched any television during the 90s, you’re likely familiar with Seinfeld, a self proclaimed “show about nothing.”  Named after Jerry Seinfeld (currently of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee fame), every show started with a short clip of his stand-up routine which regularly featured the phrase “What the deal with…?”  Although he used it as a set-up for his routine, when it comes to real life, well… we should ask and answer the question in all seriousness.


What is an Interim Executive Director?

An interim executive director (IED), or any interim leader, is someone who is hired to run an organization during a transition or major organizational change.  IEDs are not hired to be or are planning to be the permanent staff person for that role; rather, they are short-term hires (usually six to eight months) who are responsible for preparing an organization for the next permanent leader.  They have specific tasks or goals to accomplish during their tenure and help both the board and the staff get ready for what’s next.


Why hire an Interim Executive?

There are many different reasons why your organization might benefit from hiring an IED, but the most important reason for any agency is time.  


Why time?  

Time is what we need to get things done.  Nonprofits often feel rushed because not having an ED or DD means that things don’t get done or the work falls to other people– and then THEY don’t get their tasks done.  Filling these critical leadership roles is the key to ensuring that high quality work gets on time and in budget. But feeling rushed to hire can prevent you from making the best decision.   When you hire someone because you need to hire someone, you might not be hiring the best person for the job.  


The True of Cost of a Bad Hire

In fact, hiring the wrong person costs more time, effort, and money than not hiring someone at all!  Forbes Magazine estimates that the cost of a bad hire is about 30% of the employee’s salary– or, on average–$37,092.   For most nonprofits, $37,000 is a lot of money and could mean not hiring an extra staff person, not buying new equipment, or not serving more people.  

A bad hire can also create an avalanche of staff turnover due to low morale, lack of structure, or poor management.  Without strong and competent leadership, nonprofits risk alienating current staff and potentially creating turnover in lower level jobs.  A bad hire can also create systemic problems; EDs who are inexperienced can make critical financial and human resource mistakes that expose the organization to a whole host of outside risks.  And even if nothing catastrophic happens, a bad hire can simply cause an organization to spin its wheels. If they dont have the right experience to drive your mission forward by directing programmatic work, all of your efforts will go to waste.

Nonprofit organizations can avoid making this costly mistake by hiring an interim director.  How exactly does this work? Well, the IED “bridges the gap” between the outgoing and to-be-hired director in a few key ways:

  1. An IED makes sure that all the organization’s key functions are getting done.  At minimum, an IED will make sure that staff and vendors are getting paid, that grant reports and being filed, and that donors are being thanked.  Board member can rest assured that will all critical tasks and deadlines are being taken care of.
  2. An IED helps prepare staff for the next permanent Director. Whether the relationship between the outgoing ED and their staff was positive or negative, those people remaining with the organization often need time and space to deal with the change in leadership.  The IED can serve as a buffer between old and new leadership and allow everyone to start fresh.
  3. An IED can help stabilize and strengthen an organization in preparation for the new leader. Often, the departure of a leader reveals their strengths and their weaknesses.  Usually, staff have focused on delivering programs and services at the expense of administrative and operations functions.  Bringing in an IED is also an investment in strengthening the organization’s systems and structures so that the new leader starts off on the strongest foundation possible.


Hiring an IED might not be possible for every nonprofit but it’s certainly something every nonprofit should consider.   To learn more about the value of hiring an interim ED, check out this report by Annie E Casey Foundation.