How to hire an Executive Director

When I told the GNOME Foundation Board of Directors that I was leaving my job as executive director, I told them my number one priority was to hire my replacement. Before I was hired, the GNOME Foundation went through a long period without an executive director and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again. At the Boston Summit, there was actually some discussion about whether they wanted another executive director or whether they could hire more specialized individuals for particular tasks. For numerous reasons, they opted to hire another executive director. (I was relieved – speaking as a current GNOME Foundation board member, it would be a lot of work for a volunteer board to manage more staff without an executive director.)

The most amazing thing about this process was that an all volunteer hiring committee was formed and made a recommendation to the board in just two months. We received a number of high quality candidates and we were committed to moving quickly through the interview and decision process.

Executive Director Hiring Process

Here’s the process we used to hire an executive director:

  • We put together a great hiring committee.
  • We created a mailing list and set of private wiki pages for the hiring committee.
  • We drafted and posted the job description.
  • We collected resumes; conducting phone screening as we went. We were quite excited at the number of quality candidates that we got.
    • On the wiki we tracked candidates, who was phone screened, who was set up for follow up interviews, etc.
    • The phone screener for each candidate was responsible for managing that candidate for the rest of the process.
    • All communication that involved decisions went through a GNOME board member who was also part of the hiring committee.
  • We recommended three candidates to the board.
  • The board interviewed the top candidate and negotiated an offer.
  • She accepted! To carry on the tradition, we made her write her own press release. (Actually, Luis Villa helped me with mine.)

The GNOME Executive Director Hiring Committee

The group that agreed to help out and did an awesome job is:

  • Bradley Kuhn, Executive Director at Software Freedom Conservancy. Member of the Advisory Board representing FSF, former Executive Director of FSF. Bradley offered a lot of free software and nonprofit expertise to the hiring process. Bradley has a personal friendship with Karen, which he disclosed to the committee as soon as her application arrived. Other committee members carried out the initial interviews with Karen, and Bradley recused himself on 14 March 2011 when Karen became the top candidate.
  • Dave Neary, Neary Consulting. GNOME contributor, former Director of GNOME Foundation. Dave brought us a lot of GNOME experience and understanding. He was involved in recruiting me for the job several years earlier.
  • Germán Póo-Caamaño, Director of GNOME Foundation. Germán was our board member contact. He pulled us all together and was our communication point with the board of directors. Og Maciel and Brian Cameron, two other board members, joined him midways through the process. We had board members communicate all official decisions to candidates and that turned out to be quite a bit of work. Og did great sending out a lot of emails – some fun and some hard.
  • Jonathan Blandford, Manager of the Desktop team at Red Hat. Member of the Advisory Board representing Red Hat, former Director of GNOME Foundation. Jonathan brought us not only GNOME experience but hiring experience in the open source world.
  • Kim Weins, OpenLogic. Senior VP of Marketing at OpenLogic. I invited Kim to the committee because Kim makes things happen! She brought a wealth of team building and hiring experience as well as strength in execution that kept us moving along whenever we started to stall.
  • Luis Villa, Greenberg-Traurig. Attorney at Greenberg-Traurig, formally attorney at Mozilla, former member of the Advisory Board representing Mozilla, former Director of GNOME Foundation. Luis joined to help us part time. He did not interview candidates but leant his GNOME experience – and he’s the one that hired the former GNOME Executive Director (me!).
  • Robert Sutor, IBM. Vice President of Open System and Linux at IBM. Bob brought a history of GNOME but also ties to the greater industry and a lot of hiring experience. He also drove us to keep moving at times when volunteer orgs tend to slow down.
  • Stormy Peters, Head of Developer Engagement at Mozilla. Former Executive Director of GNOME Foundation, former member of the Advisory Board representing HP, now Director of GNOME the GNOME Foundation (but not at the time of the hiring committee).

The timeline

Here’s the actual time line of how it worked:

  • I gave notice on October 20, 2010 and said we should work on hiring a replacement right away.
  • At the Boston Summit, the board decided to hire an executive director to replace me.
  • The board appointed Germán as the board member in charge.
  • Germán posted the job description on November 7, 2010.
  • On November 29th, Germán involved me in the hiring committee formation.
  • On December 27th, we introduced the hiring committee.
  • We started screening resumes and doing phone interviews.
  • On February 2, 2011, the hiring committee made a recommendation to the board.
  • On March 11, 2011, the board told the hiring committee they were ready to make an offer to the top candidate.
  • Discussions, clarifications, negotiations and communications.
  • On June 21, 2011, we announced that Karen Sandler would be joining the GNOME Foundation!

The process went well and I’d recommend it to others trying to hire in a virtual, global, nonprofit environment. There are parts that could have been more efficient but we learned and adjusted as we went. We talked to a large number of high quality candidates and hired a new executive director in an a very efficient manner – all done by a volunteer board of directors and a volunteer hiring committee!

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