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June 25, 2022
Art of Hiring Leaders Speaks to All Nonprofits
Book - Gilvar
Choosing a new leader provides a great opportunity for a nonprofit organization to re-invigorate itself, but it can also be fraught with pitfalls, especially for those which haven’t hired a new leader in some time. Fortunately, they can turn toThe Art of Hiring Leaders, a new book by Barbara Gilvar.

Offered as a guide to nonprofits, The Art of Hiring Leaders does just that in 174 pages packed with advice, check lists, and how-to’s that will be helpful to boards or search committees embarking on their first search, those who have done it before but were not satisfied, as well as those who can’t afford to hire a consultant. It also works for organizations of all sizes.

Gilvar, a Boston-based executive search consultant for more than two decades, writes a wholly practical book, starting with a definition of terms, including “constituents,” selection process,” “semi-finalists,” and “references.”

Gilvar appropriately devotes significant attention to the board’s role in the process, as the board will drive the search in nearly every organization. Writing from experience, she notes that leadership selection often highlights existing problems, shortcomings that can work for or against the search process.

“It may be tempting for a board to assume that the new leader can fix everything, but good candidates may be wary of an organization that is waiting for deliverance,” she writes.

Addressing problems although perhaps not solving them, instead of waiting for a new leader to solve them, she says, frequently helps the board become more knowledgeable about the organization, which can even improve its attractiveness to prospective candidates.

In addition to explaining the ins and outs of writing a job description, evaluating resumes, interviewing candidates, checking references, and selecting finalists as well as the new leader, Gilvar provides important guidance on related issues. They include legal and ethical obligations and how to communicate, and with whom, during the search process.

The Art of Hiring Leaders is full of practical insights. For example:
  • How many people should the search committee ideally interview to get three or four finalists? Gilvar recommends a minimum of eight to 10.
  • How should the search committee evaluate resumes? Gilvar suggests that the search committee discuss its approach to reading resumes so that all members look for the same things.
  • What should you ask references? Gilvar emphasizes open-ended questions that allow the references to tell their story. And she suggests 12 to 15 references for each candidate.

While an offer (and hopefully an acceptance) is the end of a search process, Gilvar doesn’t stop there. She provides a thoughtful final chapter on managing the transition to the new leader. As with the start of a search, the transition is very much a product of the board’s involvement and commitment to success.

Ordering information for the book is available at

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

November 2006
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