The Makings of a Nonprofit CEO: Pursuing a Director-Level Job. A Conversation with Executive Search Consultant Kevin Chase : Successful Nonprofits

Episode 123

The Makings of a Nonprofit CEO: Pursuing a Director-Level Job. A Conversation with Executive Search Consultant Kevin Chase

Listen on  iTunes    Android     Stitcher  Libsyn

Episode 123

The Makings of a Nonprofit CEO: Pursuing a Director-Level Job. A Conversation with Executive Search Consultant Kevin Chase

Listen on  iTunes    Android     Stitcher  Libsyn

by GoldenburgGroup

Instead of trying to become this unicorn with all skills imaginable, be real. Have the maturity to build a team to fill in the gaps.

Guess who’s back… back again! Executive Search Consultant Kevin Chase returns to our podcast for a two-part episode. In part one, Kevin walks us through how to better position yourself for an executive-level job. A tip: Start by building your skills and investing in your professional (and personal) development.

*****Timestamped Highlights*****

(3:51) Gale Goodheart wants to save the world, but how, Kevin?
(6:21) There’s no such thing as a unicorn (exec), so stop hunting!
(8:51) How Kevin once got world class marketing support for an organization
(12:23) The 85/15 Rule – Balancing the Now and Next
(15:00) The resources you need to build your skills are closer than you think
(18:29) Aiming closer to home: The approach to a prospective mentor

Anyone can be your mentor, but aim close to home. Have a mentor with whom you have had repeated exposure, someone you have known.


Kevin’s Instagram:
Kevin’s LinkedIn:
Kevin’s Firm, Kevin Chase Executive Search Group:
See Kevin’s current searches:
Kevin’s Appearance on Season 1, Episode 2 of Nailedit! :

Read the Transcript for Episode 123 Below or Click Here!

Adhere to the 85/15 rule:
Spend 85 percent of your time going full throttle at your current job. Spend 15 percent of your time planning what’s next.

Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast. I’m your host Dolph Goldenburg. Today, Kevin Chase is going to help you get ready for that executive-level job you have always dreamed of. I’ll just say it. I love Kevin Chase. I have known him for almost 15 years and knew of his stellar reputation long before I ever met him. Kevin is a standup person who had agreed to be one of my very first podcast guests way before the show had taken off. I’m talking over a hundred episodes ago, way back in episode 12, and I don’t know exactly, but I think this next episode will probably be 118 or 119 so a long, long time ago. Last year Kevin and I were able to work together on the executive succession at the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. I was the interim ED, and he was the search consultant. Through this experience, I had a firsthand glimpse at just how talented Kevin really is, and I am so happy that he is finally able to return to the podcast today. Now, Kevin, in addition to my gushing about him, is one of the most widely known search consultants in the LGBTQ nonprofit space.

Each year he conducts countless executive searches and leadership transitions through his firm Kevin Chase Executive Search. This means that he has talked to literally thousands of perspective nonprofits, c-suite candidates and potential board members over the years. And as you can imagine, Kevin has seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. Today, Kevin and I are gonna chat about how early and mid-career professionals can position themselves to become a nonprofit CEO one day. So, you can think of today’s episode is a coaching session for future CEOs. Now, if you are currently a CEO, we’re also going to talk about how to be a standout candidate if you’re being recruited somewhere else and how you can negotiate your signing package when you get that great job offer. So, let’s jump in. Hey Kevin, welcome to the podcast.

Kevin Chase: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me back.

Dolph Goldenburg: I am thrilled to. It feels like I’ve not seen you in a while since we worked on a, on a transition last year and I saw you a lot more. So, it feels like I’ve not seen you in a while.

Kevin Chase: That’s right. But if you’re in the, I love Kevin Chase Club has a very exclusive club. It’s basically my sister, my dog, and my partners of like a halftime member.

Dolph Goldenburg: All right. Well, so I’m probably then I’m a full-time member, so I beg your partner out on that. So, Kevin here’s the scenario. Gail Goodhart just graduated from college. Why don’t we say she’s got a degree in public relations from your Alma Mater Brigham Young, and Gail knows that she wants to save the world and not in a small way. She wants to go big. So, what can she do to position herself to be an executive director in a midsize organization at some point in her 30s or forties?

Kevin Chase: So, it’s a great question and believe it or not, I get asked a version of that a lot when I’m talking to folks. One thing to remember, particularly when I’m talking about an executive director position is an executive director in a nonprofit organization, there’s almost nothing that can really prepare you for that job because unless you’ve been in that chair with that suite of responsibilities, there’s no way you can develop all the skillsets that are necessary to do this in today’s world. So, I would say first of all, really understand what those buckets of skillsets are. And they tend to be things like fundraising. I would put right at the top of the list, and if you’re don’t envision a full-time career in fundraising, any executive director spends probably 50% of her, his or their time. I’m doing fundraising related activities.

So, I would say that’s really important. Strategic thinking and strategic planning are also incredibly important. Management, obviously people, financial acumen and financial skills are also, um, a really important skill set and not an incidental one. You have to sort of be intentional about developing that marketing and communications, public speaking and presentation. So, these are a few of the buckets of skills that are really required of anyone who’s going to be an executive director. And if you know that’s the path you want for yourself beginning a career, you can, it can be really thoughtful, really intentional about how you try to develop those skills throughout your career as opposed to beginning to think about them when you’re two steps away from the, from the CEO office, which happens sometimes.

Dolph Goldenburg: First of all, I’ve got to take a step back. That’s a lot of things. It’s kind of like looking for the person for the reality TV show that can sing, dance, bake and win jeopardy all at the same time.

Kevin Chase: Welcome to my life. People say it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. That would be easy. It’s actually finding a needle in a very specific needle out of stackable of needles.

Dolph Goldenburg: Yeah. And, and I also get the, that most nonprofit boards, that’s probably what they’re coming to you with as well. They’re like, “Okay, you know, we want an executive director who, you know, has great financial acumen and has been an amazing fundraiser and understands programs and you know, they just give you this laundry list, don’t they?”

Kevin Chase: Yeah. And I give them the lecture on Unicorn Hunting, which is a waste of time because there’s no such thing as a Unicorn, which as a queer person makes me very sad to say, but there really is no actually Unicorn. So we find you the best Whitehorse we can find and then we’ll strap a horn on it if we need to.

Dolph Goldenburg: So yeah, so that’s kind of what I think I hear you saying is also for candidates or young and early career professionals to kind of accept that they’re not going to be able to turn themselves into the Unicorn.

Kevin Chase: No, but what you can do is develop expertise in as many of those areas as you can and have the self-awareness, the professional maturity to know where the gaps are and then be really, really smart about how you build a team around you to fill in the gaps where maybe you are not as strong. There are ways also to be strategic about how you do that, which we can talk about at some point if you want.

Dolph Goldenburg: Let’s absolutely unpack that.

Three people you need in your corner:
-Your mentor
-Your cheerleader
-Your search consultant

Kevin Chase: So one of the things that we specialize in doing is working with organizations that I would say $10 billion or less, right? These are community-based organizations. They’re really mission-driven, and they have really limited non-programmatic budgets. So, what we run up against often when we talk to people and they’re like, “Oh, we can’t afford to hire a full-time marketing person. So, we’re not really doing marketing.” Well you know, understanding that you need marketing as a good first step, but you also, you know, for a CEO or even a deputy director, like there are people out there who care about your mission. There are people out there who want to be involved and want to do it on a volunteer level. So this sort of space we get to where like, “Oh, we can’t afford to hire someone to do that.

I guess we put that on the back burner,” get a board member who’s a brilliant marketing person. Start a marketing committee of your board and staff it with volunteers who can, you know, fill in those gaps. So even when you’re up against the budget, it just means you have to be sort of creative and engaging about who you bring into the organization as a volunteer because there’s more than one way to sort of get around that. For example, I sat on a board and in fact have the privilege of chairing it for a couple of years that I thought was an incredibly good board. Like I learned how to be a board member by working with those people. They were amazing, and we just could not afford at one point to have a full-time marketing person. So, we invited someone from a local PR and marketing consulting firm to be on our board. We targeted that person specifically because we knew they cared about what we were doing. And then we got all kinds of pro bono assistance from the PR and marketing firm. The board member was able to bring a couple of managers who he knew shared the same kind of passion he did as volunteers, and we got brilliant world-class marketing support, and it cost us almost zero dollars.

Dolph Goldenburg: So, I think part of what you’re saying is that people that are looking to become CEOs also need to be willing to think creatively when they’re taking on a position and say, okay, the organization does not have, you know, an extra $20 million lying around, and here’s how we’re going to meet our needs.

Kevin Chase: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I mean we use marketing as an example, but the fact of the matter is because every non-programmatic dollar our clients spend is rightly scrutinized. So, it really is an exercise of being smart, being strategic, having good, you know, relationship and coalition building skills so that you can bring people into the organization who have things to give besides money and time. There are really specific skills that are great to have in volunteer and board positions that don’t add to your sort of fixed costs.

Dolph Goldenburg: I know one of the things that you and I have also talked about is there are some ways in which it is probably easier to be the chief executive of a $25-million-organization than it is of a $2.5-million-organization for that very resource reason for sure.

Kevin Chase: It just requires really a different lens to see organizational development through. The reality is in organizations like the ones that we were talking about, you’re always living in a resource-constrained environment in terms of what you can spend. Um, so the whole idea of thinking bigger about how we can get resources into the organization without having to pay salary or add again to the fixed costs is a strategic way of looking up the world. I think people who are good at the external relations and coalition building at working with allied organizations get good at thinking outside the confines of their org chart or even their org and current board structure about how to get resources in the door to move things along.

Dolph Goldenburg: Okay. So early-career professionals, you know, banana college for five, six, seven years and they’ve developed an expertise in some of the areas that you’ve talked about. And you know, a few more years down the road, they’re starting to think that maybe they want to raise their profile. So there’ll be noticed by search consultants, even really great, phenomenal search consultants like this guy named Kevin Chase. So, my question is, how does a mid-career professional raise their profile in such a way that they do get noticed by those that are actively looking for chief executives?

Kevin Chase: Let’s back up just a half a step into that. When I was in, um, when I was still in college, my sort of mentor and chap and champion who was the head of the program I was in said to me, you know, there’s the 80-20 rule? It gets a little tiring. It’s a little basic. So, we’re not going to go with 80, 20 kids sober use. We’ll go with 85-15 because it feels newfangled. But he said, “Everyone should spend 85% of your time doing the job you have with all the sort of passion and energy you can, and you should spend 15% of your time looking, thinking, acting on what’s next.” It doesn’t matter how happy you are in your current job. It doesn’t matter how much you have on your place. Set aside 15% of your time to be thinking about planning for doing what’s next.

If you do that really thoughtful, really intentionally throughout your career, it’s like you’re doing the preparation as you go along so that it is easier to move up a level. I would also say the reality is that you are five times as likely to get a job through your own networking with people you know, as you are through a recruiter or through answering a job posting. That’s just the reality is that it is five times as likely. So, in that 15% of your time that you are – and this is for early career professionals, this is mid-career professionals, this is CEOs – in that 15% of, of, of time. Um, I would suggest a few things that really will prepare you and help you build a runway for career expansion and career growth.

You are 5 times more likely to get a job through your current network than a job listing or recruiter.

So, one of those things is to own your own profession, your own personal and professional development. There are just not that many organizations who are making the kinds of investments in people that it feels like there used to be. And in particular in nonprofit organizations, because the resource structure is so lean, even with the best intentions, they’re not always great at doing that. So, invest in your own personal development I think should be at the top of anyone’s list. And that means things like making sure you have a mentor. An internal mentor, a champion in your organization where you are, who can sort of help you navigate that and an external mentor as well, someone who can really help you think about this, who can expand your access, your network, who can coach and help and really invest time in working with that mentor.

Even at the CEO level, when we recruit a new CEO, a new executive director, one of our transition planning points is to assign the new ED a board champion. So, someone who’s on the board of directors who knows the organization, who knows the politics, who knows the situation to really be a one-on-one sort of confidant. And we also recommend that the organization invest in an external coach. It’s really important as a CEO because you don’t have peers, right? The triangle of the organization means that when you’re the CEO, you don’t have any peers on your level. You don’t have any natural cohort of people to interact with like you do when you’re a manager or director. So, you have to look externally for that. But it’s really, really, really important to do for everyone.

I also think that there are professional development organizations that you should take advantage of. Like just off the top of my head, right? If you’re in development and fundraising, there’s The AFP Association of Fundraising Professionals. They do seminars. They do classes. There are actual certifications that you can get that’s a little bigger investment than what we’re talking about in 50% of your time. But if you’re in human resources, there are professional associations where you can go to develop skills and to get experience that is outside the scope of the job that you currently have. And the last thing I would say in terms of owning your professional development is to be a volunteer or a board member. You know? So let’s say you know that in order to be a successful nonprofit CEO, you’re going to have to like figure out how to raise money.

Let’s say you are a policy and advocacy person, and there’s a fundraising team and it’s not you join a board. But when you joined that board, don’t get on their policy and advocacy committee. Like that’s the natural thing. Join a committee that’s outside the field of expertise that’s your day job, and it’s an investment of time. But the reality is you really have to work at developing a suite of skills if you are moving to the next level that might not be available to you doing the work that you’re in. Mentoring is really important. Internal, external professional development, which you may not get from your organization. So you have to seek it outside, and then find ways to be engaged as a volunteer or a board member that gives you, let you get your hands into some other things that you’re doing.

Dolph Goldenburg: Let’s jump back to mentoring for a second and know kind of work our way through it. So, how does someone go about finding a mentor? And the reason I ask this question is I was presenting somewhere once in a complete stranger walked up to me and said, “Oh my gosh, will you be my mentor?” And I had to like sort of, you know, slowly back away like they do in cartoons. There’s clearly a right and wrong way to do it. So, what’s the right way to identify someone as a prospective mentor and then have them actually end up as your mentor?

Kevin Chase: I mean it is a little strange I guess to ask a total stranger, but I mean I’ve seen it happen, you know, where somebody presents at a conference, and a younger person new in their career is excited. I would recommend that that question not be, “Will you be my mentor?” but “Hey, I’m really seeking out professional mentorship. Do you have time for a call or a cup of coffee? I’d love to talk with you about it.” And the other thing is like be clear about what you want and what you need.

And this is true in a mentor conversation. I could have a full-time job honestly of going to coffee or tea with people. I don’t mind doing these conversations. I don’t think anyone does. But with someone just sort of says, “You know, I’m trying to figure out what to do next,” that’s not as helpful. It’s a conversation as, “Hey, I’m thinking about A, B, C, and D. Can you help me make a plan to get there? Do you have any advice about how to make that happen?” It’s much easier to be a mentor, to give professional advice to do, like sort of helpful thinking about career planning if the person asking has done some homework to think about really what they want, what they need, what they’re trying to be.

And so, I would say, aim a little closer to home. If you’re engaged in your professional work, and this is true for people all up and down. I think with the seniority scale, if you’re engaged in the work, you’re with other people who do what you do all the time. So, pay attention to a mentor who’s in a position that is exactly what you want to do in an organization that you respect or that shows up in your professional world in a way that feels inspiring to you. Some people will say no.

Dolph Goldenburg: Yeah, totally true.

Kevin Chase: Some people are not good mentors; some people don’t have the bandwidth to do it. And so, the other thing is like, don’t take that personally.

Don’t go, “Oh my God, I’m just going to go back to my office.” And they were having a mentor. Again, what I think about my experience, it has always been when I’m in a situation where I have repeated exposure to someone, so I can really have a grounded case for why I think they can provide me with the sort of professional mentorship with the professional guidance I’m looking for. And remember it’s a two-way street. You bring something to that too, you know, arguing intelligence, like you know, sometimes I hear about things from these relationships that I wouldn’t hear it from otherwise and it’s, it’s really helpful.

Dolph Goldenburg: I think mentoring ties into that second one, which is professional development and being a part of associations because you know, if you’re an active part of an association whether only meets once a year or like your local AFP chapter that meets monthly, you’re going to kind of run into the same people every time you go, and you’re going to start to say, “Oh yeah, this is someone I want to spend more time with because I want them to rub off on me.”

Kevin Chase: Yeah. There are some people who are really committed to mentoring, and they do it, and they sort of feel like it’s a calling. They feel like usually someone did it for them, and they want to pass it on. So, if you hear someone talk about their mentors or their mentees, then that’s a good sign that that’s probably a person who is approachable. It can be anyone you know.

Hone your professional development:
-Have a mentor
-Become a volunteer
-Join a board
-Join a professional development association

Dolph Goldenburg: I agree. And Kevin, thank you so much for talking with us today about the professional development necessary to get a c-suite position. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Now, we will return next week for part two of this incredible conversation with Kevin Chase. Make sure you download it next week to learn how to craft your resume and hone negotiation skills to become a top-notch candidate for the executive position you really want. Until then, listeners, you can find Kevin Chase at you can also check out the services that Kevin’s team offers and see for yourself how his team breaks down their executive search process into three unique phases. Again, Kevin, thank you, and I am looking forward to sharing part two of our conversation with listeners next week.

Now, if you are unable to jot down Kevin’s URL because you were too busy making a list of prospective mentors, then no worries. We’ve got you covered. Just go to the episode show notes at, and there you can find a link to Kevin’s firm and also a link to his LinkedIn page. I also want to give a quick shout out to Emily from Wisconsin. She was the first person to write a review after our episode with Tiffany couch and we as promised, send her a copy of Tiffany’s book The Thief in Your Company. Hey, Emily. Thanks so much. We appreciate the review now. Dear listeners, do you want to know a secret? Well, it’s probably not that much of a secret really, but I love hearing from listeners, so drop me a line to let me know what you like and what you don’t like about this podcast. Of course, I also hope that you’re going to rate and review it on your streaming app of choice, whether that’s iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or something else, and that is our show for the week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive and a competitive environment.


Got an Idea for a Topic?

Recommend it to us!

    Please prove you are human by selecting the tree.

    How are we doing?

    Tell us your thoughts!

      Please prove you are human by selecting the tree.