interim executive directorship

What would you say to your Board of Directors if, when you were hired to be the executive director of a nonprofit, you already knew the date you were going to be fired?

Imagine the honesty, candor, and transparency you would exercise if you knew that your new job had a finite term, and your role was to assess the organization, get some quick wins, and leave it a better place than you found it, even on-boarding your replacement!

This is the job description of an Interim Executive Director (IED), a powerful tool for an organization whose leader has left abruptly, is retiring, or needs to be removed for some other reason. Many organizations are choosing to hire an IED to give the board breathing room to conduct a search to replace the executive, while also benefiting from the outsider perspective of their organization in transition. Recent studies have reported that the turnover rate of executive non-profit leaders is at an alarming level, with executive directors retiring or leaving their positions in great numbers.

I was trained by the Support Center, on whose board I serve as vice-chair, to work as an IED to create stronger, more optimistic and financially sound organizations. Support Center’s Interim Executive Directors step into the Chief Executive position to offer strong, effective, and temporary leadership to an organization after its executive director has departed. The IED ensures that the organization remains stable and keeps moving in the right direction during the executive transition process.

As explained by the Support Center:


  • Assess and manage the current situation,
  • Oversee finances, program operations, and fundraising goals,
  • Address immediate or potential resource issues,
  • Support managers,
  • Meet the pressing needs of the Board.

An IED can attend to the fears and anxieties of the staff, funders, and agency supporters while working closely with the board to facilitate a successful transition. It is also typical for an IED to improve agency systems and generate new excitement for the organization’s future.

It is important to note that an IED is NOT a candidate for the permanent executive director position.


Groups that use an IED emerge from their executive transition stronger, more financially sound and more optimistic about the future impact of their organizations’ services.

Time – Your IED can be in place in a fraction of the time it would take to hire a new, suitable executive director. With a capable IED leading the organization, you can take the time needed to do a thorough search for the permanent executive director.

Assurance  – Interim executive management assures your funders, staff, constituents and Board members that your organization has an experienced, trained and skilled professional at the helm during the transition.

Experience – Support Center trained IEDs have extensive experience and are amply qualified for the positions they undertake. This allows them to be productive from the outset, have an immediate positive impact on your organization, and minimize the risk of things going wrong.

Objectivity – Unencumbered by any previous involvement in organization processes or staff relationships, IEDs provide a fresh and candid perspective to the Board and are free to concentrate on what’s best for your organization.

Accountability – Rather than taking on a purely advisory role, interim directors are responsible and accountable for managing your organization until it is time to hand it off to your newly hired executive director.

Staff Development – Employment of an IED allows your organization and your staff time to adjust before your next permanent executive director comes aboard. It also offers your employees a unique opportunity to step up as leaders during this transition process.