MB Connection

When (and Why) to Hire an Interim Executive Director

September 1,2021

When faced with a vacancy in the leadership role, organizations sometimes find that an interim is the best solution, enabling a thoughtful and comprehensive search to take place while continuing to move the organization forward.  Certain conditions may call for an interim or acting executive while the search is underway for a permanent appointment. 


  • If there is an unexpected loss or sudden departure of a leader, a Board will often appoint an interim, allowing time to reflect and organize a search process.
  • When replacing a founder or long-term leader, appointing an interim allows time to for the staff and community to disengage and prepare to welcome the next leader.
  • When search processes in specific fields (i.e. Education) are governed by a specific calendar that does not align with the existing timeline.
  • If there is an absence of consensus on organizational direction or on what skills and experience are needed in the next leader.
  • When there is a recognized need to build systems or processes, bring change, or effect a turnaround in an organization that is experiencing serious problems.  External interim leaders can bring specialized skills to address specific areas of need.
  • If an executive director needs to take a leave of absence.
  • If there is capacity and bandwidth in the executive team, elevating a senior leader into an acting role can provide a period of mutual exploration for consideration of a permanent appointment.


  • An interim can provide stability in transition, particularly for an organization in turmoil.
  • An externally hired interim can bring a fresh perspective and provide an objective, unbiased assessment of the organization.
  • Interim leaders can bring different strengths and skills than a long-term leader.
  • An interim can focus on priorities identified by the board and act with a sense of urgency.
  • An interim can calm the waters and improve morale following disruption or change.
  • An interim leader can make sensitive personnel changes that could be problematic and even damaging for the next permanent leader.
  • An interim can help the board prioritize.
  • An interim can serve as a mentor to their successor and position them for success.

An interim executive director can do more than serve as a placeholder.  With clear direction from the board, the appropriate executive can provide seasoned leadership, stability, and objectivity, bring a sense of calm, or carry out challenging objectives.  An interim solution can provide a bridge and help position the next leader to be successful.