CEO search in a time of turbulence on corona virus illustration

Board Chairman, Camp Fire First Texas

Do you hear that? It’s the universe laughing at the naivete of my previous blog post. Way back in early March, I thought change was something as simple and straight-forward as the transition from our current president and CEO Ann Sheets to the next leader of the organization. Little did we know back then the extent of change we were truly facing.

The challenges of COVID-19 caused the cancellation of many programs and severely impacted those that remained. Of course, Camp Fire First Texas has met the challenge and adjusted regularly to serve our community in innovative ways. Our incredible staff developed a host of unique resources and programs, including a wildly successful Virtual El Tesoro de la Vida Dinner to raise funds for this vital grief camp, weekly WoHeLo Hour to keep campers connected and Thriving Thursday to help parents and other childcare providers navigate the new normal.

Through it all, we’ve maintained a steely-eyed focus on living out the Camp Fire mission, and that will make us stronger in the long-run.

Similar to the upheaval in programming, the search for the organization’s next leader has required adjustment and originality. We’re still in the process of reviewing candidates, but I thought I would share the three key ways the transition task force has modified its approach to this CEO search in the midst of COVID:

  1. Vision When we first embarked on this search, the world and organizational realities were both different. Moving from a place where Camp Fire was projecting a balanced budget to one that necessitated the cancellation of summer camp and reductions in fee-for-service programs, the leadership requirements for this position needed to evolve, too. Rather than leading a stable, thriving non-profit, our new CEO (as CEOs of hundreds of non-profits across the country) will need to help us recover from this sudden alteration in our revenue model. Through this process, the transition task force has adjusted its perspective accordingly.
  2. Flexibility – As all of us have seen in our lives, the ability to pivot in the face of constantly evolving realities is vital right now. It’s no different with this search process. Despite the comfort of a calendar we developed in January with an intent to announce a new CEO in May, we had to rethink that timing significantly. In fact, we took an intentional pause in the search process at the height of the original shelter-in-place (thanks to Ann’s generous offer to extend her contract, by the way!). We kept the top candidates updated on this change, and, to a person, they all expressed gratitude as the organizations they are currently helming were wrestling with new realities, too.
  3. Technology – How many of us have grown accustomed to video conference-based meetings, birthdays and book clubs? Likewise, the transition task force changed tack and is working through our executive search consultant to vet top candidates, and, rather than bringing the finalists in for in-person interviews, we’re going to have semi-final interviews over Zoom. The finalists from that step will join us in person for the ultimate step (with all necessary precautions of physical distancing and cleanliness, of course).

As of the day I’m writing this, we have five highly skilled professionals who bring different but valuable skills and experiences to the table for the semi-final interview step. I’m extremely heartened by the incredibly high caliber of our options.

What we as a team will never change is our insistence on finding the right leader to take Camp Fire forward. We will endeavor to find the most qualified professional that can help ensure our mission endures for years to come. On behalf of this transition task force, I look forward to sharing our selection with you in the future.