It sounds silly, but a career milestone was reached during the last 90 days by executing an online survey.
The Internet unleashed tremendous potential to gain feedback from a wide range of stakeholders through online surveys. Feedback is truly a gift and nonprofit organizations can make tremendous progress by listening to volunteers, donors, board members and staff and then changing strategies or culture.
Many organizations seek input from stakeholders when searching for a director. The exercise can build stronger communities as more people become engaged with the organization. Bringing a diverse group to the point of reaching a consensus can create a sense of unity. Communications departments often are delegated the task of developing these types of processes, with the assistance of the human resources department.
So the fact that the Greater St. Louis Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, conducted an online survey as part of its selection process for its next executive director should not make many nonprofit communicators stand back in awe. But this exercise showed a tremendous shift in the corporate culture of the Boy Scouts of America. Communications and public relations professionals have a responsibility to facilitate change in corporate culture when needed. It can be a difficult task. When it’s successful, it’s a career milestone.
All aspects of the selection process for executive directors for Boy Scout councils is tightly controlled by National Council personnel and a small number of the council’s board members. BSA bylaws state that all candidates for executive director positions must be approved by the National Council. However, the National Council is undergoing radical changes throughout the entire organization.
A few years ago, board members and staff of the National Council realized they must change to cope with the demands of a changing nation and world. The new and overarching goal: the National Council will focus on improving all services to local councils. What better way to help a council than to use modern tools to get essential data that will assist a selection committee in choosing an executive director?
When the concept of a survey was mentioned to an executive director of another Boy Scout council, he replied, “You can’t have the inmates running the asylum. That thinking is just too far out of the box.” Other members of the management team thought chances of executing the survey was a longshot.
But then David L. Steward, president of the Greater St. Louis Area Council and chairman of the selection committee, announced at the organization’s October executive board meeting that he would be seeking input during the selection process to replace John Primrose, who retired in September after serving six years in St. Louis and 37 years as a BSA professional staff member. Another high-level volunteer at the council and national level contacted human resource officers at Central Region office of the National Council and offered to facilitate the survey process by developing questions and analyzing the data. The Central Region director agreed and authorized the launch of the survey.
The survey was live for less than two weeks and gathered less than 200 responses. We weren’t technologically able to send an e-mail invitation to take the survey to thousands of adult volunteers, which would have substantially increased the response rate. Almost half of the staff took part in the survey.
Nonetheless, we executed the research and published the results on the council’s website. We hope other Boy Scout councils and nonprofit organizations will be able to execute similar surveys during searches for executive directors.
The survey results will be gold for the next executive director. The information will provide that person with the latest feedback from staff, volunteers, the general public and board members. During the first year of their tenure, he or she won’t have to ask questions about the council’s strengths and needs. Instead, questions can be focused on finding solutions to problems and building on successes.
And the survey was one of those successes.