We recently sat down with Ilona Birenbaum, the Vice President of the Board of Directors for New Hope Housing, to discuss her experience working with the DRiWaterstone Human Capital team in their search for a CEO. In this Q&A, Ilona shares the insights gained throughout the process of searching for a new CEO, working with the DRiWaterstone team, and advice for non-profits currently hiring executives in a challenging market.
DRiWaterstone (DRiW): Can you tell me a little bit about New Hope Housing and your role on the Board?
Ilona Birenbaum (IB): New Hope Housing was founded in 1977, and it’s a non-profit agency in Northern Virginia that’s committed to ending homelessness. We provide shelters as well as services for men, women, and children who are struggling with homelessness. As for my role, I’ve been on the Board for five years and I’ve been Vice President of the Board the last few years. I also was Chair of the search committee. It’s been a great experience. We have a lot of new board members and some who joined when I started, so, it’s a really great mix of people.
DRiW: Tell me about the role New Hope Housing was looking to fill when you reached out to DRiWaterstone?
IB: Pam Michelle, who was the executive director for 31 years, retired in 2021. We knew initially that we wanted to have an Interim Director until we figured out exactly what we were looking for. Bill Gorman helped us with that, and he was there for about a year and a half—which is a lot longer than we anticipated. And from there we reached out to DRiWatersrone because we wanted to fill the Executive Director role, which is now a CEO position. The DRiWaterstone team was instrumental in helping us, as we hired Ashley McSswain who started in June of this year.
DRiW: Why did you opt to work with a retained executive search firm?
IB: We really wanted a partner in this effort – somebody who is well-known in the field and who has a lot of experience. We actually found DRiWaterstone through one of our other Board members.
DRiW: Talk about your overall experience working with our team?
It was exceptional. The team was so thoughtful and on top of it all. You all did such a good job of holding our hands through the process, identifying what we needed to do on our end and what you were going to do for us. The team laid out the timeline and delivered on what you said you would do.
We did this process twice. The first time, we made an offer to an individual and they decided to stay with their current organization. We were a little disappointed because we knew we would have to do the process again, but the DRiWaterstone team was just so reassuring that we were not going to have the same experience the next time around and that was exactly true – we had so many qualified candidates in round 2.
DRiW: What if anything, did you learn about your organization during the search process?
IB: I think it was not so much as a lesson, but confirmation that we have really dedicated people on the Board and that the staff of this organization are really wonderful. Also, I had the opportunity to get to know our shelters a bit more through this process—and see inside the workings of our shelters, see the commitment that people have doing this work, and see how passionate and dedicated they are.
Additionally, I think it reaffirmed when we got to the end and we were ready to make an offer, how in alignment we all were. There was no question. There was no debate. We all knew that we wanted Ashley. It was really impressive that DRiWaterstone stayed neutral [during the process] and allowed us the time to come to an unanimous decision.
DRiW: What advice do you have for other non-profit organizations looking to attract top talent in today’s job market?
IB: I would say, don’t go at it alone. Really take the time to find a partner like DRiWaterstone and have them guide you through the process. I think that’s really important and helpful. And then make sure that you have people, part of the search committee, who are dedicated and interested. This work takes a lot of time.
At DRiWaterstone, we have the pleasure to work with some of the best mission and purpose-driven clients and candidates in the non-profit and social impact space. To learn more about how we can help you build your high-performance teams and drive growth, email us – we’d love to talk!