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The "101" Department: Finding the Alpha Dog

How to land a great executive director for your shelter

When the McKamey Animal Center in Chattanooga needed an executive director in 2008 for its brand-new facility, its search committee advertised the position nationally on several career search-engine websites and by word-of-mouth, yielding more than 190 résumés.

The committee heard back from lawyers, accountants, store managers, personnel specialists, kennel workers, nail technicians, veterinarians, students, and more. Only about 1 percent of the applicants had any shelter experience. “We even had an exotic dancer apply,” search committee member and emeritus board member Barby Wilson recalls, laughing. “I think that’s the mentality … people think, ‘Oh, I love animals—it’s not a problem, I can handle that job.’ And it’s not like that at all.”

The shelter was conducting its search for a new leader after the departure of its previous head, who’d been on the job for less than a year. Wilson says she’d had impressive credentials, but ended up being the wrong fit for the shelter.

The second time the Chattanooga shelter’s search committee members went looking for a new executive director (ED), they learned from their earlier experience. The mechanics of the search process stayed the same—advertising locally and nationally, gathering résumés, interviewing and culling candidates—but other elements of their approach were different.

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