It seems that 99% of the time, employers say they will get back to you within a certain time frame, and then they don’t.
There are two possible reasons for this:
1. They are short-staffed and just can’t get all the decision-makers together to make a hiring decision, so they haven’t decided who to hire yet; or they are still checking people’s references and waiting to hear back from the references before a decision is made.
2. They have made an offer to their favorite candidate—who isn’t you—and are waiting to hear whether that person will decide to accept the offer; if they don’t accept the offer then you may be their next
Most likely, it’s #1, but there’s no good way to know.
You are well within your rights to follow up with the employer to express your continued interest in the position. The main point is to show excitement and continued interest in the position—and to never show annoyance or impatience at the process!
Politely following up to say you are still interested and available reassures the employer that you are still in the running. There may be times when you have multiple interviews and even receive an offer from another employer before you have heard back from an employer where you have interviewed. In this case, it’s important to give the other, slower employer a chance to counteroffer by letting them know that you have received a competing offer and have limited time to decide on whether to accept it. If you are lucky and the stars align properly you will actually be able to choose between two competing offers. It doesn’t happen too often, but by delaying the acceptance of one offer and trying to speed up another, you sometimes can make it happen.
I’ve surveyed a lot of people about this, including the president of a prominent board, associate directors of various non-profits, and over a dozen Evans School alumni. There appears to be consensus: the general culture in the non-profit world is to not respond to applicants, nor even people they interview, probably for the reasons listed above. I just reiterate that applicants need to be politely assertive in initiating follow-up phone calls and emails and not expect a call-back, even if they say they’re going to.