11 Traits to Look for in a Non-Profit Executive

June 10, 2024 – Non-profits and the executives who lead them are a critical part of our communities, providing essential services and support to individuals and groups that may otherwise go overlooked. When selecting a non-profit executive, boards and search committees should seek candidates who possess a combination of leadership qualities, strategic thinking skills, passion for the organization’s mission, and a strong understanding of non-profit operations, according to a new report from TalentRise’s Pete Petrella. Mr. Petrella provides 11 key traits that boards should consider:

1. Passion for the Mission: “A deep commitment to the non-profit’s cause is essential,” said Mr. Petrella. “The executive should genuinely believe in the organization’s mission and be motivated to work towards achieving its goals.”

2. Leadership Skills: Strong leadership skills are crucial for guiding the organization, inspiring staff and volunteers, and fostering a positive organizational culture, according to Mr. Petrella. He says to look for candidates with a track record of effective leadership in previous roles.

3. Strategic Thinking: “The ability to develop and execute long-term strategies is vital to a non-profit’s success,” Mr. Petrella said. “Non-profit leaders should be able to analyze the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats and develop and implement strategic plans to advance its mission.”

4. Financial Acumen: Mr. Petrella notes that non-profit executives need a solid understanding of budgeting, financial management, fundraising, and resource allocation. He says that they should be able to ensure the organization operates within its budget while maximizing its impact.

5. Collaboration and Relationship Building: “Building strong relationships with key stakeholders, including donors, partners, volunteers, and board members, is an important part of a non-profit executive’s role,” Mr. Petrella said. “Candidates should be skilled at fostering collaborations and networking within the community.”

Related: 3 Ways to Nurture Talent for Future Leadership in Non-Profit and Social Impact Organizations

6. Adaptability and Resilience: The non-profit sector can be unpredictable, with challenges ranging from funding fluctuations to changing regulations, according to Mr. Petrella. He explains that executives must be able to quickly adapt to change and remain resilient in the face of adversity.

Pete Petrella serves as practice leader of executive search at TalentRise and is responsible for leading the division focused on placing c-suite and executive-level talent into leadership positions within organizations. He plays a critical role in the TalentRise growth plan by cultivating c-level, investor, and board of director relationships with companies looking to acquire great leadership talent for their business. Mr. Petrella brings over 22 years of experience in a variety of business sectors including sports, healthcare, startups, scaleups, and technology. His areas of expertise include management, sales, marketing, IT, software, and strategy. Additionally, he serves in a dual role at Aleron Group and helps lead Viaduct, which assists startups and emerging businesses find talent. He is active in several growth-stage technology organizations in the Buffalo, Upstate NY, Chicago, IL, Toronto, and Austin, TX markets.

7. Communication Skills: “Effective communication is crucial for conveying the organization’s mission, vision, and impact to stakeholders,” Mr. Petrella said. “A non-profit executive should be a skilled communicator who can articulate the organization’s message clearly and compellingly.”

8. Ethical Integrity: Mr. Petrella notes that non-profit executives must uphold the highest ethical standards and act with integrity in everything they do. Boards should look for candidates with a strong moral compass and a commitment to transparency and accountability.

9. Experience in the Non-profit Sector: “While not always necessary, experience working in the non-profit sector can be beneficial,” said Mr. Petrella. “Executives who understand the unique challenges and opportunities of the non-profit world may be better equipped to lead effectively.”

Related: Achieving Diversity for Non-Profits

10. Innovative Thinking: In today’s day and age, non-profits need to innovate to stay relevant and effective, according to Mr. Petrella. He explains to seek out candidates who are creative and innovative thinkers and capable of identifying new approaches to serving their constituents.

11. Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging: “Non-profits have an opportunity to lead the way in making our communities more diverse, equitable, and inclusive,” Mr. Petrella says. “Candidates should embrace these values and ensure they are part of their approach to leadership and mission advancement.”

“By prioritizing these traits during the search process, non-profit boards can identify executives who are well-equipped to lead their organizations and make a positive impact in their communities,” Mr. Petrella said.

Founded in 2008 in Chicago, TalentRise provides executive search, interim executive placement, and talent consulting. The firm’s talent optimization model uses data-driven insights to align people and organizational strategies for optimum performance. TalentRise supports companies in nearly every vertical — retail, manufacturing, technology, financial services, healthcare, life sciences, E-commerce, and more — with custom and comprehensive talent acquisition solutions.

Related: Navigating Opportunities in Changing Tides for the Non-Profits in 2024

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Executive Editor; Lily Fauver, Senior Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments