November 15, 2016 – Executive search firm Diversified Search has been retained by the Girl Scouts of America to lead its search for a new chief executive officer. The firm’s founder and chairman, Judith M. von Seldeneck, is leading the assignment. Anna Maria Chávez, who has served as CEO of the organization since 2011, notified the national board of directors of her desire to actively explore a return to public service.
The 104 year-old organization is looking for someone who can lead a large, complex organization. Its search committee is seeking an individual who is inspiring, compassionate, and has strong interpersonal skills who can lead the organization through continued growth and the expansion of its mission. Ideally, it is looking to fill the leadership post within six months — a time frame, Ms. von Seldeneck said, “we are managing the search to.”
Transitional Leader Sought
Ms. von Seldeneck said the organization is seeking a national leader “who is motivational and transformative.” Someone, she added, “who is really positive.” Likely candidate pools “will come from inside the non-profit space as well as industry,” she said. Diversified Search completed two CEO searches in the past 10 years for the Greater Philadelphia / South Jersey Council, one of the largest groups within the Girl Scouts.
While Diversified Search conducts its due diligence, Sylvia Acevedo, a member of the organization’s national board of directors and a longtime advocate for Hispanic girl’s and women’s causes, will serve as interim CEO.
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“Sylvia is the ideal choice to lead GSUSA during this transitional period,” said Kathy H. Hannan, president of GSUSA’s board of directors. “She is an officer of the national board of directors and a talented technology executive who has held positions with some of the world’s most respected companies. She has earned national prominence with regard to women’s and Hispanic issues. Most importantly, she understands our mission and is committed to leading us forward,” she added.
The Girl Scouts is a youth organization for girls in the U.S. and American girls living abroad. Founded by Juliette Gordon Low in 1912, it aims to empower girls and to help teach values such as honesty, fairness, courage, compassion, character, sisterhood, confidence, entrepreneurship, and citizenship through activities including camping, community service, learning first aid, and earning badges by acquiring practical skills.
Diversified Search has worked with more than 300 educational institutions and not-for-profit organizations over a 40-year span. Its not-for-profit practice recruits leaders for associations, foundations, arts & culture organizations, religious groups, workforce development entities, as well as professional and social service concerns. Just recently, the firm placed Stacey D. Stewart as president of the March of Dimes Foundation. She became the organization’s first black president. That search was led by Andrew Wheeler, managing director and practice leader of Diversified’s education and not-for-profit practice.
The economic strength of the non-profit sector has been increasing as the economy expands and it is now the third largest employer in the U.S. Nearly two million non-profit organizations employ 10.7 million people and produce revenue in excess of $1.9 trillion.
That’s leading to some complications for recruiters. “I think it’s getting more competitive,” said Ms. von Seldeneck. “All non-profits are under varying degrees of pressure for fundraising, due to a lack of support elsewhere. You hear about this all the time. They are pressed to find leaders who can play a major role driving that agenda, as well as creating innovative and inspirational programs, missions, and visions. It’s a full plate.”
“Many of the searches we do within Diversified Search’s development & philanthropy search practice are now conducted for ‘advancement’ leadership,” said Gerard F. Cattie, a managing director at the Philadelphia-based search firm. “It has both been a change in the nomenclature, but also in the skillset that is required today within the profession.”
Advancement is an extension of development and fundraising, said Mr. Cattie. “Over the past two decades, educational institutions and non-profit organizations have shifted toward more integrated models of collaboration between communications, marketing, branding and development,” he said.
“Of course, effective leaders in the non-profit sector need to be creative and innovative visionaries who stay true to their organization’s mission,” Ms. von Seldeneck added. “But that’s only one piece of the puzzle. They also need to be strategic business minds who can identify and motivate the key stakeholders whose philanthropy powers the engine. You can’t just be one or the other anymore.”
Fierce Competition for Talent
“We continue to see fierce competition for talent across the non-profit sector,” said Molly Brennan, managing partner of Koya Leadership Partners, another firm dedicated to the non-profit sector. “Boards of directors are looking for leaders who can deliver measurable results, who offer a track record of managing people and organizations, and who can present a mission with conviction.”
With a flurry of non-profit organizations seeking top leaders in recent years, executives from all walks of corporate life continue to flock to the sector, hoping to transfer the skills they’ve honed in traditional business.
“Non-profits have realized that the hard skills that many candidates bring from the for-profit sector, including strategic planning and execution, change management, financial and operational expertise, and people management, are just as important as passion for a mission when it comes to delivering on measurable goals,” said Ms. Brennan. “We are no longer in an era when an organization can ask for and receive funding, whether from a foundation, the government, or an individual donor, without demonstrating its impact and the effective use of those resources.”
“Non-profits are seen as viable career paths for top industry leaders,” added Koya chief executive Katie Bouton. “Today, 80 percent of the candidates we see are at the executive level. As a result, candidates and clients are demanding personalized attention and sector-specific expertise from search professionals.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief and Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor — Hunt Scanlon Media