Recruiting Non-Profit Senior Executives

January 18, 2021 – Nowhere are leaders and talent more deeply passionate about what they do than in the mission driven sector. According to Korn Ferry, non-profit, philanthropy, and social enterprises are evolving at a rapid pace. Leaders are challenged with doing more with less as they navigate increasing demand.

Jodi Weiss serves as practice leader for Korn Ferry’s professional search non-profit and higher education practice. Based in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, she brings more than 20 years of leadership experience, with over a decade at Korn Ferry, during which span she has partnered with non-profits, associations, and higher education institutions to place executives and emerging leaders to include chief executive officers and executive directors, in addition to functional leaders spanning development/fundraising, marketing/ communications, finance, human resources/talent acquisitions, operations, and technology.

Ms. Weiss recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss recruiting senior executives for the non-for-profit sector. Here, she examines the areas that are hot and what she sees going forward.

Jodi, has hiring activity slowed or increased during the past year for non-profit clients?

In March and April when the impact of COVID-19 caused many organizations and professionals to transition and reinvent their day-to-day work lives and, in some cases, their mission, non-profit organizations for the most halted hiring processes. No one was sure what was next in terms of funding, and when/if office life would return. By May, many boards and organizations opted to move forward with executive-level searches in progress, and search firms, such as Korn Ferry, instituted virtual hiring processes. As we approached year end, non-profit hiring – at the executive level – was in full swing, with many organizations putting RFPs out for early 2021 searches. The key shift in hiring executives had to do with attributes that boards sought in our mid-pandemic world: agility, empathy and flexibility became critical as did a keen awareness and passion for social justice.

Within the non-profit sector, which kinds of organizations have been active with hiring?

We have seen hiring across a variety of non-profit organizations, to include charities, private charitable foundations, and social advocacy groups. There has also been a lot of shifts in non-profit boards, many of which have opted to diversity to be more inclusive and progressive given the focus on social justice in 2020. Universities, which have been impacted by COVID-19 on an ongoing basis, have had to ramp up their technology teams to meet the needs of a virtual environment for staff, faculty, and students alike. Charities have had to shift their fundraising/development initiatives to virtual formats as well, to include virtual galas, which has led to some transitions in fundraising leaders and ramping up of technology. One of the roles most in demand across non-profit and industry has been chief diversity officers.

When seeking candidates for these roles, how often do candidates emerge from the corporate side?

Great leaders come from a variety of backgrounds. We often work with corporate leaders who are interested in transitioning into non-profit as they seek more meaningful careers that align with causes they are passionate about. The pandemic/working-fromhome environment seems to have led many professionals to reflect on what matters to them and incentivized them to seek roles with organizations that align with their values and beliefs. We often place corporate executives into non-profit leadership roles and watch them flourish. A 501 (c)(3) is how an organization files its taxes; it is not a business model. Great leadership skills and purpose and vision are what make professionals excel in corporate or non-profit settings.

Recruiters have told us that the non-profit sector has been more appealing to executives looking for new positions. Have you seen more executives looking for careers in the non-profit sector?

We have seen a steady stream of executives seeking careers in non-profit – more so during the pandemic than prior. Again, it relates to sense of purpose and mission alignment. When an executive with a proven track record opts to join a mission-oriented organization she is passionate about, a clear sense of purpose and vision can fuel innovation and growth.

Has the global pandemic caused senior professionals to reevaluate their careers?

There are always turning points in a professional’s career. Sometimes they are spurred by personal life shifts, other times by a pandemic and social unrest. Over the last year, the pandemic and social justice issues caused many professionals to reflect and redefine what matters to them. Many professionals began to ask themselves how they wanted to spend their days, and how they could contribute to creating a more harmonized world. The non-profit sector is appealing as it enables professionals to marry their passions and sense of purpose in a concrete way that spurs change for communities, and for the larger good.

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