Spotlight: A Look Inside the Rewarding Work Serving a Non-Profit

August 9, 2023 – Created through a recent merger between DRi and Waterstone Human Capital, DRiWaterstone Human Capital is a culture-centric executive search, leadership advisory, and human capital firm focused on helping mission and purpose-driven organizations across the U.S. build high performance teams and cultures.

Jennifer Dunlap is co-founder, president, and CEO of DRiWaterstone. After spending decades as a senior executive at non-profit organizations, she was convinced that the sector needed a dedicated and proven partner that could build capacity for organizations. Over the last 15 years, Ms. Dunlap has led executive searches for CEOs who have reinvented non-profit business models at blue-chip organizations such as AARP, Heifer International, League of Women Voters, NPR, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Ms. Dunlap recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon Media to discuss how working for a non-profit can be a fulfilling career and what it takes to find senior talent in the sector.

Jennifer, tell us a little about DRiWaterstone Human Capital and what you’re seeing with clients these days.
At DRiWaterstone, we have the pleasure of helping some of the best non-profit and social impact organizations in North America find mission and purpose-driven candidates to fill leadership roles within their organization and on their boards. There is an ongoing need for high-performance talent who can help take an organization’s mission, impact, and success to the next level. Many people don’t know that the non-profit sector as a whole employs 10 percent of the U.S. workforce. The 1.5 million non-profits come in all shapes and sizes, from serving their local communities to serving the world. This creates competition for the best talent. As a result, many candidates have different options to consider. In order for a non-profit to get the most competitive candidates, they can’t rely on applicants responding to advertising. We frequently hear, “we have been trying to do it ourselves but none of the applicants are qualified.” I think this plays a large role in the non-profit sector seeking executive search help. Organizations are also using this time to review their talent strategy and plan for the future – looking at where they are today, where they want to be in the next three to five years, and doing an assessment of “do we have the right people in the right seats to achieve our plans?” Whether they’re looking to develop and fill net new roles, or to make changes to their current team or structure, that’s something that we’re able to support them with.

Is there a place in the non-profit sector for individuals looking for a new career path?
What I tell candidates who are considering making the move to the non-profit space that it feeds your soul in a way many other organizations just can’t. At the end of the day, it just feels different to work in the non-profit sector because what you do really does matter, and really does impact peoples’ lives – it’s not just about making money. We’re in a time where there’s a lot of competition for talent, no matter the sector, and as a result, organizations need to distinguish themselves as a place where top talent wants to be. For non-profits, their mission, purpose, culture, and impact are their competitive advantage. Those are things that speak to mission and purpose-driven candidates who are looking for a change. And from a candidate perspective, the non-profit space offers so much opportunity and so much growth potential. If you can write, if you’re organized, if you’re a relationship builder, and if you have a passion for mission, you can do just about anything in this sector. At DRiWaterstone, we’ve spent more than 20 years connecting mission and purpose-driven organizations with high-performance, mission and purpose- driven talent. These people are passionate about making a difference, and they have the skills and behaviors that can help organizations achieve their mission, impact, and reputation goals.

What obstacles do non-profits face in 2023?
The impact of the pandemic has been wide ranging and affected the industry significantly. But the big challenges facing the industry boil down to attracting and retaining high-performance, mission and purpose-driven talent. Compensation models have been a long-standing challenge. Non-profits need to be more aware of the different compensation models (monetary and not) they could be considering – ones that allow for rewarding performance. Likewise, funders need to recognize that talent matters, and if an organization doesn’t have the top talent they need to effectively deliver on the mission, their investment won’t be as impactful as it could be. Things are starting to change in this regard, with many funders becoming more attuned to the talent landscape within organizations and understanding that they need to pay for high-performing talent who can do the important work and achieve results. While compensation is important, so is having an organization that people want to work for. Do people see you as an important mission and purpose-driven organization with a good culture? Are you providing learning and growth opportunities? Building a strong employer brand (and backing it up with action) will help with retention as well as talent attraction. As will having a long-term talent acquisition and retention strategy. Non-profits are competing for great talent – having a plan not only for how you’ll attract the best mission and purpose-driven candidates, but also how you’ll ensure talent is engaged, retained, and supported in their career will make the difference moving forward.

Is flexibility important in this space?
Yes, candidates today have a real expectation of flexibility – around where they work, when they work, how they work, and more. There are some people who don’t want to go back to an office and lose the flexibility they’ve found over the last few years. Most people want a hybrid environment, and organizations are trying to figure the right balance.

Share This Article


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments