July 21, 2021 – DRi is an executive search and strategic consulting firm committed to helping non-profits select the best talent. For over 15 years, the firm has served more than 350 of the most innovative and respected non-profit institutions operating at the local, national and international levels. DRi has placed hundreds of executive leaders and worked side by side with them to adopt strategic plans, design fundraising programs and build staffs.
Nancy Racette is the co-founder and chief operating officer of DRi. Driven by the belief that every person can have a fundamental impact on the world, she spent decades designing innovative fundraising and communications programs to fuel the growth of sustainable non-profit organizations. In 2001, she began providing executive search and development consulting to help non-profits across the country build their own capacity to grow, thrive and excel. Ms. Racette has helped numerous non-profit organizations design and fill staff structures. She has worked with national organizations such as AAUW, the Armed Services YMCA, and Help Hospitalized Veterans. Ms. Racette recently sat down with Hunt Scanlon to discuss the current state for recruiting senior-level executives for the non-profit sector.
Nancy, how has the non-profit executive search business fared over the last year? What are your expectations for the remainder of 2021?
Prior to the pandemic a Johns Hopkins study reported that the non-profit sector as a whole placed third out of 18 major sectors as an employer of American workers, ranking only behind retail and manufacturing. We don’t have the statistics yet on how the pandemic has affected the sector but we have heard anecdotally that many of the smaller non-profits, particularly in the arts and culture sector have had to close their doors. However, we have seen that many others had funders that came forward in greater numbers to help strengthen those that were providing needed services. From an executive search perspective the initial fear, staff layoffs, and frozen hiring turned around quickly and hiring resumed. Search firms that focus in the sector also rebounded as a result. For us, a small boutique firm, we continue to see growth and a demand for services.
What are some characteristics of candidates primed to work in non-profit organizations?
Candidates primed for the non-profit sector have a strong connection and passion for the missions of the organization. They understand the value proposition and what it takes to generate the resources necessary to deliver services. Like any sector, leaders need to be visionary and able to communicate vision both internally and externally. The strongest leaders understand that non-profit is a tax status, not a business plan and can develop a culture that is both compassionate and goal oriented. Candidates need to be able to motivate and inspire others to success. Those that work in the sector are generally not compensated at the same level as those in the for profit sector, yet the demands of the roles do not differ greatly. A non-profit CEO may not report to shareholders, but they do have accountability to a board of directors, donors and those they serve. Characteristics that all non-profits ask for include: intellectual curiosity; flexibility and adaptability; honesty; integrity; and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
What roles are most in demand for non-profits right now?
Fundraising positions are in high demand. Positions include both those in the leadership role and front line fundraisers that can deliver results. CEO’s and executive directors are the positions that organizations more frequently turn to executive search firms for help. We are also getting requests to assist with communications, marketing and policy roles more frequently than we have in the past. Non-profits are also turning to us now to assist with board recruitment. This is one area that differs greatly from the for profit sector as board members that serve non-profits are volunteers and asked to give their time, talent and money to the organization.
Is there a talent shortage in the sector? Has this caused non-profits to look for executives in areas they normally wouldn’t?
There has always been a shortage in experienced, skilled fundraisers. Fundraising roles are very demanding and turn over is extremely high as people leave their roles for many reasons, including, unrealistic expectations, and being recruited away. Unfortunately, we have not seen non-profits think creatively about who can fill these roles or even how to invest in training and development to “grow” people in the fundraising profession. While a natural conclusion by many is that someone who is successful at sales would be a successful fundraiser, this is not always the case. Relational sales people can succeed and some organizations are starting to see the value in that. However, fundraisers do not work on commission and that can often be a deal breaker. Non-profits have been asking for candidates from the for profit sector for their CEO and COO roles. We have also seen more people from the for-profit sector reach out looking to transition into a “more meaningful” role with impact. Those candidates, however, often have “sticker shock” when they realize that compensation cannot be at the same level that they may have seen before. We recently had a client say that the candidate they thought they wanted was “too financially” motivated for their culture. Every organization is also seeking and hoping for strong diverse candidates. There is a shortage of experienced diverse candidates across roles. The sector as a whole needs to think creatively about how to diversify their workforce and understand that being inclusive and examining their internal culture will need to be a part of the process.