Spotlight: Recruiting the Next Generation of Non-Profit Leaders

July 21, 2021 – Vetted Solutions specializes in helping purpose-driven organizations in all aspects of leadership – from defining their leadership needs and requirements, to developing entire teams of loyal, dedicated high-performers, and everything in between. Jim Zaniello is president and founder of the Washington, D.C-based firm which focuses on serving the leadership needs of associations, non-profit organizations, hospitality and destination marketing industries nationwide.

In this interview, Mr. Zaniello provides his first-hand perspective on the current state of recruiting for non-profit organizations and his expectations for the future.

What is the current state of recruiting for non-profit organizations?

The fact is demand for talented leaders in the association and non-profit sector is as robust as it’s ever been. And frankly, it might even be more robust. Boards want CEOs who are innovative and entrepreneurial boards want CEOs who can help them think through the organization’s business model, its communication strategy, and how those they serve the greatest guidance and assistance from the association or non-profit. Those CEOs and their talented leadership teams help to guide the association or the non-profit’s journey, and to deliver the impact that everyone’s expecting.

How was the non-profit recruiting sector impacted by COVID-19?

The non-profit sector was hit pretty hard by the pandemic. Associations couldn’t hold events, educational events, conferences or trade shows, which are often a large way to engage those they serve. Non-profits couldn’t do some of the fundraising events and the communications and the engagement work, because they weren’t able to bring people together. Everyone pivoted, everyone went virtual, or at least to a hybrid model. And now everybody’s planning for returning to office and the new normal.

Are there any lasting impacts?

I think many are finding that there has to be a new way. I was talking to a client of ours the other day who said this is the second year they’re not running their annual meeting. And guess what? As important as we are to our members, if they haven’t been together in two years, not as many of them might come back next year, either because they’re comfortable with the online virtual format, or because they just want to do something different. What I think this is sort of raising awareness around is the importance of succession planning. This has boards thinking: Is there basic talent on their team that they’d be able to replace internally if the CEO decided to leave? Would they be able to promote from within in order to shorten the learning curve? They know the organization, they know the issues, they better be able to step into the role. And similarly, the CEO is looking at succession plans for those who are on their team. Again, the question is, is there someone on that individual department head’s broader team who could step into the role, either on the interim basis or on a more permanent basis? I think the other thing we’re seeing is a greater use of interim executives, whether that’s for the CEO spot, or for other C-suite roles, so that time and impact isn’t lost while a search is conducted.

What are your expectations for the remainder of 2021?

I think robust boards will continue to hire CEOs, especially when that’s because a really talented CEO got recruited away; we’re seeing a lot of that happening. As always, we’re seeing CEOs contracts coming to an end and a lot of times those CEOs say, “Wow, I got you through the pandemic. I am thrilled I’m going to go on with my life because through all of that, I’ve decided I want to spend my time differently.” Then we also see boards wanting to look at different business models, therefore different expertise in the CEO. We’re also seeing mergers, especially in the non-profit space. How do we either look at shared office services or bringing two non-profits with similar missions together for the greater good of those they serve? We’re going to see all of that and more in the remaining months of this year. And I think that’s what we all need to be prepared for in 2022.

How focused have non-profit organizations been on improving diversity, equity and inclusion efforts? And have you assisted your clients in achieving the DEI goals?

I feel like the non-profit and association space has always been a little further along than the corporate community. So much so because in the non-profit and association sectors, we’re all about service, we’re all about helping and building others, we’re all about creating capacity and impact. Certainly, as a result of what we’ve all experienced in the last 15 months, there’s a greater awareness, greater willingness and a greater drive to want to ensure the most inclusive organizations. That means inclusive boards of directors, that means a truly diverse and inclusive staff, and different thinking around how to engage members. Some questions we have to answer on our end are: How do we help the industry we serve recruit a workforce, but in particular a truly diverse workforce to reflect society today. I’ve always been proud of the work that associations and non-profits do, and in the last 15 months they’ve done even more. From our perspective, on the search side, I think the executive search profession has always had, and especially now, has a responsibility to help our clients think through their approach to diversity, equity and inclusion. I know that’s why in 2017, we partnered with George Mason University, on a DE+I study. I’m excited by what groups like the Association Forum of Chicago and the American Society of Association Executives are doing to help their members move these DE+I efforts forward.

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