Global Pandemic and Social Upheaval Ignite Executive Recruiting for Non-Profit Sector

LeadershipSocial ImpactExecutive Search
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1月 19, 2021
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LeadershipSocial ImpactExecutive Search
Non-profit organizations found themselves in increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic but faced the same business challenges as other sectors.

Hunt Scanlon Media

The Hunt Scanlon Media article, "Global Pandemic and Social Upheaval Ignite Executive Recruiting for Non-Profit Sector​," quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Kimberly Archer on what she sees for the nonprofit sector post-pandemic. The article is excerpted below.

What makes a not-for-profit organization great? Its mission, of course, as well as dedicated staff, volunteers, board members and various stakeholders. But according to executive recruiters, what may be most important is exceptional leadership – especially in such a politically-supercharged climate supported by a challenging economic environment. According to a new report just released by WittKieffer, leadership is ultimately the differentiator between an organization thriving or merely surviving. 

What defines an exceptional non-profit CEO or executive director? Several key attributes come to mind, report recruiters who specialize in finding these mission-driven leaders: creative, credible, and communicative; the ability to inspire the ranks, raise funds and ensure long-term sustainability; understanding public policy, public relations, corporate partnerships, operational excellence and, most of all, strategic planning. 

Hiring for key roles among charitable organizations took a hit during the pandemic, said leaders of search firms that serve non-profits. But business is starting to pick up. Healthcare and human service organizations, foundations, advocacy organizations, among others, have seen an expanding need for talent in areas like human resources, finance, and external relations – communications, marketing, and fundraising. There has also been a good share of for-profit executives shifting to the non-profit sector – a migration that has been underway but is now accelerating in the middle of a global pandemic and mass social upheaval

Predicting a Way Forward 

The non-profit sector has not been immune to the pandemic and, in fact, the negative impact was swift and the disruption severe in some areas, including arts and culture, recreation, as well as education, said Kimberly Archer, co-leader of the global non-profit practice at Russell Reynolds Associates. “Human service organizations saw significant spikes in demand for service with economic fallout and other stressors. Business models were stressed and reserves tapped to account for costs once off-set by volunteers, convening, fundraising events and entertainment that dried up in days without warning,” she said. 

“Organizations were forced to put hiring on hold, manage layoffs/ furloughs and focus on risk mitigation with little insight to predict the path ahead,” she said. “Hiring slowed certainly, however the recruitment of key executive roles continues even in crisis. The response from the sector has been one of resilience and embracing change for the future. The focus is on redesign versus rebuild, with emphasis on establishing more equitable and sustainable models going forward. It is predicted there will be more change and disruption in the non-profit sector in the next few years than there has been in the last 25 years. This will put leadership and talent development at the forefront.” 

Ms. Archer notes that hiring is happening in healthcare and human service organizations, foundations, advocacy organizations and across the sector in functional areas such as human resources, finance, and external relations – communications, marketing, and fundraising. “Organizations experienced never-previously-imagined pressures in such rapid succession beginning with the pandemic, followed by a racial reckoning in our nation, to political uncertainty,” she said. “These issues tested leaders like never before, illuminating areas of strength, but also gaps, which force and inform the talent agenda.” 

At times, a ‘crossover candidate’ from the private sector is well-suited to a non-profit leadership role and it’s becoming more and more common practice to explore candidates with this background. “Often times, private sector experience is sought after when change management is afoot or for functional and operationally-oriented positions, as skills can be transferable,” said Ms. Archer. That said, there is complexity within non-profit organizations that is often underestimated. “While most organizations seek to validate strong mission alignment, emphasis should be around cultural alignment and core leadership competencies. Understanding how someone works is pivotal to success when considering crossover candidates. We see the best leaders spike in areas such as relationship building and influence to support stakeholder management, but also openness and inclusivity to build and drive strong teams motivated by mission and impact.”​ 

To read the full article, click here.