How an Executive Search is Different for Nonprofits


Leadership changes can be frightening and stressful times for any organization, but for nonprofits, finding a new executive director can be especially difficult. With different budgets and governance structures than for-profit companies, a nonprofit search process is filled with challenges that just aren’t present in other circumstances. Here are three reasons why a nonprofit executive search is different:

1. Boards of directors are volunteers.

Choosing a new executive director takes time and a lot of work. But because the governing board of a nonprofit is usually made up of individuals with other jobs and responsibilities, finding the time to do it right can be one step short of impossible. Careful planning of the search committee to include people with flexible schedules can help mitigate the stress on the board, but even with optimal availability, an executive search is a labor-intensive process. From planning phases to advertising the position to multiple rounds of interviews, the time commitment adds up quickly.

In the case of an overloaded board, bringing on expert executive search consultants can help. Not only do they have experience in nonprofit executive searches that members of the board search committee may not, they can also dedicate their time and efforts to finding the candidates that are best suited to the organization.

2. The perfect applicant is hard to find.

Top-level executives in any organization or company have skills and experience that are somewhat rare in the applicant field. Good fits for a nonprofit organization should have carefully honed leadership skills, fundraising experience, and enough charisma and passion to win over new donors. They will face challenges, both those inherent in holding the highest management position and some unique to nonprofits, such as reporting to a governing body made up of changing leadership and members. Most importantly, a great candidate needs to be passionate about the organization’s mission, ideally as much or more so than the board. Don’t get us wrong, CEOs of for-profit companies are passionate about what they do. But for nonprofit EDs, passion should the foundation of every action they take to move the organization forward.

3. The most eligible candidates are not actively looking.

Finding the perfect applicant is even harder when the people who could be the best fit for the position often can’t be found by advertising the job on common channels. While posting the opening on the organization’s website or on employment search engines and nonprofit publications can and will bring in applicants, having connections within the circle of nonprofit leadership is a great way to pre-select for candidates with similar goals and personalities to the organization.

This is another area where executive search consultants can really shine. Through their work with other nonprofits, they know how to evaluate an organization’s needs and who to talk to in order to find compatible candidates. Connections take time to gather and nurture, so having a team that has already done the legwork of getting to know relevant leaders can be invaluable.

Finding a new executive director for a nonprofit organization is difficult, but not impossible. People with the skills, knowledge, and drive to fill this critical role are out there, and with these differences in mind, they can be found. HR Collaborative has the experience to bring in the best talent for nonprofit executive positions.

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