• Authors: Deepti Jethanandani and David Spencer
  • Author Fields:
    • Author Name: Deepti Jethanandani, Author Position: Partner, India
    • Author Name: David Spencer, Author Position: Managing Partner, Australia

Not-for-profit (NFP) organizations have a unique set of characteristics that, if pitched in the right way, can be both compelling and rewarding to a wide range of leaders. Here are some essentials for attracting the right types and caliber of executive.

The NFP sector is extremely large and diverse, and provides a significant source of economic growth, employment, and community development. India has more than two million NFPs (1 per 600 citizens), the US has 1.5 million (1 per 209), and France has 1 million (1 per 66). Australia’s 55,000 charities have annual revenues of $143 billion, which is more than 8% of Australia’s GDP, employ more than 1.3 million people, and engage 3 million volunteers.

Although the majority of NFPs are small, they can also be large, complex, and multi-faceted. Some NFPs can also be surprisingly commercial in their focus and structure, as well as strategically sophisticated in many ways, including in their marketing, funding and operations. Their plans and ambitions very often require robust strategy and execution.

For the right executive leaders, NFPs can provide a satisfyingly challenging environment to contribute and deliver results in. However, finding exceptional talent for NFPs can sometimes be challenging. For-profit success metrics such as net profit and revenue are sometimes not the main driver of NFPs (although they can be for some). Organizations in the sector often operate on frugal budgets and may not have the same resources as for-profit organizations. They may be more technologically and operationally stretched, which can result in a challenging leadership environment.

Here are four useful executive search strategies when looking for leadership talent at NFPs:

Candidate Focus on Genuine Passion 

Look for candidates who believe in what you are doing, are philosophically aligned, and have a genuine interest in your NFP’s purpose. Exceptional talent is not only about a set of skills and experiences, but also about motivation, and this is especially true for NFPs. Look for candidates who have an understanding of the issues your NFP addresses and are focused on making a difference. Exploring their purpose and drivers in life and their ethical framework often sheds light on their real motivation.

Deliver a Nuanced Pitch  

Many recruiters may be challenged in pitching an NFP role so that it is both accurate and inspiring to a potential executive. To pitch an opportunity effectively, the recruiter needs to know both the NFP and the role extremely well, as well as have a sound comprehension of the broader NFP landscape. A compelling pitch will be both motivating and galvanizing, and cover vital elements including the vision, mission and values of the organization, their achievements to date, cultural traits, and specificities of the role itself. Recruiters need to help candidates connect with the purpose of the NFP, as this will often supersede the commercial value of the role.

Include For-Profit Candidates

We have found that an increasing number of executives who have worked their entire careers in the for-profit sector are taking the opportunity to explore how they can contribute in a more meaningful way. COVID accelerated this trend, which has continued as some accomplished leaders want to derive a renewed sense of purpose in their work that goes beyond profitability and the bottom line. 

We encourage NFP clients to include a comprehensive mix of both for-profit and NFP executives in the candidate pool. NFPs who can look beyond any particular candidate’s lack of NFP experience and instead focus on transferable skills and deeper motivations will benefit from a wider pool of candidates.

Offer Meaningful Work, Career Pathways 

Many exceptional candidates seek opportunities to make a real impact and work in an organization that shares their personal values and goals. Offering meaningful work, opportunities for growth and development, and a culture that supports work-life balance can be a great way to attract and retain top talent. 


NFPs can attract and hire exceptional leaders by promoting a compelling value proposition, sourcing candidates that are personally inspired by the organization’s vision and mission, and offering a balanced, supportive, and multi-faceted benefits package.


Contact Deepti or David

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