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  • Pat Libby

An Insiders’ Guide to Executive Recruitment: Finding and convincing talent to join your nonprofit

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Do you ever wish you could clone yourself?

I’m only kidding of course (and I can’t imagine my husband putting up with two of me!). It’s just that I’ve been facing tidal waves of work for months now and I sometimes wish there were two of me to handle it all.

The thing is, I hate saying “no” to nonprofits, but lately I’ve had to turn down several executive search assignments because there isn’t enough of me to go around.

So, at the very least, I thought I could write a blog to explain how to recruit talent.

The very first thing you need to do, before you even write the job announcement, is to figure out EXACTLY what kinds of qualifications and qualities you need in this person.

The best way to do this is by working with the board AND staff to solicit their input. That way you’ll be sure to capture diverse perspectives.

Once you’ve exercised a few brain cells figuring that out, then, and only then, can you write the job announcement to reflect what your nonprofit really and truly needs in a new person (don’t forget to include the salary range – especially those of you in California who are prohibited by law from asking about salary history).

After that comes the fun part! Advertising the job and networking to find the right candidates!

So how do you find talent?

1. Brainstorm a list of the most talented people the staff and board know who work in your field. Who are your dream candidates?

2. Call those people! Ask them if they would ever in a million years consider working at your nonprofit and tell them why it would be wonderful if they did.

Now this “wonderful” part can be a bit tricky because sometimes I call people and I say “this organization needs YOU because it’s struggling with these types of issues and you’re just brilliant at knowing how to fix those things.”

Or, I might say, “the organization is in great shape! The board is committed, the staff is hard working and passionate about what they do, and the weather sure is a lot nicer in San Diego than where you live…”

Or, I could say, “this is the next logical step in your career because this nonprofit is twice the size of the one you’ve been managing which will allow you to make an even greater impact in the field that you care about so deeply.”

The most important thing here is to tell the truth about the status of the organization! I CAN’T EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH!

You see, some people in this world love to clean up messes, other people like to build on success, and other people like to keep a smooth ship running smoothly. Fundamentally you’re looking for different types of people depending on the circumstances of the nonprofit.

3. If your dream person says, “I’m a happy camper where I am,” ask them who they would recommend for the position and call those people.

Those of you who have ever played in snow know that it’s a snowball effect when one name leads to another which leads to another and another and so on.

The key to good recruitment is to work your networks and be completely honest with the people you’re recruiting.

Go get em’


Pat Libby is a executive search consultant to nonprofits and philanthropies. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

Get in touch if you have any questions about hiring a new executive, or managing nonprofits!


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