Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cross-sector Hiring – Will It Become More Common?

I was recently meeting with the successful, long-term CEO of a large nonprofit and we were discussing the increasing numbers of people who have had careers in business that are now interested in working in the nonprofit sector. I commented that on several of the recent searches that I have supported, more than half of the prospects were from the business sector and had little nonprofit experience beyond serving on a board for a few years.

He shared an exchange with me that he recently had with a successful corporate executive (I am paraphrasing):

Corporate Executive to Nonprofit CEO: I have been successful in business and now I think I am ready to lead a nonprofit - to give back to the community and really make a difference. How do I go about getting a job in the nonprofit sector?

Nonprofit CEO to Corporate Executive: I’ve been very successful in my work as well. How likely are you to hire me to work as an executive in your company?

Corporate Executive to Nonprofit CEO: Not to be critical, but you don’t have any experience in our business and there are many people in our company and in our field that we would consider ahead of you.

Nonprofit CEO to Corporate Executive: Ditto.

Personally, I think the interest of Boomers in business roles moving into nonprofit leadership roles is a very positive thing and could ultimately help in filling both leadership and skill gaps as the older edge of the boomer generation retires. At the same time, there are incredible differences around scale, budgets, organizational culture, multiple stakeholders, and the nonprofit structure that are not an easy transition for many business people.

These business leaders need a path to prepare themselves for these roles. The current route would be to serve on nonprofit boards, volunteer, and get involved in giving back while you are still working in the business sector to develop enough of a network and reputation in the nonprofit segment you aspire to work in that your resume is a match for nonprofit role.

Please share your thoughts.


JoAnna said...

I've only worked at non-profits, so my perspective might be a bit skewed... While I was working at one large, international NP, a new VP of Marketing was hired from the corporate world. His style and personality had a very large negative affect on the whole department. He just didn't seem to understand what motivated us - I assume he thought it was money or some sort of personal reward. He didn't get that we were motivated by the opportunity to contribute...that making a difference was far more important than a few extra dollars.

Within a year, most of the department had left - long time workers retired, young energetic staff went elsewhere. A few months after that the VP left too. He was offered a job for way more money back in the corporate world.

Anonymous said...

Care needs to be taken when hiring any member of the management team, and especially executive leaders to ensure that candidates have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of an organization, and a willingness to learn from more experienced colleagues. Broad overgeneralizations perpetuate stereotypes. However, in most instances a NFP would be ill-advised to hire a new CEO who has no experience in the NFP world. However, for other positions at all levels of management, someone from outside the NFP world can bring a fresh perspective to the organization, new ideas about marketing, “customer service” (we call it “donor relations”) and efficiency. That person will likely arrive with a great rolodex of contacts, VIPs and high-profile individuals who are potential donors or board members for your NFP.

The same could be said of the converse career leap—NFP executive to a private sector position. A former NFP executive can bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the corporate world too.

In either case, the newly-hired individual needs to appreciate a team approach and a willingness to learn all that he/she can to help the corporation or charity achieve greater success.

Anonymous said...

After a decade in business, and a 40+ year career as an NPO exec, I'm back in the for profit sector as a consultant. My one surprise has been that the agility so common in NPOs seems to be lacking in my clients. It appears to come from very linear though processes and a conservatism born of financial threat. The willingness to spend is not well paired with risk assessment and management. That may be what NPO refugees have to offer business.

Anonymous said...

I believe there needs to be some sort of cross-sector colloboration. There are business principles that can be implemented in the nonprofit world that would be helpful to many organizations. Additionally, the for-profit world needs opportunities to meaningfully engage themselves in the np world to see first hand what really occurs behind the scenes of a np. Each sector should be trying to engage each other because without that collaboration, what are we as professionals attempting to accomplish in each sector that cannot be brought together? Lastly, neither sector should discredit or ignore a potential candidate because they are switching sectors because if the hiring process and self reflection are done correctly the "marriage" can have a happy ending!

Anonymous said...

Not interested in self centered baby boomers, they have had their chance for the last 40 years. Hopefully they will learn to give back by volunteering and stepping aside. We have a huge National Debt and loads of Divorce and family issues to improve upon after their rein of "me" first.
Really not interested in hiring them and the old ideas.

Anonymous said...

I was hired by a CEO of a NP who had been with the agency for 27 years. Shortly after I was hired our CEO left the agency to pursue other opportunities. On top of needing a new CEO my NP merged with another area NP because they provided similar services. The "new" agency was now in-need of a leader for a much larger budget. The search team hired someone from corporate America who had no passion for the mission let alone experience in the NP world. As it turned out, it was a complete disaster. The new CEO didn't have the skills to balance a check book let alone a large budget. Within 1.5 years the agency accumulated a tremendous amount of debit and had to lay off over half the staff. The CEO resigned knowing what would eventually come to light. Search teams and BOD's must cut through all the self promoting resume bull to find leaders who would do anything to help the people receiving services. True NP people care about people and services more than money.

Anonymous said...

Not all boomers are self-absorbed. Painting them all with the same brush could be a mistake. We have several boomers on our board who are selfless and passionate about our mission. Their generous financial support and volunteer efforts have been critical to our success.

Kristen LaEace said...

While taking advantage of the outplacement services available to me after being laid off, I found MANY of my fellow unemployed cohort expressing the same desire: I want to use this time to make a transition to the non-profit sector, to give back, make a difference, etc.

Now CEO of small trade association, and having spent my entire career to date in the public and non-profit sectors, I was horrified. I have seen too many people come into the non-profit world from the business world and be completely flummoxed by the shift in culture, pace of decision making, priorities, and quite frankly, the much greater skill set required. Anywhere from consensus building, to learning to work collaboratively across organizations, to working with boards and committees, to having to do more of their own adminstrative work!

I volunteered with the outplacement service to offer a class on "Transitioning to the Non-Profit Sector." Also did a session for my near-by Work One Center. Not to dissuade or persuade, but to help educate people on the non-profit sector in general, set appropriate expectations and highlight what skills sets would be transferrable.

It was well received, and I think anyone seeking to make such a transition would be wise to do their homework before making the leap!