5 Considerations When Leaving Corporate for Non-Profit

04/16/2014 03.50 EDT

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This article originally ran on Non-Profit Information.  To view it, click here.   It’s an increasingly common trend: After making their mark in the corporate world, senior-level executives want to give back by taking on a leadership role within a non-profit. The good news is that 73 percent of non-profits surveyed said they value for-profit experience in candidates, and 53 percent have significant for-profit management experience represented on their senior leadership teams.   But the transition from corporate to non-profit comes with some particular challenges. Here are the five most common that executives mulling a transition should anticipate:   1) Understand that there may be many more stakeholders involved in a non-profit – and the opinions of each matter. The biggest adjustment for corporate professionals entering the non-profit world is often the number of stakeholders involved in a non-profit – each of whom has input to share. While corporate professionals’ primary focus is almost entirely on three groups (shareholders, customers and employees), non-profit leaders must consider a significantly larger audience that could include funders, employees, elected officials, patients or clients, families of patients and clients, alumni, etc.  Successfully navigating the various relationships of the non-profit world requires a careful understanding and concern for all parties involved.   2) Be prepared for a different culture at a non-profit. The culture of a non-profit generally has a far more collaborative leadership style than for-profit organizations.  Unlike the corporate world where decision-making typically rests with one individual or a small group of executives or directors,...

In Praise of Non-Profit CEOs

10/10/2012 03.35 EDT

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A while back, I was contacted by a journalist who was upset about CEO compensation for non-profit executives.  He thought many of them made too much money, which he found especially galling since he thought they had cushy jobs.   Specifically, he said things like:   “It’s not like they have shareholders!” “They don’t have to worry about competition!” “They shouldn’t expect to be paid well for their work – they are in a non-profit.”   I’ve written before about non-profit organizations and I serve on the boards of several right now.  I also spent the first few years of my career in non-profits, first in the mental health sector and later in a social services agency as a fundraiser.  But it’s really my board experience, including serving on or chairing several search committees for non-profit leaders, that has formed my views on the issue of compensation for non-profit executives.   First things first – I fully support the notion that non-profit CEO compensation should be transparent and should not create an undue burden on the budget.  However, I think we also have to be realistic about the unusual, complex skill set required for success in this sector.  In fact, I contend that it is probably a much more difficult job to run a $50 million non-profit than it is to run a $50 million private company.  Here’s why:   The non-profit has many more stakeholders; clients, foundations, board members, politicians, donors, customers, regulators – the list...

An Overlooked Professional Development Opportunity

06/26/2012 08.53 EDT

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When clients engage us to conduct a search to fill a critical position in their organization, they have almost always considered internal candidates for the role. Sometimes they just don’t have the internal talent needed for the position or they are specifically seeking an “outsider” – someone who is not from their company and may not even be from their industry. Outsiders are attractive to organizations because they bring a fresh perspective and have a different take on things like corporate culture, strategy and leadership style.   So how can a company try to develop that “outsider” perspective in high potential leaders in their own company? I would like to suggest a very effective, inexpensive strategy that will benefit the executive as well as the reputation of the company. Encourage your up-and-coming leaders to serve as board directors for non-profit organizations in your region.   There are countless non-profit organizations, large and small, working to improve the quality of life in your community. They focus on any number of things – education, child welfare, senior citizens, the arts – the list goes on and on. All of them are hungry for board leadership and need volunteers with business skills to help them achieve their missions while maintaining their margins.   I joined my first non-profit board when I was in my early 30s and about ten years into my career. I have been involved with one board or another ever since. Right now, I serve on four...

So you want to Work as a Non-Profit Executive…

10/11/2011 02.26 EDT

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Given my line of work, I am frequently asked to meet with senior-level executives who are either in transition or thinking about making a career move.  Usually, they are people who are referred to me by people I already know and they are often executives who have had outstanding, successful careers.   I always ask them a very direct question at some point in these meetings – “Have you decided what you want to do next in your career?”  Most everyone has given the question some serious thought before meeting with me and they usually have a handful of options they are considering.   More often than not, one of those options is taking their considerable success and skill in the for-profit sector and applying it to the non-profit sector.  Viewed as a way of “giving back,” this idea positively fascinates many executives.  They imagine they will bring a set of skills that will make a sleepy non-profit organization turn into a high-performing machine conquering whatever problem it was created to fix.   While certainly admirable and noble, my experience with people transitioning from the for-profit to the non-profit world is this: it is far more difficult than you might expect.  Most executives have a mental picture of non-profit life that is inaccurate and outdated – they expect to find people in leadership roles who are completely devoted to whatever cause they have embraced but who know little about management.  That may have once been true, but...

Why I Serve

05/17/2011 09.01 EDT

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On Sunday evenings when I look at my calendar for the week ahead, I’ll usually find a minimum of four to five appointments devoted to my non-profit responsibilities: board or committee meetings, talks with staff, fundraising opportunities, etc. Combined with the responsibilities of serving my clients as an executive search professional and running a small business, it can make for a long week – but one that is fulfilling both personally and professionally. I have found that serving as a board member over the years has broadened my perspective as a professional and a leader. By training and experience, I am an executive search and human resources professional. As the Chair of the Board of the Please Touch Museum, I also have to be part CFO, Vice President of Marketing, Head of Development and Strategic Planner. When we moved the Museum to its current and, might I say, beautiful home in Fairmount Park, I also found myself playing the role of real estate developer and architect. My experience as a volunteer leader has exposed me to a broad spectrum of business issues, which I have, in turn, been able to apply to the benefit of my clients and colleagues. Beyond honing my hard skills, I believe my volunteer experience has made me a much stronger leader. My fellow board members at Please Touch and previously at the Forum of Executive Women and the National Adoption Center, have often been more senior to me or hold broader leadership...