A commentary on Finding Leaders for America's Nonprofits
Congratulations to Bridgespan on this study that highlights critical issues for the entire sector. The topics covered in the report have provoked meaningful conversations at Omidyar Network and will undoubtedly spark interest among the many organizations seeking candidates for leadership roles.
Omidyar Network’s experiences with our grantees reflect many of the study’s findings. At the core of Bridgespan’s research is the idea that the quality of the leadership team—both the executive management and the board—determines the success of the organization. In particular, nonprofits within our portfolio have found that executive leadership requirements change with the growth and evolution of the organization. From technology shifts that impact IT choices to establishing a sustainable funding model and everything in between, a wide variety of new demands are being placed on organizations today. Responding to these effectively can require different approaches—and often functional skill sets that aren’t available in the current staff. Finding candidates that have experience working in complex and growing environments, and those with deep functional expertise, sometimes leads recruiters to the for profit sector.
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In those cases, and as the study suggests, there are many ways to go about recruiting these “bridger” candidates. Thirteen percent of those surveyed by Bridgespan used executive search and found it very effective. Within the Omidyar Network portfolio, a larger percentage of our nonprofits use this recruiting avenue. They have found the value of executive search is that it provides a deeper pool of qualified candidates, including people who were not actively looking for opportunities in the nonprofit sector or who had never considered a nonprofit role as part of their career.
Omidyar Network grantee Endeavor recently used executive search to place candidates in two leadership roles. The global expansion opportunities at Endeavor helped attract senior talent in new chief operating officer, Jeff Farnath (previously vice president of International Finance for Fox Interactive Media) and senior vice president (SVP) of Global Partnerships, Dave Geary (previously SVP of BetZip.com and Ofoto).
DonorsChoose.org found that spreading the word through existing for profit networks was an effective tool to find its chief technology officer, Oliver Hurst (previously with Microsoft). DonorsChoose.org was also fortunate that chief financial officer (CFO), Andy Kaplan (previously CFO for Audible.com) happened to find the online job posting. He had been actively looking for the right nonprofit opportunity for years, but had not yet found the right fit.
For all of these candidates, the organization’s exciting mission and growth trajectory helped attract them to opportunities that they may not have otherwise considered. Beyond adding new expertise to the executive team, Omidyar Network’s portfolio organizations are looking with renewed interest at the mix of relevant experience on their boards. Management recognizes that the same growth factors that spurred executive changes impact governance needs as well. A board with expertise that's more relevant to the organization’s growth trajectory can provide more effective counsel on both strategic issues as well as operational and functional challenges.
The executive recruitment challenges raised in the study also apply to governance roles. To address this, Omidyar Network is building in-house capacity to assist its portfolio in more effectively and efficiently identifying and recruiting board members. Ultimately, we believe that helping position nonprofits for successful long-term sustainability equally relies on the right mix of talent within the organization and on the board.