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If you google leadership turnover in nonprofits, chances are you will find several resources, surveys and reports to make a compelling case for why CEO departures are higher than they have been in almost a decade. A recent report however may shift your thinking on why CEOs of nonprofits is not only critical during these challenging economic times, but turnover at the C-Suite level is inevitable if an organization is to survive. The CEO position is also the most important transition an organization will face. That said, identifying other executive positions that will be affected is also smart business planning. Today, candidates at all levels are being more selective, and nonprofits are finding their leadership positions left vacant longer.The growth of social enterprise and purpose-driven business is also making it harder to compete for talented executives. Purpose-driven leaders who may have once seen the nonprofit sector as the only place to pursue a meaningful mission are now exploring new options in the private sector.

These changing dynamics are not only causing longer vacancies in nonprofit executive roles. They’re also driving up leadership turnover. You’ve undoubtedly heard that turnover can cost an organization as much as double an individual’s salary, and your nonprofit doesn’t have that kind of money to burn. You have to get an executive search right the first time. It’s not only important to have a succession plan, but organizations must strengthen its search processes if you hope to hire an effective leader who aligns with your vision, culture and skill needs and can move your mission forward. Here are five changes you should consider making to your executive search process now to stay ahead of the curve.

Integrate technology and streamline processes

Search firms and organizations that conduct in-house leadership searches are investing more deeply in technology to access better talent and streamline their processes. If your nonprofit hopes to compete, you need to do the same. When you invest in tools for things like scheduling interviews, evaluating behavioral fit and managing candidate communication, you create efficiencies and open up more time for the most important part of the executive search process: interfacing with candidates to identify the best matched talent.

Hire a firm that knows your industry

When the first major executive search firms came into existence 1960s, most search firms would work with any organization in any industry, as long as they had a budget.

Today, sub-sectors like technology, advertising, healthcare, publishing, and of course, the nonprofit sector can find an executive search firm that specializes in their specific industry. And industry knowledge comes with a bevy of benefits. The more a search firm works with organizations in your sector, the better they’ll understand your specific needs, and the more connections they’ll have with candidates who could be a fit for your open role.

Before you choose to partner with an executive search firm, be sure you ask the right questions to determine how well they truly understand the nonprofit sector generally and your mission specifically. They should be able to speak fluently about the competitive landscape for the role you’re aiming to fill (including comparative compensation standards) and demonstrate a solid grasp of the competencies and traits required to succeed as a leader at your organization. They must also be comfortable with the concept of evaluating leaders based on the role they play in mission advancement and the realization of the goals established in your strategic plan.

While some nonprofits do choose to run their executive searches without the support of a search firm, keep in mind that search firm consultants are strategic advisors and offer guarantees should the selected candidate resign. Most search committees do not have the bandwidth to engage in one search, let alone two searches. An executive search firm serves as an objective third party that is not paid to agree with it clients, but demonstrates its value by identifying talent that search committees might otherwise miss or undervalue. The impact to mission, constituents, key stakeholders – internal and external – is also critical.

Take advantage of the increased access to qualified passive candidates

Sites like LinkedIn provide organizations with greater access to individuals who could be a fit for open executive positions, but they only scratch the surface. Now, tech platforms like ENGAGE, which uses predictive analytics to find passive candidates who are “likely to engage” with an organization during their executive search, continue to emerge. To ensure your organization remains truly competitive, you need to take advantage of tools like these and source candidates who are not actively looking to make a move.

Seek executive coaching in conjunction with your next executive search

A recent report shows that 52.7% of survey respondents indicated that “leadership training, mentoring, and coaching were the key development needs that respondents felt were currently going unmet.”As we examine this data further, one could also argue that a problem does exist in how organizations are filling their leadership positions. Executive search is about more than skills and experience; it’s about finding candidates who are excited about and capable of advancing your organization’s mission and goals and positioning them to succeed.

With that in mind, consider seeking an executive search partner that will continue to work with your organization even after your search has closed. Some executive search firms provide leadership development and/or executive coaching for every leader they successfully place as a result of an executive search engagement.Look for a firm or partner that will focus its time on bringing new leaders up to speed on the nuances of your organization and their role in order to ensure a smooth transition both functionally and culturally. Even if you do not choose to work with an executive search firm on your next search, you should still consider providing leadership coaching to help your new executive step into their role successfully.

Vet for more than hard skills

There’s more to a successful C-level candidate than the bullets on a CV. When vetting for leadership positions, the most forward-thinking organizations are focusing on soft skills, and yours should follow suit.

Tools like the PDA International Assessments can help you analyze candidates’ behavioral profiles for competency and compatibility with your organization. They can also help you get a better read on hard-to-detect types of diversity like diversity of perspective and thought. That’s especially important because, given the economic time that we’re all experiencing, diversity, equity, and inclusion continue to be top business concerns of organizations engaging in executive searches. This is a significant change in priority from just a few years earlier.

Many nonprofits are also incorporating job shadowing, role playing and behavioral interviews conducted by individuals at all levels into their executive search processes in order to improve their ability to assess soft skills and cultural fit.

While the dynamics that impact the executive search process will likely continue to evolve, taking steps like these can position your nonprofit competitively and help attract and secure the leaders you need to advance your mission.

I’d love to know what are you’re doing to evolve your nonprofit’s approach to executive search and leadership? Email me at mmathis@nonprofithr.com to start a conversation.

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