nonprofit executive search

Nonprofit Executive Search: Everything Your Board Should Know

The search for qualified C-suite nonprofit professionals with the skills, experience, and heart for your nonprofit’s mission has never been more challenging. 

Finding and retaining high-performing candidates has always been a continuous, uphill battle for nonprofits. However, the last few years have brought new concerns to the nonprofit sector. COVID-19 closures, historical inflation, a tumultuous economy, and a rampant talent shortage have created a perfect hiring storm, making recruiting the right nonprofit professionals even more difficult. 

Make no mistake — hiring at any level in the organization is mission-critical for nonprofits. However, the challenges can quickly become exponentially harder for nonprofits seeking top candidates for an executive-level position. 

Nonprofits Face Unique Challenges When Hiring C-Suite Professionals

Sourcing C-suite executives in the nonprofit sector brings with it a unique set of challenges. Finding a candidate with the skills and experience needed to lead the organization is not enough to ensure a successful hire. The right professional must also have a heart for the mission, align with the vision, and gel with the staff and board

Typically, hiring Executive Directors and other C-level leaders falls to the nonprofit’s board of directors — a task that makes a taxing job even more difficult, because search committees often don’t have the time to update and develop effective job descriptions, source and vet viable candidates, and coordinate a comprehensive and objective evaluation process that leads to a successful offer, negotiation, and timely onboarding of a new executive.

Nonprofits Must Leverage an Effective Recruiting Process to Onboard Qualified Executive Directors and C-Suite Leaders

Sourcing executive-level nonprofit professionals requires a specific and highly-customized recruiting strategy. Qualified executive professionals can be very hard to find and regularly respond to a proactive recruiting approach designed to garner interest and attract candidacy.

The last two years have also brought seismic shifts throughout the nonprofit executive market. Like most other job categories, escalating retirement rates and increasing salary expectations have come into play. Dusting off a decades-old job description and relying on previous salary guidelines will not work in today’s job market. 

Nonprofit Executive Search Takes The Guesswork Out of The Hiring Process

With so much at stake, most nonprofit organizations recognize that the best way to source Executive Directors, CEOs, and other C-Level candidates is to work with a nonprofit executive search firm. 

A nonprofit executive search firm specializes in finding and placing highly skilled and qualified candidates in executive-level positions, including: 

  • Executive Director
  • President
  • Vice President
  • CEO
  • CFO
  • COO
  • National Department & Program Heads

Working with an executive search firm instantly creates a proactive recruiting process for nonprofits. An innovative executive search firm partners with the organization and its board to gain a thorough understanding of the open executive position, define both the hard and soft skills needed for a successful hire, and target several candidates that match the required applicant profile. 

What to Look For in a Nonprofit Executive Search Firm

It’s important to note that executive search and contingent recruiting solutions, while similar, are not the same. These hiring models have fundamental differences in scope, strategy, and process. Some nonprofit recruiting agencies may dabble in executive search — but a skilled and experienced provider will have a proven track record of success with both hiring models. 

Additionally, the right executive search team will deliver a wide range of services and benefits to nonprofit organizations, including: 

Determining Executive Scope and Job Description

The right job description can change the entire scope of an executive search. Your chosen provider will outline exactly what the search will require and take a deep dive into the job description process to ensure it’s written in a way that maintains consistency with the existing org chart and attracts the best candidates. 

Identification Of Qualified Candidates

A leading executive search firm will develop an outreach strategy that extends beyond the nonprofit’s network to quickly and effectively connect with candidates. More importantly, the firm will focus on both candidates actively looking for a new opportunity — and candidates not seeking a new opportunity … yet. 

Salary Parameters

Finding the budget for a C-suite salary can be challenging for any nonprofit. But even in today’s economy with flexible schedules, remote work opportunities, and other benefits, salaries still matter — or, more specifically, competitive salaries still matter. An executive search firm will help develop a salary and total compensation package that’s compelling to candidates based on current market conditions. 

Interview Process Efficiency

A good executive search firm will use its insight and expertise to organize and conduct an effective evaluation and onboarding experience throughout the entire hiring process. This includes tailoring a timeline with the following essential components: 

  • Total rounds of interviews
  • Coordination of the Search Committee
  • Scorecard and ranking system (if applicable)
  • Candidate selection and offer
  • Negotiation and offer acceptance
  • Total accountability

Third-Party Objectivity

As an objective participant in the process, your executive search provider will be able to quickly identify and address any potential red flag issues as they arise. Additionally, they can lend impartial insight should the nonprofit’s board of directors find that they are divided on critical components of the hire. 


Confidentiality is essential for any hire. However, discretion is paramount when hiring an Executive Director or other C-suite leader. Your chosen executive search firm will maintain confidentiality to ensure only the most relevant staff members are part of the process. They will also handle telling the candidates who weren’t chosen for the position discreetly and professionally to ensure the nonprofit’s reputation is upheld at all times. 

Let PNP Staffing Group Lead Your Executive Search

PNP Staffing Group is a Division of Careers In Nonprofits, and has a proven track record of leading nonprofit boards and Search Committees in executive search success that spans over two decades. We work closely with nonprofit boards of all kinds, leveraging our experience, insight, and extensive network of elite C-suite professionals. Schedule a call today and connect with a PNP Executive Search expert. 
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