Six Reasons Why Non-Profits Need Retained Search

With limited budget dollars for the crucial work a non-profit needs to do, it can be challenging to convince BODs to spend money on retained search for top talent.  After all, they have carefully earmarked their funds to best support their mission and the consumers who benefit from it. Their mission IS their passion and their efforts are not only best spent supporting the mission but so is their funding.

Because of this focus on budget dollars, when they do need to recruit for leaders, non-profit organizations are faced with the decision of whom to hire to bring in top talent; Retained or Contingency firms. Although it may sound more cost effective to choose a Contingency firm whose model is based on the “pay when you hire” structure, the value in selecting a Retained firm far outweighs the cost.

Non-Profits have distinct needs and constraints besides availability of budgets.  This inevitably has a bearing on the requirements needed in new leadership and the reason why Cornerstone International Group has formed a specialized service for Non-Profits.

Here are six reasons why a Non-Profit organization should go the Retained Search route.

  • Skin in the Game

The Retained firm invests time, money and resources into understanding your precise needs and “fit” – a process especially important considering the unique configuration of the non-profit. They set up milestones, frequent communication and robust vetting of candidates to ensure the Non-Profit Search Committee is only spending valuable time talking with the cream of the crop in the talent pool.

  • Facilitating the Search Committee

The ability to facilitate agreement ranging from selecting the top competencies, to the interview questions, to evaluating candidate responses is critical for the success of the search.

Search Committees are a volunteer subset of the Board of Directors (which is also volunteer for Non-Profits) and they typically are high ranking For-Profit leaders.  They come with very different opinions of what the direction, strategy and leadership of the organization should look like.  And they should.  This is often a robust and lively conversation and the search firm you choose should have a keen ability to facilitate these discussions and successfully bring an unanimous outcome.

  • Proper Management of Board/Partner Agency Referrals and Internal Candidates

Managing referrals from Board Members, Partner Agencies and leaders in the community along with potential internal candidates can be a tricky part of the selection process for a Non-Profit.  There are dynamics and political agendas that come into play and the referrals/internals need to be handled with a higher level of engagement by the search firm.

There are expectations from the referrers/internals that the potential candidate (whether qualified or not) will be given an opportunity to go through the initial vetting process for consideration.  The search firm will also need to be adept at handling the conversation if/when the referral/internal is taken out of consideration.  How this information is delivered can make or break the reputation of the Non-Profit organization

  • Positive Representation of Your Reputation in the Community

When searching for a leader in a Non-Profit, everyone is watching. The employees of the organization, the Board, the community and, you better believe your funders are watching carefully too.  How the search is handled by the firm has a far-reaching impact in giving a very positive impression of your organization.  A Retained Search firm takes their deep understanding of your mission, vision, values and future growth orchestrates very positive and exciting conversations with your potential candidates.

And word gets around quickly.  How the search firm is portraying your organization out in the marketplace ultimately effects everything about your reputation.  Their messaging, marketing and delivery has to be spot-on to ensure your future success. Hire a Retained Search Firm that understands the clout they have in representing your organization and they take it very seriously.

  • Candidate Experience

Organizations need to hire a firm who will represent them well from beginning to end.  The search firm is the face of the client’s organization and you need to trust that they have a deep understanding of the organization, the mission, the role and what makes a great hire.  When you choose a Retained firm, you as the client will not only get a first-rate experience but so will your candidates. They will learn what makes the organization work, where the opportunities are for improvement, what the culture, the leadership and overall engagement is all about.

They will be able to assess the three pillars of “fit”; motivational, cultural and organizational based on the deep understanding of the search firm.  The opportunity for the candidates to vet these dynamics early in the process allows them to ensure alignment with their passion and vision for their next career move.   You can’t afford a big miss on the candidate experience. If you don’t get that right, there is zero chance for success in the short and long ter

  • Hiring Decision Making

In For Profits, although there may be other department heads interviewing the potential candidates for input and feedback, the decision is ultimately that of the hiring manager. In Non-Profits, the decision is the responsibility of the Search Committee and it can be a cumbersome and often the most intense part of the search process.  Search Committees by nature bring very different views of the organization and what type of leader is needed to take the reigns for the next iteration of growth.

You will need a search firm which has a proven, quantifiable process to lead the discussion around the hiring decision.  The Search Committee Chair will ultimately bring the Committee’s hiring recommendation to the Board of Directors for final approval, so it’s imperative to have accurate and appropriate data on the process, the candidate pool and the decision making in order to solidify Board buy-in.

In today’s tight labor market, you can’t afford to risk losing the talent game. Contingency search has its place, but it can be ill-fated to put faith in a firm that prioritizes their efforts based on which positions can bring the fastest dollar to sustain their business.

It is in the best interest of the mission, the consumers and the community to use a good Retained search firm to position your organization as a contender in the quest to hire the best leadership and take the organization to the highest imaginable level of serving its grand purpose.

For more information on recruiting for Non-Profits, contact me at

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