How do successful not-for-profits develop future leaders? Part 4: Recruiting for your leadership gaps

Great leadership is central to all successful not-for-profit organisations. In this five-part series, we look at strategies to recognise and realise the leadership potential within a not-for-profit. Follow the links to part 1, part 2, and part 3. Part 4 looks at what to do when you need to find new talent to fill your gaps.

There’s so much at stake

Recruitment is a day-to-day part of any community organisation’s work. For most organisations, almost every month there will be roles to fill and every month you are likely to be placing job ads, shortlisting, interviewing, checking references and making job offers. However, every now and again there is a critical role to fill that needs special attention.

Alternatively, you may have realised from the earlier parts of this series that you have gaps in skills and leadership that can’t be filled through training and development initiatives. Either way, it is time to look outside your organsiation and make sure that you attract and select someone who can fill that gap, not just fill a chair.

Recruitment basics still apply

The fundamentals of good recruitment still apply for these extra-critical roles. Number one is, as always, to be clear about what you want and to know why you want it.

Also have a clear and engaging position description, a motivating advertisement, think about where to advertise the job, and don’t forget to tap into your word-of-mouth networks and social networks too.

Similarly, strong processes around shortlisting against selection criteria, involving diverse people in interviewing and thorough vetting of applicants are important. Multiple interviews and some situation-based exercises or interactions with a wide range of staff and even board members may be warranted depending on the role.

Think about fit and diversity

Everyone wants to hire people who are a ‘good fit’ for their organisation. At the same time, we also want to diversity our workforces and benefit from the skills, experiences and perspectives diversity brings.

For example, many NFPs do benefit when they hire someone with government or private sector experience. At the same time, almost every organisation has horror stories of ‘that person’ who just didn’t fit in and left after 6-12 months without much to show for their time.

Regardless of technical expertise, you do need to make sure there is a basic cultural fit between applicants and your organisation. You also need to give applicants a chance to assess how well they think they fit with you – remember recruitment is a two-way process.

It helps if you have a good understanding of your ‘real’ organisational culture, both flaws and strengths. Look for someone who clicks with your existing strengths and who brings leadership qualities that will challenge your organisation in areas of current weakness.

Don’t forget about motivation and passion

It’s easy to focus on skills, experience and ‘organisational fit’ and forget perhaps the most important question: WHY? Why does this person want to work with your organisation? Why this job? Why now in their career?

Motivation and passion are some of the best predictors of success in a role. As author Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out:

When you throw your heart and mind and soul into something, you get something back. . .  . And when you look at the lives of people who are really successful, what you see over and over again is this idea of meaningful work is imbedded in their consciousness.

Whether they already have the skills or not, people with great motivation and great passion for a job are more likely to succeed at it. Hire for passion!


Hiring the right person is only half the job. What you do next is even more important if they are going to be successful in their role. Think about how you will:

  • Manage the transition
: Pass along some of the really important information before they start. Get them thinking about the role and involve them in any really critical processes, like recruiting roles that will report to them or major projects they will have carriage of. Think about paying for a thorough handover once they’ve started if overlap is not possible.
  • Establish priorities and goals early on
: It is important to establish initial priorities and goals early on in a collaborative way with their supervisor and other key people, such as the CEO or other managers. This not only gives a new staff member some control and ownership, but it means they know what they should be working towards from the start. This can be reviewed later as needed.
  • Focus on internal and external relationships
: Who are the internal and external people that your new staff member will deal with most often, consult, collaborate or need to seek decisions from? Map this out and provide the time, support and direction to get every critical relationship off on a solid foundation. Investment in relationships will be fundamental to the success of any new staff member.

It’s not rocket science

As we said at the beginning, none of this is rocket science but there are steps that are commonly overlooked or not paid enough attention.

The smartest talent-developing minds out there, hopefully including your HR Manager, CEO and management team, know that having clear requirements for each role, understanding the cultural fit you’re seeking, providing applicants with an opportunity to form an impression of your organisation during recruitment and a strong and supportive induction period are all secrets to success in this area.

Next week: Monitoring and continuous improvement

More information: Read the full report, “Nonprofit Leadership Development: What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders?” from The Bridgespan Group.

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