Tips for Attracting Top Leadership Talent in the Nonprofit Sector

Tips for Attracting Top Leadership Talent in the Nonprofit Sector

Tips for Attracting Top Leadership Talent in the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofits are a leader in taking up the charge of fulfilling our society’s desire for justice and compassionate care of others, encompassing the dreams of society’s highest ideals. One typically finds that these organizations are run by incredible, mission-driven individuals who truly believe in making this world a better place. Unfortunately, be it in the pre-, peri-, or post-pandemic world, attracting top nonprofit leadership talent to the nonprofit sector has presented a challenge – one which is frequently overcome through strategic planning, but is noteworthy to consider as it affects the nonprofit sector far more than its for-profit counterparts. 

Below are a few ideas for how to attract top talent in a world where there can be a deficit of senior management and leadership candidates, and how to cultivate the environment that will naturally draw these individuals to an organization.

Compensation and Benefits

It’s the elephant in the room for most nonprofits, isn’t it? How can one be competitive in the job market when private sector corporations seem to be able to offer “sky’s the limit” types of salaries? Luckily for nonprofit organizations on the hunt for new talent, today’s workforce is not only interested in salary. This is not to say that it doesn’t factor into the equation – it simply means that potential employees are seeking more nuanced benefits these days than one set of numbers. The complete 360° benefits package is the answer to compensation concerns. 

One of the critical issues for the nonprofit sector is the need to clearly communicate and promote a robust benefits package that prioritizes flexibility, competitive or above-market healthcare options, and strong paid-time-off packages. As the world has witnessed, flexibility is paramount to many in the job market as we grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen that candidates can be willing to accept a lower salary if a proposed reduction in salary means having increased flexibility in work hours and place-of-work location. Additionally important are opportunities for career development, a culture of empowerment, and an emphasis on self-care and wellness. A report from Pearson Partners International found that “The attraction for candidates is not the tangible value of these services, but instead, the impression of a compassionate and caring culture. All of the leaders we spoke with deeply cared about their employees’ health and living standards and were great examples of living their ethical values.” These peripheral benefits are an incredible draw, particularly for the upcoming generation of workers who are looking to have meaning in their work, and nonprofits looking to hire top talent should not be afraid to promote their offerings.


Building and maintaining a strong employer brand is essential for attracting top talent, and few are as well positioned to do this as nonprofits. Mission-driven individuals are naturally drawn to organizations that are working on and solving specific issues. Showcasing the work of an organization is free advertising – people are excited to be part of a solution or answer a call to action. Focus on how the organization is bringing good to the world, and the mission itself can attract potential candidates. Leveraging the authenticity of the brand and offering compelling examples of positive work being done will attract passionate and mission-driven candidates who are dedicated to making the world a better place. Adding elements of this branding enhances job announcements to showcase the meaning and purpose of the work as well as the organization’s values. 

Networks, Referrals, and “Stay Interviews” 

There are many places to look for talent, one of which is through old-fashioned networks and referrals. Existing employees, volunteers, and board members are an invaluable source of talent networking among similarly mission-oriented individuals. Many organizations turn to partnering with local universities and other organizations to build a pipeline of potential candidates and to create mentoring or internship programs that have the ability to cultivate the next generation of leaders. 

Another way to attract talent includes highlighting how an individual can grow, be challenged, and be listened to by their supervisors. ICMA recommends periodically conducting “Stay Interviews” wherein employees are asked questions about what they like about their role and what things would draw them away from it to something else. Knowing what these key issues are for those already working at the organization will help the hiring committee or HR department better understand what people are looking for in a career or position, thereby allowing the organization to better highlight those positives in the job posting. 

Retain an Executive Search Firm! 

While it might seem like a significant initial cost, hiring a nonprofit executive search firm service is a small price to pay for the long-term investment the organization is looking to make. Often, nonprofit leaders encounter resistance to using search firms due to various concerns such as restricted budgets or the desire to hire primarily in-network. However, this initial upfront investment can mitigate numerous hiring risks and free up the organization’s leadership for the mission itself, rather than attracting, finding, and interviewing candidates. Search firms are an incredible extension of HR teams and bring unequaled expertise and access. Partnering with a recruiting expert provides organizations with access to invaluable knowledge as well as options and recommendations, all of which can be harnessed as an investment in the future of an organization. 

Professional Development

One way to ease the talent search is to curate it from within! Focusing on and emphasizing professional and leadership development opportunities not only attracts elite candidates but also serves as a tool for retention once they join the organization. The jobseeker of today is looking for opportunities to learn and grow at their place of work, and this is another easy win for nonprofits. These opportunities can include leadership training, conferences, and workshops that focus on specific skills such as fundraising, grant writing, and advocacy. By emphasizing professional development opportunities, nonprofit organizations can demonstrate their commitment to supporting the growth and development of their team members, much like in the previously mentioned benefits packages. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

There are few places DEI is more scrutinized than in the hiring process of executives for nonprofit organizations. While this may change in the future as for-profit companies increasingly broaden their reach, DEI continues to be top-of-mind in the nonprofit sector and remains central to the missions of many. Engaging an executive search firm as your partner is a wonderful option for broadening an organization’s candidate pool, both through the firm’s exclusive networks and the invaluable insights the firm will be able to provide. Demonstrating a commitment to DEI can include implementing inclusive hiring practices, developing diversity and inclusion training, and creating a culture that truly values and celebrates diverse backgrounds. Candidates are seeking organizations that are genuinely “walking the walk” on this effort. By prioritizing DEI, nonprofits can attract and retain top talent from a wide range of life experiences and perspectives, making their organizations stronger in the process. 

Be Employee and Mission Centric 

Although the complexities of attracting and retaining top talent can be a daunting prospect for organizations, the nonprofit sector stands most ready to bring in these exemplary performers, as they can offer a career path and fulfill the job market’s emerging need to be part of something greater than themselves. Organizations that are leading this effort are continuously evolving their approach and can demonstrate a deep commitment to employee empowerment and inclusion. Showcasing the work of the organization, a robust benefits package, continuing education opportunities, and a DEI-centric culture are all factors in attracting talented individuals with a passion for service. These employee-centric efforts will not only benefit the organization in the short-term with successful hires but in the long-term by creating a positive work culture that naturally lends itself to high retention rates and quality talent pool pipelines. Attaining the reputation of being a great place for talent to grow and develop while performing mission-driven work will lead to people seeking YOU out, rather than the other way around. 

In addition to achieving a reputation as a positive and empowering place to work, using an executive search firm to find diverse and hidden talent is an excellent way to help grow as a nonprofit organization. Scion Executive Search Nonprofit is a demonstrated leader in national and local nonprofit searches, with networks extending to millions of nonprofit and future leaders. Contact us today to see how our team can best support your organization’s continued growth and success! 

About the Author

Bailey Olderog, Technical Writer (she/her/hers)

Bailey Olderog brings her passion for storytelling and language to her role as technical writer at Scion Executive Search (SES). She is dedicated to telling the stories of others, and it has been her lifelong effort to make contributions that ensure that even the quietest of voices are heard.

Bailey has spent most of her career in service to those who serve. Her extensive public sector experience includes ghostwriting for elected officials and military generals, authoring investigations and public reports, and bringing a voice and audience to those without a platform. She believes language is an art and enjoys using language to advocate for others in ways that are professional, clear, and respectful.

Veterans’ mental health and support have been the guiding star in her career; Bailey volunteers at and has extensively advocated for veteran organizations in her native Texas. She has spent over a decade researching PTSD in veterans, using her research and connections to advocate for positive change and support for military families. She has written extensively on behalf of service members in need of assistance, as well as for military leaders seeking authentic ways to connect with their personnel. She has organized events and supported advocacy efforts for organizations such as Gideons 300 and Texas Veteran County Service Officers. On a nice day, you can often find her volunteering at a park or trail cleanup.

Bailey received her degree in political science from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where she also minored in studio art.