The Importance of Cultural Alignment in Nonprofit Executive Recruitment

The Importance of Cultural Alignment in Nonprofit Executive Recruitment

The Importance of Cultural Alignment in Nonprofit Executive Recruitment

To ensure success and impact, nonprofit organizations rely heavily on strong leadership at the executive level. Recruiting executives for nonprofits is multifaceted, and one essential aspect that often gets overlooked is cultural alignment. Cultural alignment refers to the congruence between the values, beliefs, and work styles of an executive and those of a nonprofit organization. The significance of culture alignment in executive recruitment cannot be overstated and bears strongly on organizational effectiveness and mission fulfillment. 

Organizational Culture 

Hiring the right executive is critical for any organization—all the more for nonprofits, whose leaders often play a prominent and visible role. One of the challenges when hiring a new nonprofit executive is hiring for culture. While applicant materials convey much, for many roles, a resume is not enough to determine alignment with a particular organization. This is where the importance of cultural match comes in. According to the Harvard Business Review, culture fit (what we call match or alignment), is defined as “the likelihood that someone will reflect and/or be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up your organization.” 

Cultural alignment does not mean hiring people who are all the same but rather a diverse group of individuals who share a genuine and authentic belief. Where that belief comes from, how it has been expressed, and what experiences have reinforced it will be unique to each individual hire, creating a commonality amongst a breadth of life experiences. 

The practice of hiring executives who align well with organizational culture has been demonstrated to provide significant returns. These hires can enhance collaboration, boost productivity, and promote retention. Conversely, poor culture match can easily result in turnover, costing the organization anywhere from 50% to 60% of the person’s annual salary—as well as internal conflicts, poor performance by staff across the organization, and additional turnover. 

Define Your Culture 

Before you can hire an executive that aligns with your organization’s culture, you must first understand and articulate just what your culture is. Without a defined understanding, how can you expect to articulate your organization’s culture to a potential candidate or assess a candidate in regard to it? Culture is many things, but a simplified place to start is to ascertain the values, goals, and work environment of your organization. Helpful questions to start this conversation include the likes of: What are the core values of our organization? What type of environment do we want to create? What are our goals? How do we want to achieve our goals? 

Former Forbes Council Member and Co-Founder of 109 World Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes shared some of what she has learned about creating and embodying organizational culture. She emphasized that the fundamental beliefs of an organization should be explicit—that these guiding principles will help to keep your organization in alignment along its journey to achieve its mission and goals. Organizational values do not enforce themselves, and so Gonzalez-Reyes recommends listening to the organization’s values constantly, ensuring that they are reflected in all behaviors without exception. Reflect these guiding principles in daily actions and design policies, traditions, and habits around them that engage the individual. Just as with all things in life, change is constant, so revisit your values and adjust as needed to adapt to our ever-evolving world. Nurturing those who genuinely care about the culture will help to permeate it throughout the organization, which is crucial to Gonzalez-Reyes’s last point—“Remember that culture is built from the collective power of all the individuals on your team. That old saying that ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself’ does not work here. You should not create culture by yourself, and you cannot have culture by yourself or with just a few.” 

Assess Compatibility 

Once you have formally defined and articulated your organization’s culture, you are well-equipped to assess an executive candidate’s cultural compatibility with your organization. Helpful questions to ask during an interview with executive candidates include the following: What type of culture do you thrive in? What values are you drawn to and why? What is your ideal work environment? Explain a time you worked somewhere where you were not a strong culture match—why was that? 

An executive leader offering cultural alignment ensures that the executive values and promotes a collaborative work environment, fostering innovation and creativity through open communication and idea-sharing—all underpinned by a unifying culture. When an executive is deeply connected to the mission, they are more likely to lead with purpose and to inspire others to do the same. This is highly important in the nonprofit work environment, which can often be emotionally draining and require long hours. Hiring an executive who embodies cultural values helps to ensure consistency in actions and promotes a sense of trust both within the organization and amongst external stakeholders. 

In Sum 

Cultural alignment in executive recruitment is not a mere buzzword; it is a strategic imperative for nonprofit organizations. Finding executives who share the nonprofit’s mission, values, and working style is essential for fostering a cohesive and effective leadership team. When leaders are aligned with the organization’s culture, they can inspire and mobilize the entire workforce toward achieving the nonprofit’s goals and creating a lasting social impact. By prioritizing cultural alignment in executive recruitment, nonprofits can position themselves for long-term success and ensure their missions continue to thrive. 

Is your organization looking for a new executive leader? Recruiting with an eye toward culture add is a central aspect of Scion Executive Search’s search process. We have seen first-hand how important a holistic search is when looking for nonprofit executives. A leader who shares your values and brings unique knowledge and understanding from lived experiences will add dividends to organizational culture, and we are eager to help you find your next executive! Let us be a voice and proponent of your organization’s culture. Contact us today to get a search started or visit our website to find out more about our available services!

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.