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Insights from 2017–2018 CEO/ED Leadership Transitions

By Bryan Orander, president, Charitable Advisors

Every two years, we do a quick analysis of the nonprofit leadership transitions Charitable Advisors has supported. Our takeaway two years ago was that an increasing number of new ED/CEOs were coming from outwardly facing roles like fundraising and advocacy in contrast to the longstanding “program expert” being the primary leaders being considered.

For this assessment, we analyzed the 26 organizations that we worked with through the entire transition process in 2017-2018. Internally, we found this exercise helpful to not only celebrate success, but also to set goals for the future.  

Here’s a brief summary of what we’re seeing from the frontlines.

Number of leadership transitions – In total, we supported 12 organizations in 2017 and 17 in 2018. Of that number, we were engaged in only the search-preparation work with several clients. For purposes of this analysis that brings the two-year total to 26.

The increase in transitions from 2017 to 2018 means this trend of retirements and turnover is continuing to impact our sector. We are already working with three organizations planning leadership retirements in late 2019 or early 2020.

First-time executive directors and CEOs – For 69 percent of the 2017/2018 hires, this was their first ED/CEO position. Of that number, 19 percent were internal promotions. In general, board members seem to have a preference for capable internal candidates, but many have limited knowledge of the staff leaders reporting to the ED/CEO.

Recruiting sectors: In total, 73 percent of the new leaders came from the nonprofit sector and 19 percent previously held business roles. We expect nonprofit backgrounds to continue to dominate but board members are sometimes open to business leaders who bring specific expertise or broad networks.

Age/generation: We debated whether to divide hires by generation or age group. We don’t track birthdays, so we estimated age and generation. It is a good sign that early and mid-career professionals are stepping up into the ED/CEO roles. On the downside, it may be getting harder for older leaders to find their next roles and that likely means we are underutilizing experienced people from our sector.  

Gender: The past two years have been a tale of two streaks. In 2017, our clients overwhelmingly hired female ED/CEOs. In 2018, there was an extended stretch that was heavily male. For the two years, overall, the mix was 65 percent female and 35 percent male. This overall mix is close to the national statistic but shows how small samples can skew perceptions.

Race/Ethnicity: I am pleased to be able to say that board leaders are becoming much more vocal about their desires to recruit diverse candidates who are often underrepresented on their leadership teams. We are also focused on improving this metric and can report that 19 percent (5) of our ED/CEO hires over this two-year period were leaders of color, including three of our last 10. With each search, we are working to expand our reach and visibility with the pool of capable diverse leaders. Our goal is to present a diverse slate of qualified candidates to every search committee.

To help support our effort, we encourage candidates to provide their information to our Executive Candidate pool even if current open searches are not of interest. Please submit at: https://charitableadvisors.hirecentric.com/jobs/133773.html

Looking ahead: As we look to 2019 and beyond, we anticipate a continuing flow of boomer retirements and natural leadership turnover that will provide opportunities for next generation leaders. It is our goal to continue to improve our processes and networks to make a positive contribution to the changes in nonprofit leadership.

We are excited about our reputation for being an affordable and effective alternative to board members taking on the search themselves in this tight labor market. Please contact Bryan Orander at Bryan@CharitableAdvisors.com or Don Gulbrandsen at Don@CharitableAdvisors.com with questions or comments about affordable, effective executive search or succession planning support.

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