My association has an opening for a COO. We've had some applicants from the corporate world who've never worked in a nonprofit. What are the pitfalls/advantages of hiring someone from outside the sector?
The right person for your association depends on the position, your organization’s culture, and the individual. A corporate background can bring functional skills and fresh perspectives that are terrific assets in an increasingly competitive nonprofit sector. Planning, project management, negotiation, and financial skills transfer well between sectors, so finance and operations are natural places to welcome an outsider.
Ask yourself how open your association is to new thinking and corporate-paced action. How receptive are you to change; how ready are you to embrace someone different?
Transplants are most likely to be challenged by the resources available to nonprofits. Limited capital and the need to satisfy many stakeholders lead to painfully slow decision making by corporate standards. Our relative informality may also take some adjustment, but new arrivals are often impressed by the quality of nonprofit staff.
Managing expectations is the key to success. Definitely consider candidates from outside the nonprofit world, but make sure they understand what they might be getting into. If you hire them, give them the tools and time to adapt. And get ready to pick up the pace.
For results of a survey of 40 professionals who chose the nonprofit sector, check the library in the Learning section at www.Bridgestar.org.
Published in Associations Now, January 2006