The Alexander Group: 2012 Survey of Hiring at Advocacy Not-for-Profits


We have been conducting executive searches for not-for-profits for nearly 25 years. In the early days, there was very little crossover of executives from corporate America to not-for-profits. And that was just fine with not-for-profits, because they felt executives from the corporate world would not fit in nor understand their culture. This has changed over the years for several reasons. With internet sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator, many potential donors evaluate charities to see which ones will most efficiently use their donations.  Not for profits have responded by instituting rigorous financial controls, instituting best practices and using technology to leverage their operations, creating positions where corporate executives would be a natural fit. Lastly, positions that have been the backbone of corporate America such as strategy, marketing, and market intelligence are now part of the executive team at many not-for-profits.  On the other side of the coin, many executives in corporate America want to give back and see opportunities to use their talents for the greater good. Add to that a disillusionment following the economic downtown and the belief that not for profits are nicer places to work, and a trend has begun to build. 

Early this year, we conducted a survey of 500 not-for-profit executives at traditional not-for-profits (excluding hospitals, universities and government) and national voluntary health associations which confirmed our hunch – not-for-profit organizations are hiring more executives from corporate America than ever before.

Sixty percent of the executives our respondents hired in the last five years came from outside the not-for-profit industry.  One respondent noted, “While we have always considered candidates from outside the not-for-profit sector, we have found that the current environment makes us a more attractive option for those without non-profit backgrounds.”

A majority of Chief Financial Officers and Chief Marketing Officers hired within the last 10 years at the nation’s top 10 not-for-profits had earlier career experience in the for-profit sector. The economic downturn of 2008 deeply impacted not-for-profit organizations, and even two years later in 2010, charitable giving was still 6 percent below 2007 donations. As a result, many not-for-profits have sought ways to increase donations, one of which is to improve the quality of their fundraising function and another is to increase awareness of the organization’s cause.  This was reflected in our survey as respondents indicated that over half (56.7%) of the executives hired were Chief Development Officers, followed by Chief Financial Officers and Chief Marketing Officers, with 45% of organizations hiring one or both.

For a free copy of our survey’s results, including hiring factors and ability to adapt to a not-for-profit environment, please e-mail 


1 Comment

January 22, 2013 AT 3:35 PM CST

Ron R. wrote:

Nice article and very accurate. I have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 30 years.

I am a pretty good editor as well. I think the author intended to write "economic downturn" instead of "economic downtown" (see last sentence of the first paragraph.

Best regards,
Houston, TX

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