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Not-for-Profits Woo Veteran Executives

As executives are laid off or choose to leave the corporate world, not-for-profit organizations are taking advantage of a rare opportunity to snap up some of the best talent to be had.

March 11, 2011

When IFF began its search for a chief financial officer, it posted the position on its website and online sites geared to not-for-profits. Because those postings didn’t yield the right talent, the organization hired an executive search firm.

The headhunter connected the Chicago-based not-for-profit, which focuses on providing loans and real estate consulting to other not-for-profits, with Lloyd Shields, the former CFO at JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s corporate real estate and security group. He found the IFF position to be the perfect fit. It was one of two offers the 60-year-old received during his 19-month-long job search. “I knew this was going to be more of a challenge” than the other one, he says. “That’s what I was looking for.”

As executives are laid off or choose to leave the corporate world, not-for-profit organizations are taking advantage of a rare opportunity to snap up some of the best talent to be had.

“Nonprofits need to be more aware of bringing in the best possible business skills they can get and afford,” says Trinita Logue, founder and president of IFF—formerly known as the Illinois Facilities Fund—the largest community development financial institution exclusively serving not-for-profits in the Midwest. “There are literally thousands of very experienced people who still want to work and still want to make a contribution. They’re not ready to stop working. The nonprofit sector can benefit from them.”

Shields, who spent 34 years working for JPMorgan Chase and its predecessor companies, was floored when his position was moved to New York from Chicago. He ultimately decided not to relocate. Like many other baby boomers, he knew finding a new job would be a challenge, but he didn’t expect it to take so long.

While the 6.9 percent unemployment rate for the 55-plus cohort is lower than the overall national rate of 9.4 percent, the growth in the percentage of older jobless people has been higher than for other age groups, and older people tend to be shut out of the workforce for longer periods.

Like Shields, the graying unemployed may find their best hope lies in not-for-profits. Many leaders of such organizations are starting to reach retirement age. At the same time, some not-for-profits are seeing growth and the need for senior-level executives, says Wayne Luke, partner and head of executive search for the Bridgespan Group, a not-for-profit that works with other not-for-profits and foundations on strategy and philanthropy consulting as well as executive recruitment.

A study by Bridgespan in 2009 projected demand for 24,000 senior managers at not-for-profits that year. Luke can’t say if not-for-profits actually hired that many people because many managers delayed their retirement after the economy and financial markets plummeted in 2008. But by late 2009 and early 2010, “there was light at the end of the tunnel” and not-for-profits began hiring again, he says. “When there are tough times, there is only so long you can hunker down.” A survey of about 100 not-for-profit executive directors released in January by Bridgespan found that 60 percent said they were looking for new talent in 2011 compared with 31 percent in 2010.

While some not-for-profits are happy to tap the large pool of experienced business leaders who have lost their jobs, other organizations still have reservations. One issue is overcoming “innate distrust of people coming in on a white horse from the corporate world” who think they’ll save the organization, says Michael Jeans, president of New Directions Inc., a Boston firm that helps professionals figure out their next career step. Executives with experience serving on not-for-profit boards, however, may be better able to sell themselves, he adds.

Although not-for-profits move at a slower pace than the corporate world, their philanthropic mission is often appealing. Those who make the leap to not-for-profits typically have a “reasonable amount of financial and career success,” Jeans says, and they wonder: “What kind of mark can I leave behind?”

In the past, management shortcomings were overlooked at many not-for-profits, Jeans says, but “there’s been a major groundswell of upgrading talent over the last decade. They need more sophisticated help and the place to get it is corporate America.”

IFF’s Shields says the skills he developed during his decades in financial services were easily transferrable to the not-for-profit, where he still does credit reviews and meets with banks and customers. Shields’ management experience also appealed to IFF. “Often in the financial world people have great” technical skills, Logue says, “but not management skills.”

Former corporate executives usually take a salary cut. A study by Charity Navigator found that of 3,005 midsize to large U.S. charities, the median salary for a CEO in 2008 was $147,273, up 4.7 percent from the previous year. “It’s a question of a good person who’s at the right stage of his or her career” who can afford a compensation cut, Logue says.

A number of programs have sprung up across the country to ease the transition from the corporate to the not-for-profit world. For example, EncoreHartford, a Connecticut program, was designed to reduce unemployment and bolster the not-for-profit sector in a state where 20 percent of the workforce is over age 55.

The pilot program was launched last March with 23 Encore Fellows, all but one of whom was at least 50 years old, says David Garvey, director of the Nonprofit Leadership Program at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. The fellows had 44 hours of training on topics such as management and accounting before spending two months at a not-for-profit.

One of those fellows was Mary Jo Keating, who became planning and marketing manager with reSET, a social enterprise trust in Farmington that encourages businesses to become social enterprises. Keating, who is 58, quit her job as vice president of corporate relations for BNSF Railway in Fort Worth, Texas, to join her husband who was working in Connecticut. She couldn’t find any senior communications positions in Connecticut and briefly started her own business. But she disliked working on her own, so she joined the EncoreHartford program. Her fellowship was with reSET, and she was hired by the organization as soon as she completed the program.

Keating says she has found that compared with the corporate world, “it’s a more collegial atmosphere.” One big change: She does everything from handling marketing and communications to making photocopies. But she was drawn to the job because “I liked the purpose and I liked the people.”

Workforce Management, February 2011, pgs. 8, 10 -- Subscribe Now!