Kathleen Yazbak Discusses Senior Executive Recruitment in the Non-Profit Sector

The BlueSteps Edge: Non-Profit Sector

Exclusive interviews with top executive recruiters and headhunters in key sectors--to bring you the latest executive career updates from the front lines.

Kathleen Yazbak, Managing Director at retained search firm Bridgestar, shares her observations and thoughts with BlueSteps on the current developments impacting on the non-profit sector.

Kathleen Yazbak, executive headhunter and managing director at retained search firm, Bridgestar

BlueSteps: What trends are you seeing in the Non-profit sector at the moment?

Kathleen: Even with economic uncertainty, we are seeing clear interest in recruiting for key roles in nonprofits - but I do wonder if organizations will think hard about adding new roles. They might be slightly slower in dealing with attrition. While they will probably re-fill roles, they may pause and re-think, perhaps be more cautious in their recruiting. Some clients know positions will open up, and are reconsidering those positions. I would say there is more caution overall, but it hasn’t translated into real stop action.

BlueSteps: Predictions going forward in terms of organizations being more cautious?

Kathleen: Going forward, we believe some organizations are being really cautious because of the potential effect of an economic slowdown on their funding base. For example, if they’re supported by government grants, the funding landscape may be changing, and given the pending change in administrations there may be more of a “wait and see” approach.

From an individual donor perspective, funders who are committed to organizations are very committed; but new donor cultivation could take longer.

BlueSteps: Where are the growth opportunities right now? Which areas are declining? How about internationally?

Kathleen: There’s a lot going on related to education reform and especially the environment. There’s so much more awareness about global warming. Environmental organizations are seeing more wind at their backs, instead of in their faces; it’s a real growth area. I do get a sense that people who are coming into the environment domain may have spent time in government and/or in the private sector as well. And it’s not just younger people who are attracted to this work—it’s everybody.

So the environment is definitely a growth area. We also see entrepreneurial ideas popping up throughout the sector, many focused on self-sustaining business models.

BlueSteps: What kind of advice would you offer senior executives looking to change jobs right now?

Kathleen: I think people should always know exactly why they’re making a change, who they want to do it with, what they have to offer, and what they will learn in a new organization. That’s the advice I always give. Once the process begins, our recruiters are
always pushing candidates to get out of sales mode and really analyze and take the time to establish a good fit.

At the moment I am definitely sensing some reticence to make a significant move on the candidate side. I think that’s normal, especially in an economic climate like this. I think people will do more due diligence.

BlueSteps: How about moving between for-profit and non-profit?

Kathleen: I always urge people to be really honest with themselves and move forward to find the optimal environment. In considering the non-profit arena after for-profit: I would suggest someone really think about whether the desire to move is based on a real passion - or is it a stop-gap measure? The right person would have already taken the steps to get closer to the sector by serving on a non-profit board, volunteering, etc

BlueSteps: What do you think is on the horizon for 2008? Predictions

Kathleen: I think what will matter is how funding sources are impacted by the economic slowdown. We don’t yet know how big and deep it’s going to be, or how heavily it may play into expansion plans for some organizations

BlueSteps: Any good stories you can share?

Kathleen: We do a lot of CFO (chief financial officer) searches. The CFO market is really tight so I think CFOs can be pretty confident there will be opportunities out there for them. We had the case recently where we were seeking a CFO for a non-profit with a $10 million plus budget, based in New York City. We went through two short lists of candidates, since each time our top candidate was lured to a for-profit company. Both top candidates had really extensive non-profit experience, and both were actually looking to move within the sector. The for-profit hiring managers, attracted by the complexity of the funding these executives had dealt with and their ability to manage within really narrow margins, snapped them up.

We had to go to a third short list. The issue wasn’t uniquely money, it was the breadth and scope of what the job entailed and required. But in the end, we did find an excellent candidate.

I think this and my environment example above speak to a common theme: there will continue to be mobility between sectors in domains like the environment and education, and also in functional areas—finance being one of them.

About Ms Yazbak

Kathleen Yazbak joined Bridgestar in 2003 after spending 15 years in the executive recruiting industry. Kathleen served both for-profit and nonprofit clients on senior executive and board searches, and her functional experience spans general management, technology, operations, human resources, and finance. To read more about Kathleen and her firm, visit www.bridgestar.com.

Interview conducted for BlueSteps by Allison Farber Cheston, Career Strategist.

BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 6,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 50,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.

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