DHR's Nonprofit Practice provides executive search and high level strategic consulting to a distinguished group of nonprofit clients.

DHR's Nonprofit Practice provides senior level retained executive search to a distinguished group of nonprofit organizations. Our mission, "to improve the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations world-wide," represents the consultative approach and commitment to establish mutually beneficial and long-term relationships with each of our clients. We believe that great leaders make great organizations that in turn help change the world.

Consultants in the Nonprofit Practice bring industry experience to all sectors of the field. Nonprofit clients include cultural organizations, international development and social service organizations, zoos and aquariums, gardens and arboreta, economic development organizations and trade association, foundations and educational organizations. Practice members have recruited the CEOs to many large regional and national organizations and work with a select group of international NGOs.

The Nonprofit Practice Group consists of industry specialists, many of whom have spent their entire careers working in nonprofits and/or assisting nonprofits with executive search. Each practice team member has direct professional experience in the management and governance of cultural institutions, social service, economic development, universities and other educational organizations, or civic entities.

What Sets Us Apart

Are you considering retaining an executive search firm for your nonprofit? Below are several reasons to learn more about DHR’s Nonprofit Practice:

Only firm to guarantee search for 2 years, twice the industry standard

DHR’s Nonprofit Practice stands firmly behind the quality of every search we complete. Should any candidate no longer be employed within two years of hiring, we will conduct a new search for that position for no additional recruitment fee.

Only firm to offer the Market Analysis

A unique step in our executive search process is the Market Analysis, which is presented to the client very early in the search. This timely and comprehensive report includes notes on all potential candidates identified and every contact made to date, guaranteeing both a complete scan of the market and early slate of potential candidates.

Resources and reach of major firm

As a “top five” search firm with a national scope and local presence in more US cities than any other search firm, DHR’s Nonprofit Practice offers nonprofits of all types and sizes the resources and reach of a major executive search firm.

A dedicated practice group

Although we are a major international search firm, DHR’s Nonprofit Practice group is similar to a boutique firm in that we provide industry-based search expertise, customized services and personalized attention.

Record of success and industry expertise

With over 25 years of consecutive experience, the Nonprofit Practice leader- James Abruzzo- is the most senior executive search consultant to nonprofit institutions in the country. We have a record of success with a variety of nonprofit clients and are a leading executive compensation practice for nonprofits in the US.

Extensive network of industry contacts

DHR’s Nonprofit team maintains relationships with senior leaders in numerous types and functional areas of nonprofit organizations throughout the US. These relationships allow us to recruit from the top nonprofit executives in the field and to learn, from industry peers, who are the best nonprofit leaders in the field today.

Highly targeted and strategic senior executive searches

Although we have an extensive network in the industry, we do not rely solely upon existing contacts. New research is an essential step in every assignment, and we work closely with our clients to determine a highly targeted recruitment strategy.

The Nonprofit Search Process

Although each and every executive search assignment will be customized to the client’s unique situation, we have developed a “best practices” approach to providing nonprofit clients with the executive search assistance that they need.

The typical steps involved in a nonprofit executive search are outlined below.

Develop a Position Specification

We find it helpful to develop a broad understanding of the expectations of all stakeholders in the search process. This could involve a number of in-person and phone interviews with key constituents – for example, members of the Board, key staff, major funders and/or others as appropriate. Based on information gathered in these meetings and any existing list of candidate qualifications, we will draft a comprehensive position specification that represents the current and future leadership needs of the organization. The position specification will describe the role, title, reporting relationships, education, and experience required to meet the agreed upon performance criteria.

The informational meetings and finalized job description will guide us in developing the search strategy and recruiting potential candidates.

Identify Qualified Candidates

We will identify qualified potential candidates through our sources and candidate files, new research, and through conversations with individuals in the industry. Original research and a very targeted recruiting strategy are essential to finding professionals with the appropriate mix of qualifications, motivation, compensation level, and interest.

Very early in the search process, we provide clients with the Market Analysis, which includes a summary of potential candidates identified and notes on every contact made to date. This allows us to report our progress early on, inform the client of feedback we are receiving from the field, and receive feedback from the client on the preliminary candidates’ qualifications.

Interview and Present Qualified Candidates

We personally interview and evaluate all potential candidates. Based on interviews and preliminary references, we determine a short list of candidates to recommend for client interviews. We then assist the client in arranging personal interviews with each candidate and will help facilitate the decision-making process. In addition, we solicit feedback from each candidate to elicit further questions. All candidates are treated equally and all (whether internal or recruited candidates) participate in the same process.

Conduct Reference Checks

It is our practice to speak directly with individuals who are, or have been, in a position to evaluate the candidate's performance on the job. We rely upon information provided to us by those individuals. We also conduct background checks, including the verification of educational backgrounds.

Attract The Preferred Candidate

We work closely with the client to structure a compensation package that conforms to market standards and provides substantial incentives for the preferred candidate to accept the position. With our extensive experience in nonprofit compensation, we also regularly assist in negotiations.

Secrets of a Successful Nonprofit Search

The following article is based on a recent presentation by James Abruzzo and Sig Ginsburg to a group of nonprofit leaders. In the following paragraphs, they discuss the hallmarks of a successful nonprofit executive search.

Conducting An Executive Search

How do you evaluate a search firm? First, they should know your business. Look to see which firm has the most experience. But, more importantly, look at the people within the firm who are working for you. Ginsburg notes, "When you hire a search firm, you are buying the experience of the person assigned to your search. Demand the top people." Question the work that the person has done, because you want someone with experience in your organization's area. In general, most search firms charge approximately one-third of the annual salary of the position to be filled.

The process of a search involves more than "hiring a body." It is an interaction on a business and strategic level, and it's about building a relationship. A good search firm will talk to the people in and around the organization before beginning the search for candidates. They should spend a lot of time getting to know the organization; they need to know more than the public image and public relations spin. Ginsburg advises openness and honesty. Don't withhold information because it might be embarrassing, and do identify minefields for potential employees. A good searcher will ask good questions of you: "What ticks you off about people? What is your personality type? What do you expect of your employees? Why did the last person leave this position?" Truthfulness is needed in order for the searcher to find the best possible candidate to meet the executive's and the organization's needs.

A search firm will also help you develop an appropriate job description, taking into account the tasks to be performed, the skills needed and the organization's culture. Take your time and be careful in developing the position description. Ask each stakeholder within the organization who will have to work with this person what qualities and skills will be helpful to have. Be as specific as you can about the responsibilities, but be judicious in your use of adjectives in the job description: you don't want the description to make it look like you're trying to hire God.

Once you have crafted the job description, you must decide who approves the ads, who places the ads, and where they will be placed. Ads in publications like the New York Times will bring a huge response, but the qualifications of the applicants will be all over the place. Abruzzo stressed the importance of placing verbal ads in addition to written ones. Ask all of your contacts if they can recommend someone for the position, although this can be a delicate situation in that you don't want to be seen as poaching other's staff. Consider placing ads in trade publications, such as Chronicle of Philanthropy, Chronicle of Higher Education, or other relevant journals. (The Foundation Center has an online site where ads can be placed for free at as well as other job placement resources. NPCC has a listing of over 60 organizations and institutions where nonprofits an advertise job openings. Members can request a copy by emailing

With or without a firm conducting the search, you may need help with the process. Some organizations appoint a search committee to do a lot of the hands-on work or an advisory committee to simply guide the person who is running the search. Once you receive responses to the position announcement, how do you evaluate them and decide whom to interview? Define the six or seven most important characteristics you need for the job. It could be fundraising skills, management expertise, or public speaking, but as Abruzzo and Ginsburg remarked, you must define the musts. These will help eliminate unqualified candidates and will help you focus on what you need. If fundraising abilities are a must, but the candidate doesn't have that skill, move on even if she charms you in every other way.

Also make sure you look at the quantitative. If an applicant's resume indicates that he increased funding at his last job by 25%, find out exactly what that means. If it means that contributions went from $1,000 to $1,250 but your job needs a person who can manage a multi-million dollar capital campaign, you want that clarified early on. "People have become very good at manipulating their resumes-they can say virtually anything and mean absolutely nothing," notes Ginsburg.

"It's not just the job applicant who should practice for an interview," said Abruzzo. "The interviewer needs just as much practice in developing the questions that will give him a sense of the candidate." You may have to work to get beyond a prepared script, as many job seekers have been coached in the interviewing process. That said, you should also develop standard questions that are asked of all of the candidates. This is especially important where there are different parties interviewing different candidates. Abruzzo noted that he would never select a candidate to move forward in the hiring process based on a good feeling alone, but he would never go forward if he had a bad feeling about a candidate.

References provided by the applicant are of little value (only slightly ahead of a written letter of recommendation), according to Ginsburg. A potential employer will need to use his network to get accurate information about candidates. Try to find out who the person's immediate supervisor was, and give her a call. Unfortunately, securing references can be very difficult, especially when making a cold call to someone who doesn't know you. People are very wary of providing information given the fear of litigation. Read between the lines on references. An intelligent candidate would never use someone who won't provide them with a good recommendation. How do you get beyond the standard answers to a reference check?

Try to ask the unexpected. Ginsburg sometimes asks a reference "if you were sending [the candidate] out to represent you and meet with people he didn't know, what would you caution him about his style and approach?" The answer, e.g., he talks too much, he doesn't listen well, etc., will often be more instructive than any other information you receive.

If you don't like your candidates, you have every right to go back to the search firm and tell them to start again. Given today's job market you don't have to settle when there's a vast pool of talent available. On the other hand, you may have to review your search criteria to make sure that it's feasible and that you're not trying to find Superman and Wonder Woman all in one.

When you've found the right candidate, how do you get an acceptance? Don't try to get someone on the cheap, Abruzzo cautioned. Although unemployment is high now, the market will eventually change and if an employee feels he was treated shabbily when hired, you can be certain he will take the first opportunity to move on.

Be clear in offering the employment package. Tell the candidate what the salary is, what benefits are provided, and when they will be eligible for a raise. Be reasonable in your negotiations. The goal is for both sides to be satisfied, not for one side to feel it got the better deal. You want to avoid having the perfect candidate walk away from the offer thinking, "Is that all they think of me?" Ask candidates about their current compensation and benefits. If you can't offer the salary your candidate wants, Abruzzo notes that there are several moving pieces when structuring an employment package. Think beyond the base salary to other possibilities: a sign-on bonus, an allowance for moving costs, a bonus offered during the first year, an early salary review, help in getting placement on a aboard of directors, or help in finding a job for the candidate's spouse. In Ginsburg's and Abruzzo's experience, motivation and a rising career path are more important to many people than the salary.

Finally, Ginsburg urged organizations to help new employees fit into the organization. Make sure you provide an orientation into the culture and systems of the workplace, and stay in touch especially during the beginning. Make the investment you've put into the search process pay off for the employee as well as the organization.

Economic Development

DHR is Client Centric:

  • Economic Development is about people – DHR’s Economic Development Practice Group has expertise in business advocacy, recruiting/attraction, retention, entrepreneurial and organic growth, land use, real estate, transportation and transit, sustainability, destination marketing, planning, and workforce development.
  • Economic Development is big business – DHR’s integrated practice teams identify candidates with the CEO qualities today’s leaders require, including extensive national and international networks, market knowledge, access to thought leaders, and diversity focus.
  • Economic Development must be accountable – DHR’s research-based approach provides the proven tools, including proprietary databases, largest geographic footprint of offices to gather market intelligence, and talent mapping supported by over 120 researchers worldwide.
  • Economic Development requires leadership – DHR’s collaborative work with the Devine Group and PeopleBest applies the best practices of executive leadership in validated leadership assessments.

Our resources, expertise, 2-year guarantee, and an absolute commitment to personal service have been created and designed to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations.

DHR’s resources support our clients who “Act Locally and Think Globally.”

  • Economic Development Specialty – DHR is the only major search firm with a dedicated Economic Development practice sector. [click to download ED PG page, attached]
  • Office Locations – We have over 50 global offices including 26 offices in the United State, making us the largest geographic footprint of any major search firm in the United States – we are community-based and close to you.
  • Integrated Practice Groups – 16 major practice groups from which to draw expertise.
  • Emphasis on Diversity – 32% of all of DHR’s placements are filled with diversity candidates.
  • Thought Leadership – DHR is a proven leader in establishing innovative research and insights in the field.
  • Research – Over 120 global research professionals to focus on specific client needs to identify leadership talent worldwide, including talent mapping.

DHR’s unique “No-Fault” guarantee

Our clients are served on a highly personal and professional basis. Above all, we will not sacrifice our quality, level of service, or commitment to our clients. We stand behind our work with a powerful but remarkably simple guarantee: should a candidate leave or be terminated within two years of the completion of the search, we will recruit another candidate for no additional professional service fee. Of course, as great as our guarantee is, it is very seldom used.

For More Information Contact:
David Smith
Executive Vice President
Economic Development Sector Leader
DHR International
Two Gateway Center, Suite 1350
603 Stanwix Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Tel: (412) 261-1492 ext. 16

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