Giving Compass' Take:

• Vu Le argues that placing individuals with corporate and academic backgrounds over social sector experts hurts nonprofits. 

• How can the social sector take advantage of skills, resources, and information of corporate and academic sectors without compromising the nonprofit sector? 

• Learn about cultivating nonprofit leadership

Recently I learned that a colleague of mine didn’t get a job leading a major organization. It was confusing, since all signs had seemed to indicate she was a good fit. After weeks wondering, she got a you-didn’t-hear-this-from-me from one of the hiring team members that the board had decided to go with someone with a corporate background. Someone who had no experience working in nonprofit was now going to lead a large and influential one, over my colleague who had years of relevant experience.

This happens frequently in our sector among the largest and most influential organizations. Foundations are especially guilty of this. According to this report from CEP that looks at the leadership of the largest 100 foundations in the US:

Experience as a grantee, if you exclude colleges and universities …. isn’t much valued by foundation boards when they’re searching for a CEO. In 2012 we identified just 14 foundation CEOs with immediate previous experience at an operating nonprofit that wasn’t a college or university. Today, that number is even lower — just 10.

The problem is the default assumption, conscious and unconscious, that people with for-profit or academic backgrounds are somehow better leaders in general, even in fields where they have no experience or knowledge, for several reasons:

It forces ineffective philosophies and practices on to nonprofits: Corporate philosophies, with some exceptions, are traditionally rooted in competition, individualism, ignorance or dismissal of concepts like racial and gender inequity, and avoidance of societal obligations such as taxes.

We spend a lot of time and energy catching influential people up on the basics: A lot of us are burning out, and from the conversations I’ve had, a significant reason is that it is exhausting educating the people who have power and influence in the sector about things like equity, diversity, and inclusion, or even basic nonprofit truths like general operating funds are the most effective form of funding.

It increases the arrogance of the corporate sector, especially tech: Last year I somehow managed to crash a prominent social enterprise conference. The level of cluelessness and arrogance among many of the people I encountered on issues like poverty, racism, and basic tenets of equity was astounding. Like “I don’t see color” astounding. Like “we can solve poverty through apps” astounding.

It reinforces the inferiority complex of the nonprofit sector: When does it ever happen in the opposite direction?

Read the full article about qualifications for the nonprofits sector by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF.