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How to Prioritize Innovation When Recruiting New Leaders for Your Nonprofit or Social Impact Organization

At some point in the process of recruiting a new leader, the hiring committee will come together to discuss the traits and behaviours candidates need to be successful in the role. At or near the top of that list is likely to be “an innovator”- someone who can bring a new perspective, who isn’t afraid to try and fail, who is on top of new trends and tools, and who’s eager to bring new ideas to the table.

Earlier this year, the Forbes Nonprofit Council published a list of nonprofit trends that they predict will dominate the industry in 2024. Not surprisingly, innovation made the list. Indeed, with the speed of change in the world today, an innovative mindset has become table stakes for organizations looking to recruit leaders who can move their mission, growth, and performance forward.

Here are three areas that purpose and mission-driven organization can focus on to help prioritize innovation when talking with leadership candidates:

  • Technology implementation
    The pace at which technology is evolving is incredible – and so is its potential to drive success for nonprofit and social impact organizations. Asking leadership candidates about their perspective on technology and related tools (like AI) will help uncover their familiarity with what’s happening in this space. Talking about how they’d apply new tools to your organization (or how they’ve implemented these types of changes in the past) can also give you a sense of their comfort level with change and with technology – and help you understand their vision for the future of your organization.
  • Developing/identifying new pipelines
    Finding new channels of support is an ongoing challenge for purpose and mission-driven organizations – the number of donors continues to decline, as does the number of Americans volunteering their time, and corporate giving priorities are constantly shifting. Understanding a candidate’s approach to developing existing pipelines – and building new ones – will show you how creative they can be when it comes to leveraging opportunities – and overcoming challenges. Asking them how they’d approach donor/volunteer/partner challenges specific to your organization’s current situation will also let you know how well they know your organization and your space.
  • Retaining top talent
    Fierce competition for top talent is just one reason nonprofits and social impact organizations need to be focused on retaining (and developing) the talent that they have in-house – both senior leaders as well as up-and-coming stars. Candidates who don’t have a retention strategy, or who have a strategy that doesn’t account for the changing values and expectations of today’s talent, may not be the best long-term fit for an organization looking to succeed in today’s market. Including questions about how candidates have been (or might be) innovative when it comes to leveraging resources to develop and grow current staff will help you better understand their approach to the people side of the organization.

For more than 20 years, the executive search experts at DRiWaterstone have been helping nonprofit and social impact organizations across the United States recruit innovative leaders who move their mission and performance forward. Connect with us to find out how we can help prioritize innovation in your next search.

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Brandon Gregory

At DRiWaterstone, we have the privilege of working with amazing clients to help them recruit purpose and mission-driven individuals for their nonprofit and social impact organizations. We recently reconnected with Brandon Gregory, who we placed as Executive Director of the American Air Museum in Britain in 2022, to learn about his time in the role so far, the many initiatives and projects his team is working on at the Museum, and his advice for other executives looking for their next role.

https://youtu.be/2cW2_xdw8ro

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DRiWaterstone (DRiW): Tell us about the American Air Museum in Britain.
Brandon Gregory (BG): The American Air Museum in Britain is located at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in the U.K., and it stands as the memorial for the more than 30,000 U.S. airmen who died flying from England in the Second World War. We also house the largest collection of U.S. military aircraft anywhere outside of the United States.

And then beyond that, we really do an excellent job of telling the stories of the people whose lives were shaped by American airpower from World War I to the present. We have aircraft in the Museum, ranging from a World War I biplane to a Predator drone that was used in Iraq—we have the gamut of aircraft in the Museum.

DRiW: Talk about your role and what you're responsible for.
BG: It’s a unique role. We work in tandem with the leadership and the team of Imperial War Museums who operate the museum on a day-to-day basis. They also provide us with some significant administrative support on the finance side.

I’ve got the typical responsibilities of a nonprofit Executive Director. I’m charged with leading a really talented fundraising team here in the States. I live in the States, the Museum is “across the pond”, but we’ve got a team here that leads fundraising, and 95 to 96 per cent of our donors are stateside. So that’s the primary focus on my work and our team’s work.  Beyond that I work with our finance and curatorial, conservation, and marketing teams that are based in both London and Duxford in the U.K.

As an Executive Director, I get the opportunity to work with a great Board - we have trustees that range across the U.S., the U.K., and beyond - to deliver our mission. We have a great group that is incredibly committed to the American Air Museum.

DRiW: What attracted you to the position and the organization?
BG: It was an absolute no brainer – it checked all of the boxes for me. It was an opportunity to make the leap from Development Director to Executive Director and lead an organization, a museum, whose mission is to educate and share the stories of our veterans, our heroes.

From a personal standpoint, my grandfather and my two great uncles, his brothers, served in the Second World War. My grandfather and my uncle Hugh were both in the army and served in Europe. My great uncle Paul served as a waist gunner on a B17 called The Lucky Lady with the 381st bomber group that flew out of RAF Ridgewell in the U.K. They were shot down in August 1943, and he spent the remainder of the war as a POW. I can’t think of any better way to honor their service than by the role I’m in now.

Beyond that, it was the opportunity to lead what would amount to another turnaround. Fundraising in the organization had really plateaued, and the Board was looking for someone in the States rather than in the U.K. to lead, given that our donors are here. So that made a lot of sense…I can’t think of a more perfect opportunity than what was presented here. I’ve been with the organization now for about 18 months it’s had its challenges of course, anything does, but it has been a lot of fun and we’ve made a lot of progress.

DRiW: What projects or initiatives have you worked on that you've enjoyed?
BG: We’re in a bit of a fundraising turnaround here, and it’s working; it’s going well, but there’s still more to do. Beyond that, everything was U.K. based, the leadership was U.K. based, so making the switch from a U.K. business structure to a U.S. business structure has been interesting. I’ve spent a fair bit of my time working on the necessary details to set us up for success both now and in the future.

I’ve had the opportunity over the last 18 months to work with some donors and we’ve gotten around the country to see them…That has been a lot of fun. Another fun thing we did this past summer at the museum was putting together an event that was more educational in focus, but it was an opportunity to connect some major donors, perspective donors, and our trustees through a panel discussion with the brand new Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff, and our U.S. Air Force General who leads U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Africa, and also has Joint Allied Command. We put together a panel discussion with the two of them for an evening where they were able to share some pretty candid thoughts about what’s happening in the world. That was a neat opportunity and it certainly helped us to meet our education mission while engaging some of the world’s most important military leaders.

DRiW: Describe your experience working with the DRiWaterstone team?
BG: It was the very best experience I’ve had working with a recruiting service.

This started when I was contacted by DRiWaterstone for another position about three weeks before I was contacted about the American Air Museum position. It was not something I was interested in, but the team at DRiWaterstone said “we’ll call back if there’s something else,” and when this came available, I got a call immediately.

The thing that stuck out to me the most was you took the time to ensure that not only were those who were doing the interviewing on the organization side – whether that was staff in the U.K. or trustees or members of the Board - were prepared for everything on the call, but you also made sure that I was prepared. For every call, for every meeting… [i]t was some of the most prepared interviewing that I’ve been a part of. That was incredibly helpful to me.  Further, it was clear that you had taken the time to find the right candidates, so the process was streamlined, and there was really no time wasted. It was a seamless process; it moved really quickly.

For me there’s no doubt if we’ve got the opportunity to hire, as I think we will here in the coming years, that you are who we’re calling. I personally enjoyed working with you and I’ve heard the same from the trustees that were involved in the process, and the staff at Imperial War Museums that were involved in the process.

DRiW: What advice do you have for other executive candidates in today’s job market?
BG: Don’t settle for anything less than a position and an organization that will make you happy – whatever that looks like for you as an individual.

The nonprofit sector continues to grow, and opportunities abound. Before taking this position, I turned down a number of opportunities because they just weren’t right for me or my family. They would have been neat opportunities, but they just weren’t quite right and we were ok where we were. So, we were looking for that perfect fit. I took some interviews and calls from recruiters and organizations that I thought would be a good fit and as it turns out, I wasn’t the right candidate for them. I look back on it now and go: “I think that worked out pretty well.” I think everything works out the way it’s supposed to and for a reason, and I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be in the moment. So, it’s always good to have the conversation, see what’s out there, make sure it’s a fit for you - and if it is, charge hard and go get it.

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At DRiWaterstone, we have the pleasure of working with some of the best clients and candidates in the nonprofit and social impact space. To learn more about how we can help you build high-performance teams and drive growth, email us – we’d love to talk!

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