What to Avoid…

We realize that you might have had a good experience with a firm doing a search for your CFO and it would be easy and comfortable to use them for your Vice President, Development. Be careful, they may not know a lick about philanthropy and how to determine that unique skill set. It did not take us long to realize that performing executive search as a “generalist firm” was not conducive to quality and efficiency. While we were often asked by clients (who grew to appreciate our services) to do a search outside of our expertise, we have consistently referred them to others who had the expertise they were looking for. The following are danger signals that you should try to avoid:

  • Be sure to ask how the firm would source candidates and if they recommend placing display advertisements in professional journals and various Web job boards. Firms that recommend placing advertisements have limited resources to reach top talent and they convince you to pay for an ad that features their firm. Some firms even charge extra to research for potential candidates. These firms like to see their name published around the universe at your expense. Unless required by you, we place few display advertisements. The universe of talented individuals in philanthropy is at our fingertips because we do the grunt work every day of adding and updating our database of working professionals in America. We go to them directly. (Call us and ask about our history with the effectiveness of advertisements).
  • Firms that focus on one industry within philanthropy (private schools or health care, or higher education, or associations). This really limits your population sample and you should not place such a high value on specific expertise. What you want is a top fundraiser. Everything else is truly secondary. We cover the entire field of philanthropy and this produces a diverse candidate pool that is interested in your organization, your location, your cause and your people—for strong reasons. However, if the important criteria that you need is experience in your specialty (higher education, for example), we can narrow our focus to individuals who have that background.
  • Firms that assign low-level associates to manage your search. You do not want to pay standard fees and have a relative newcomer manage your search. We know, this is the business model that makes the most money for share holders, owners, and company executives through volume operations. However, we do not buy into this concept. Our model is small—focused—personal. We put our best foot forward—always. You will never see an advertisement for this company looking for search consultants.
  • General fundraising consulting firms that have decided to also offer “executive search” to their long menu of services. Be very careful here. Just because Burger King makes a great Quarter Pounder with Fries doesn’t mean that they are any good providing desserts—but they do it anyway. Why? They know that if they can increase the average sales ticket by 78 cents their profit goes through the roof, internationally. Consulting firms are no different. They feel that because they have built a relationship with a client they have their foot in the door to add components to their billing cycle. What do they do to prepare for doing search? Next to nothing. Typically they hire an associate to head up the business and it is a one person shop starting from scratch. You deserve better. We feel it is unethical to advise a client on their operations and then tell them, “You need to replace some people and we can take care of that for you.” It doesn’t pass the smell test.
  • Firms that market various services to candidates geared to improving their chances at career growth. This comes in the form of “coaching,” résumé writing, personal branding, personal appearance and outplacement services. To us this is another area that raises ethical questions. These firms are “fishing on both sides of the pier” and the practice leads to bias in the search function. Some firms are so desperate for income sources that they revert to petty services to keep staff on the payroll. We, on the other hand have a great deal of expertise on what professionals in the philanthropy field need to do to reach their career goals. However we do not provide these services as a general practice and we certainly to not engage in this activity for a fee. Any advice we give is primarily provided through professional conference presentations and roundtable discussions.
  • Firms that work on a contingency basis. Typically a contingency firm has lower fees and they usually only send their “client” résumés for individuals that have some characteristics listed by the employer. They do little else. There is no personal interviewing, background referencing or evaluating. They keep careful records of the people they send and they hope and pray that a candidate that they introduced is hired so that a billing can take place. They compete against the client who is also working independently to find a winner and often the client engages several contingency firms at the same time. Most disputes in search activity involve contingency firms that argue over which candidate name was sent first. Again, there are few services other than providing names. Clients still are obligated to do all the work in sifting through résumés to determine quality. An added problem is the fact that many candidates do not know that their résumé is being circulated widely by the contingency firm—and to locations they might not prefer.There is a place for contingency firms and that normally is with positions for which the client seeks continuous talent. Areas such as nursing, software programming, food preparation specialists, long-haul truck drivers. But not executive level specialists who can make a tremendous difference with the organization.
  • And finally, watch out for a fee structure that includes additional charges for telephone calls, faxes, postage, room rental and “administrative overhead.”
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