Is this you?

  • You are a corporate marketing hotshot or your organization is thinking about hiring a corporate hotshot for a senior marketing, fundraising, or external affairs position.

I have seen the scenario many many times. Non-profit hires marketing wunderkind who is expected to transform marketing and fundraising for your group. I mean, if you can sell packaged goods to millions and you have hob-nobbed with the advertising greats, surely selling a do-gooder’s mission is like a walk in the park, right?


The majority of senior non-profit hires i have seen from the private sector fail. I think the reason is based on a mutual misunderstanding of what is involved in making a transition like that.

Non-profits impute great wisdom and skill to corporate execs. It is assumed they are smarter, more worldly, and more creative than their dot-org counterparts.

Corporate execs assume that the transition to non-profits will involve less work, be more meaningful, and will free up spare time to raise kids, pursue hobbies, or whatever.

These assumptions are wrong. The lack of a clear bottom line makes non-profit branding and positioning 1000 times harder than positioning underarm spray. And, the budget for things like national ad buys is virtually non-existent. A junior level brand manager at a cosmetics company might have a $5 million ad budget just to roll out a new lipstick color. That is probably 10 times the ad budget of even a large non-profit — for everything.

Non-profit management and leadership being what they are often means a new private sector arrival has to navigate years of accumulated inter-departmental rivalries, fiefdoms and sacred cows. Many non-profits are extfremely risk averse when it comes to firing people, so there may be loads of folks around who might ought to have been let go.

I am not saying non-profits should NEVER hire from the private sector, and there are loads of private sector folks for whom i have great respect and admiration. BUT it’s incredibly important that everyone examine their assumptions.