NGOs look outside to hire senior leadership, not within

The Bridgespan Group surveyed approximately 250 leaders from Indian NGOs and the Indian offices of international NGOs, to look into NGOs’ efforts to strengthen their leaders’ skill sets and build their leadership bench

Pritha Venkatachalam is a partner with The Bridgespan Group in Mumbai and co-author of the report, Building the Bench at Indian NGOs. Danielle Berfond is a Bridgespan Group manager and co-author of the same report

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Exceptional NGOs rely on exceptional leaders. In the Indian social sector, a senior team’s competence is often the make-or-break factor in an organisation’s ability to make strides toward such ambitious goals as providing equitable healthcare, ensuring high quality education for children, or providing access to safe water and basic sanitation. Yet widespread doubts persist about whether there is sufficient investment in NGO leadership teams to achieve these important outcomes.

Against this backdrop, The Bridgespan Group, with support from Omidyar Network, undertook what we believe is the first data-driven study of NGO leadership development in India: “Building the Bench at India NGOs: Investing to Fill the Leadership Development Gap.”

Surveying approximately 250 leaders from Indian NGOs and the Indian offices of international NGOs, the study looked into NGOs’ efforts to strengthen their leaders’ skill sets and build their leadership bench. This is the sixth in a series of key findings:

External recruiting—though more risky and expensive—is the norm
Less than 40 percent of Indian NGO leaders view their own organisation as a primary source for recruiting senior leaders

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When asked about previous roles for their senior leadership teams, just 39 percent of those surveyed cite internal promotions. The most common sources for leadership talent are other NGOs, mostly Indian NGOs, and the for-profit sector.

The cost of bringing in leaders from outside the organisation is high, and research from the for-profit sector reveals that nearly half of all external executive recruits fail within the first 18 months. That rate might well be more pronounced in the nonprofit sector, which can require more of a cultural adjustment. Yet few NGO leaders said they had the time or ability to create adequate onboarding processes.

This is the sixth chart of a 10-part series from The Bridgespan Group. Read the introductory post here. Watch this space for a new chart of their survey findings every Friday. Click here to view the first five chart of the series

Pritha Venkatachalam is a partner with The Bridgespan Group in Mumbai and co-author of the report, 'Building the Bench at Indian NGOs'. Danielle Berfond is a Bridgespan Group manager and co-author of the same report.

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