2020 brought challenges that many nonprofits are still dealing with today. Organizations are shifting on sand to strengthen remote operations, revitalize their fundraising strategy, and understand how to embrace diversity and inclusion, but one thing remains constant in executive search practices – change. The ability to revisit the way Catalyst Consulting Services serves as a catalyst for change at the leadership level has been a necessity for our CEO, COO and Director of Development searches. Reflecting on conversations we have had with clients over the past 8 months, one continues to arise – what are the trends you are seeing in executive searches? Below are areas which I feel are driving leadership decisions moving forward.

1. Emotional Intelligence is a Necessary Leadership Trait

Gone are the days of the leaders who only have strengths in the areas of capacity building, program develop, and mission expansion. These types of leaders are grown from within and have a linear perspective of what it takes to truly grow an organization. In addition, this type of leader usually lacks skills or has not invested in skills such as financial management, fundraising, emotional intelligence, and change management. These skills have become increasingly important since 2008 and once again in 2020. The most successful leaders have other experiences that can be brought to the equation and are able to drive communication that projects empathy, trust, and respect for the hard work of their teams. As a result, social and emotional intelligence is a trait for all senior hires moving forward and how that is measured through experience, pre-employment testing, or credentials, will be a priority for nonprofit board moving forward.

2. CFO’s and COO’s Will Play a Strategic Role

Whether you outsource it or revisit the importance of a leader who can go beyond the traditional role of accounting and budgeting and truly act as an integral member of the executive leadership team, make the change now. The value of a CFO who has the skill set to secure PPP loans and forecast a range of cash flow scenarios moves the “Bookkeeper” position to a new level. The ability to work with Development Director’s on revenue models, leverage government and financial institution partnerships and work across all areas of the organization to execute financial goals is a must.

In the past, the COO role has been absorbed or delegated to the leadership team, but as the role of the CEO changes, CFO becomes more defined and the focus on less volatile types of revenue for the Development Director imperative, operations must serve as priority. Someone who has the ability to manage the areas that can be a time suck and who has the ability to project manage the day-to-day operations on behalf of the organization.

2. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Are Reshaping Hiring Priorities

It goes without saying that this is a priority for all organizations in the areas of a board governance and staffing as a reflection of the demographics served. However, on the executive search front, the question that is now paramount from potential clients is – How will ensure we have a process that has a commitment to BIOPIC leaders, DEI, and transparency? My first response is, what have you done from within to reflect to potential leaders that you are ready for them? This priority cannot be one-sided and must begin with the board recruitment, how it is addressed among the current staff and practices moving forward to truly demonstrate a commitment in the hiring process.

3. Major Gift Fundraisers Are Essential

As a CFRE with over twenty-eight years of experience, I have done my fair share of transactional fundraising, until I chose not to. Then I looked for organizations who were deeply committed to relational fundraising and when I founded my company, it was a value that set us apart from the organizations we would partner with. Why? Because nothing will transform your organization, like a focus on individuals, stewardship and cultivation who have high net worth. This intentionality has served organizations well since 2008, 2020 and in growth (capital) years. Focusing on professionals who have quantifiable experience in major gifts and relationship management is worth the investment of time and salary.

4. Succession Planning is Necessary

Although we know there is a generational shift occurring with Boomers retiring, the pandemic has increased the speed. A substantial number of retirements or leadership moves were put on hold for a bit, but now that the reality is setting in as to what skills are needed moving forward, it has tightened up the talent pool. So, if the organization has not made succession planning as part of their strategic plan for all leadership positions, you are placing your head in the sand. To understand what skills and talents are required as the organization goes through different life cycles, allows the ability to respond to pandemics, remote work (which was happening way before 2020), retirements and other changes.

5. Leaders Must Embrace Tech to Deliver Their Mission

Remote working comes down to two things – technology and trust. I have been an advocate for this since 2003 when I was on bedrest with my first child and a young CEO. What I realized since then, is that we all struggle with making the investment to do so and what the savings “could be” on the back end (think reduced mileage costs, mortgage, and overhead in general). Secondly, and maybe more importantly, we struggle with trust. How do we know an employee will be working? How do I manage that? Well, bless 2020 – truly! SO, invest in technology of all form (platforms, mobile hardware, project management software, digital marketing, AI, and livestreaming). This is capacity building 101 for the next 5 years and if you are a leader who has no idea of what I am even talking about, find the solution and pivot.

It is safe to say that 2021, like 2008, has left an indelible mark on the nonprofit sector and how we respond now that it is not a blip is crucial. Catalyst Consulting Services is here to help with finding you the right talent to strengthening your infrastructure to relational fundraising. We are here to facilitate positive change for your organization.


Michelle Turman, MA, CFRE is the CEO of Catalyst Consulting Services whose mission is to facilitate positive change for nonprofits in the areas of executive searches, organizational management, and fundraising. With over twenty-seven years of nonprofit experience, Turman has been responsible for increasing the impact and best practices of nonprofit organizations she serves and has raised over $75 million for the Tampa Bay community through her professional and personal philanthropic efforts.

Turman is author of the best-selling book, Jumping the Queue – Achieving Great Things Before You Are Ready which focuses on how professionals can seize personal and professional opportunities, achieve great things, and get what they want and deserve. In addition to facilitating change nationally and in the Tampa Bay area, Michelle’s community service has included leadership roles on the boards of the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Charitable Gift Planners of Tampa Bay, Donate Life America, YMCA and University of South Florida’s Deans Advisory Council for the College of Arts & Sciences, and Working Women of Tampa Bay Foundation.

Turman has been recognized by Tampa Bay Metro Magazine as one of Tampa Bay’s Distinguished Women in Business and the Face of Nonprofit Change, nominated by Tampa Bay Business Journal as Business Woman of the Year in 2007, 2016 and 2017 and was recently nominated by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce as The Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year for 2018.