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A Passion- and Empathy-Driven Search for GreenLight Fund

Executive search is often about finding people who share your organization's values, and can infuse those values throughout the workplace in tangible ways. 

The Organization: GreenLight Fund

GreenLight Fund (GreenLight) addresses barriers to economic mobility for children, youth and families in high-poverty urban areas by creating local infrastructure and a consistent process to:

  • identify critical needs
  • implement innovative, entrepreneurial programs that have measurable impact, and
  • galvanize local support to help programs reach and sustain impact in new cities

Since its inception 17 years ago, GreenLight has grown to 30 employees and 10 sites across the U.S., with plans to expand to additional cities in the next few years.

The organization's unique approach, dubbed the GreenLight Method, begins by engaging with the community and forming a community-based Selection Advisory Council, which GreenLight partners with to identify unmet needs and strengths locally and identify the best nonprofits and programs that can help foster meaningful change.

GreenLight, which assisted more than 380,000 children and families last year, is poised for continued growth, with a focus on deepening community impact and forming strategic partnerships to generate momentum. Racial equity takes center stage in all its initiatives.

The Need: Find the Right Candidate for a Crucial New Position

GreenLight Fund seeks to scale to new cities and raise its profile nationally to secure partnerships and unlock new sources of funding.

In order to grow successfully, Greenlight needed new talent--namely a VP-level individual with relevant experience and the necessary business strategy skills.

The VP of People, Equity, and Culture position would be responsible for the vital racial equity initiatives outlined in the plan--which fell under its HR function--but also required a leader who would be seen as a strategic partner. Beyond deep HR experience and the ability to continue building a strong culture of equity internally, the candidate needed to embrace a truly "hands-on" approach to applying GreenLight's values in every aspect of the job.

The Approach: Use GreenLight’s Mission to Attract the Right People

The first step was to understand the organization’s needs and CEO Margaret Hall’s vision for the role, which guided the search, informed interview questions and evaluation forms, and helped develop a case study interview process piece that incorporated the skills required. 

Beyond a well-rounded HR leader with a deep understanding of racial equity and the impact of systems of oppression in poverty-stricken communities, Hall envisioned a VP that also grasped the dynamics of a nonprofit organization, was passionate about GreenLight's mission, and could collaborate well with the team and its stakeholders. 

Enspira then tailored the sourcing and screening process to find candidates that demonstrated competency in the role's most critical aspects, and identified those who best embodied the GreenLight mission in their work.

Besides their leadership or HR capabilities, the role required someone who shared GreenLight's values, and could infuse those values throughout the organization in tangible ways. The ideal candidate needed to have experienced the impact of racial inequities personally, and could therefore weave strategic initiatives into the GreenLight culture with empathy and determination.

While it's uncommon for sourcing processes to focus so strongly on personal background, particularly regarding racial inequity, Enspira thoughtfully incorporated that thread from start to finish to ensure a successful search.

Competitive salaries present another challenge for nonprofits, which can rarely match those offered by larger, for-profit companies. Therefore, it was even more critical that Enspira align every search aspect with GreenLight's mission, in order to attract candidates who prioritized a company’s purpose and values over compensation.

“Early on, we were getting far too many for-profit candidates, and those who had a more traditional approach to DEI. With the final two candidates, we really hit the mark - they had big organization experience, but were able to translate that into a nonprofit context. They had a deep passion for DEI, and GreenLight's mission was a perfect fit with their values.”

The Result: Two Ideal Candidates for the Role

While Hall and GreenLight as a whole were new to the executive search process, with Enspira's partnership they were able to design and implement a highly customized approach that identified two highly qualified and motivated candidates, and ultimately resulted in the hiring of the perfect person for the job. 

Conclusion: The Key is in the Outreach

Enspira’s search was rooted in the GreenLight Fund's mission, and therefore successfully resonated with the right candidates. The lesson: generic outreach for key positions rarely yields the best results. Successful recruitment must be carefully tailored to an organization's specific needs, as well as the values and skills of prospective talent.

the team
Alan Mait
President, Search
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