Is Hiring a Search Firm Right for Your Organization?

Jamie Perry
January 11, 2022

Employers are struggling to fill positions right now. You’ve likely seen the evidence somewhere in your daily life: a local restaurant reducing their hours or even closing down temporarily. Your child’s school switching to virtual learning due to staffing shortages. Your own nonprofit cutting back on services or struggling with staff burnout. 

The U.S. has never seen so many open jobs at one time; as of November 2021, there were 10.6 million job openings in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

If your organization is struggling to replace talent you’ve lost over the past year, you might be wondering if hiring a search firm is right for you. As you know, a well-done search is a demanding process that requires a lot of time and resources. 

Many folks who have never worked with a search firm before are now exploring that option to reduce the burden on their team and find the right fit to move their mission forward–on the first try. 

If you’re debating whether you should hire a search firm or continue working to hire the right person internally, read our top 4 factors to consider before making a decision: 

  1. Your time and capacity. As you know, searches take a lot of time and energy. From writing the job description to promoting the position to interviewing to reference checking, a well-done search can take you away from your day-to-day duties. Prepare to spend as much as 25% of your week on search duties. If that sounds daunting or unrealistic for you and your team, you might benefit from partnering with a search firm.

  2. Your budget. Many nonprofits assume they can’t afford to hire a search firm. While this may be true for some organizations, for others it may make sense considering the time they save on performing search duties and the expertise of the search executives, which can lead to a better hire sooner.

    Keep in mind: not every search is financed in the same way. Some firms perform a retained search, charging a percentage of the annual first year compensation for the position (typically 30-33%) or a flat fee. A contingency search goes unpaid until a candidate actually accepts the organization’s offer, putting more risk to the recruiter than the organization. Lastly, some firms provide hourly services, which can be a more affordable option for organizations who need assistance with only certain search functions.
  1. Your timeline. Search firms tend to fill nonprofit executive positions within 3-6 months. Of course, this timeline is not set in stone and depends on the type of organization, the position, the salary, and the location. Organizations who conduct searches in-house may operate on a slower timeline due to competing priorities.

  2. Your hiring experience. Let’s face it: filling a mid- to senior-level nonprofit position can be very challenging if you have not done it before and do not have a strong, established network. However, if you’ve done this before and have all the pieces in place for a successful search, we recommend you try filling the position on your own for at least two months! If you’ve had no strong candidates at that point, it may be time to consider a search firm.

Ready to work with a search firm? Don’t start those conversations without downloading our freebie, 12 Questions to Ask a Search Firm. These questions will help you determine if the search firm has the skills to successfully complete the search and understands your organization’s mission and candidate goals!

If you’re struggling to find your next nonprofit leader, Evolve Search is here to help. Contact Jamie Perry, Executive Search Consultant, at to get started.