Boyden Executive Search

Boyden’s Alicen Sibly discusses the culture of social impact organizations and what it takes to lead when mission delivery is the primary focus.

By Alicen Sibly

A companion piece to Leadership Series, Explore the Boyden View puts the spotlight on in-house experts from Boyden offices around the world, who share their perspectives on issues relevant to the current edition of Leadership Series.

For more detailed insights, read the full Leadership Series interview with Jim Gibbons, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries International.


Alicen Sibly is a Managing Partner of Boyden United States and a member of the firm’s Global Social Impact Practice.

Boyden: What skills are important for successful social impact leadership?

Sibly: Social impact organizations are marked by a unique and refreshing culture that is apparent throughout the organization, from the receptionist’s desk all the way to the boardroom.

This culture is focused on mission delivery above all else, where leaders are only concerned with revenue maximization for the sake of serving the cause, not themselves. For these reasons, social impact leaders must be extremely selfless and mission-driven. 

Boyden: Though there are skills specific to social impact leadership, are management skills transferable from a for-profit company to a social impact entity?

Sibly: A strong, passionate social impact executive originally from the private sector can be extremely effective in the not-for-profit space by bringing diversity of thought, a virtue that is valued and sought-after across industries.

Boyden: How can leaders, particularly in social impact organizations, work to build and differentiate their corporate culture?

Sibly: Despite working with limited funds, not-for-profit organizations have the potential to be trendsetters due to the diversity of thought in their boardrooms.

Though not-for-profit board members are unpaid, they are charged with great responsibility and tasked with identifying leaders from different backgrounds to join the board. A diverse and active board of directors can offer fresh ideas to the CEO and thereby transform and differentiate the organization at large.

Boyden: Compensation in social impact has grown, but is remuneration still an issue in attracting top talent?

Sibly: Compensation aside, the most successful not-for-profit executives will always be those who have a true passion for their organization’s mission. On one side of the spectrum, tenured not-for-profit executives are accustomed to social impact compensation norms.

On the other side, many private sector executives have secured their retirements and are exiting high-paying assignments to move toward a personally rewarding chapter in their lives marked by social impact. Between these two profiles, attracting top talent in the sector is achievable.

Boyden: What is a current trend in social impact leadership?

Sibly: During the throes of the great recession, executives were reluctant to retire and remained stationed in their positions for longer than they originally intended.

Now that the market has recovered, executives are once again financially comfortable with the prospect of retiring. About a year ago private sector CEOs began retiring and not-for-profit executives are now following in this path.

Boyden: How have social impact organizations influenced private sector trends?

Sibly: Many Fortune 500 companies have recently brought social impact in house by creating internal foundations. In doing so, these companies are able to make a larger impact on a select cause that aligns with their business and corporate mission.

Additionally, these large private sector companies have support staff to assist executives in obtaining not-for-profit board seats to groom these future leaders and expose them to new situations and processes.

Boyden: As CSR activities have become increasingly important in the corporate world, how have partnerships between not-for-profit and for-profit companies evolved?

Sibly: The relationship between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations has evolved from a line item on corporate taxes to true partnerships.

The interaction between these two sectors has moved beyond simple cash donations, toward product and service donations and aligned marketing strategies that allow for-profit companies to promote their aligned not-for-profit organization. This allows non-profits to enjoy discounted marketing while for-profits can emphasize their commitment to the selected cause.

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