NGOs hire corporate big guns to drive overhaul, senior pros help build capacity & competency

 MUMBAI: A few months ago, Shripad Desai made a radical shift - he joined the non-profit AmeriCares India, as its new managing director, after 20 years in the corporate sector. Desai, who earlier headed sales, marketing and strategic planning for Chiron Panacea Vaccines in Mumbai, will now oversee AmeriCares' aid programmes.

Desai's induction is part of a larger churn in the not-for-profit sector. Over the past six months, the country's 5,000 largest NGOs have hired nearly a 100 people - close to half of these from the private sector - in senior management roles, according to Third Sector Partners, a boutique search firm specialising in top management searches for NGOs. As Indian corporates prepare to pump in 2% of their net profit into the development sector, they will increasingly demand professionalism and better project reporting standards from their NGO partners. 

There has been an increase in the number of people from the corporate sector being hired by large non-profit organisations, says 
Pari Jhaveri, founder-director, Third Sector Partners. Over the past seven years, her organisation has placed over 600 people in the not-for-profit sector in senior management. 

The need for capacity and competency building in planning, execution and implementation is driving the talent search. "To work with corporates, NGOs need to work like them. There is a lot of emphasis on streamlining operations and scaling up projects," says Pushpa Aman Singh, 
CEO of 
GuideStar India, an NGO database portal. 

The NGO sector has so far focused on fundraising, but once the funds come in, very little attention is given to donors, says Desai. He has already commissioned a complete overhaul of programme development and donor management. 

NGOs and foundations are being flooded with calls from corporates for help with re-doing their existing CSR strategies and implementing large projects. 

Samhita, the non-profit arm of the 
Nadathur Group promoted by NS Raghavan, the co-founder of InfosysBSE 1.29 %, has been getting requests from big-ticket clients like Vodafone, the Ajay Piramal Group and Johnson and Johnson, wanting to strategies on their CSR projects at a pan-India level. "They are looking for similar NGOs with a national footprint and reach, but few exist," says Priya Naik, founder and joint managing director. Samhita helps build capacity for NGOs, links companies with them and provides CSR advisory services for corporate clients. 

Krishnan Neelakantan joined Samhita as the new managing director 20 days ago. He is the former head of equity research at CLSA. With 17 years in the financial markets, Neelakantan started contemplating a switch to the non-profit space to make a development impact. Last year, he went on a six-month sabbatical from CLSA and started meeting NGOs and various philanthropic foundations. He came across Samhita, and found a perfect fit. His new responsibility involves shoring up Samhita's corporate advisory vertical and streamlining internal operations. 

When Neelakantan was contemplating this move, he recognised the fact that the compensation in this sector would be much lower. "I have taken a significant pay cut, but it will not make a huge difference to my lifestyle because I am not working at a grassroots NGO," says Neelakantan. 

Jhaveri says the highest-paid people in this sector are the fund-raisers who come in at the level of director and can earn between 18 lakh and 30 lakh a year. For CEO positions, the packages vary between 18 lakh and 22 lakh for NGOs with a turnover of 5 crore to 8 crore. 

"People moving from the corporate to the NGO sector take a pay cut between 10% and 70%," says Shalabh Sahai, co-founder of, recruitment website for the social sector. 

Desai of AmeriCares says his switch to the non-profit sector got him a marginal hike. "If you have a good funder, salaries are pretty good. NGOs are looking at investing in people as resources to materialise their strategy," says Desai. The greatest challenge NGOs face is people, hiring and retaining talent. 

With big money poised to enter this space the tides are turning as NGOs are increasingly looking at people talent as an investment.