Q&A: How Richard Green built a respected brand
In light of NGO Recruitment’s 15-year anniversary, founder Richard Green reminisces on the early days and reveals how he built a respected brand within the not-for-profit sector.
What originally inspired you to carve out a career in the not-for-profit sector?
RG: When I was in my twenties, I spent a year in Europe and remember being horrified about emerging pollution concerns such as acid rain. The prospect of this happening here in Australia was really alarming. I came back to Sydney with a drive to work for an environmental cause in some way. And when I moved just around the corner from Greenpeace I took it as a sign to find out more.
In retrospect, my subsequent fundraising role for Greenpeace was an incredible first step into the not-for-profit sector. I honestly couldn’t have had a better experience. As well as being progressive environmentally, Greenpeace is also very progressive when it comes to raising money given it relies 100% on fundraising revenue. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my exposure to best practice fundraising at Greenpeace influenced the rest of my 15-year career with NGOs such as UNICEF and later when recruiting fundraisers for the not-for-profit sector.
How and why did you go on to establish NGO Recruitment?
I was working as a fundraising consultant for the Fred Hollows Foundation and when it was time to handover my strategy they asked, ‘Do you know anyone who could actually implement this? Could you recruit someone for us?’ And as it happened, my brother Michael ran a recruitment company and I thought why not? So, in partnership with Michael, the Fred Hollows Foundation became my first client. And things just snowballed from there.
How was the market at the time? Were there lots of opportunities?
In the early days, there were a couple of established not-for-profit recruiters in Victoria given there’s a bigger culture of philanthropy in and around Melbourne. But in Sydney, we had no direct competitors. I knew there was an opportunity to specialise in this sector and to offer real fundraising recruitment and consultancy expertise.
There was a lot of business development and the biggest challenge was convincing not-for-profits that it was actually worth investing in quality recruitment. But as the sector matured and it became harder to find the right people with the right skills, it soon became clear NGO Recruitment could deliver. It took a bit of convincing and yes, there was a commercial fee, but our candidates were worth the expense. Once we got into a bit of a rhythm, one success fed into the next.
Why do you think NGO Recruitment is now such a well-respected sector partner?
People come to us and want our advice, and we have upfront discussions about what’s best for their organisation. Essentially, we’re treated by our clients like a consultancy, not just a recruitment agency.
We also have a deep understanding of the organisational culture of our clients. This means we can accurately assess cultural fit as well as technical skills which makes a big difference to the success of a hire. We now have so many longstanding client relationships that sometimes we’re the only constant from a recruitment perspective within a client organisation. After 15 years, we often know more about the history of a CEO than the current board.
We’ve also recruited broadly across the many not-for-profit subsectors and are now renowned for our depth and breadth of sector knowledge. Our specialist fundraising recruitment expertise, not only in Sydney but also now in Melbourne and Brisbane, also means we’re able to identify the types of fundraising skills many organisations require to be financially stable. We also do this at a wider recruitment level too across all skillsets but I think this is how my early career really influenced the success of NGO Recruitment. It’s been a big part of the last 15 years.
What have been some of your greatest achievements?
Every time we make a placement, I honestly feel like it’s a great achievement. Over the years and with each placement, we’ve slowly built a respected brand trusted by a sector which can, at times, be understandably cautious when partnering with external suppliers. For me, that’s my greatest achievement. Since 2004, we’ve placed over 3,000 high quality people who are working tirelessly to improve our society, the vast majority of which were unlikely to have been found by our clients via their own recruitment efforts. I’m also really proud of currently employing 15 extremely talented and dedicated people who are all working towards the same shared goals.
So, what’s next for NGO Recruitment?
The ongoing skills shortage makes it very hard for not-for-profits to find good people by themselves. In a challenging talent short market, I’ve no doubt NGO Recruitment will continue to provide a valuable service. Not-for-profit organisations have responded to us so positively over the years and know there’s a real benefit in working with us to find hard to find people.
We’ll therefore continue to grow organically as new opportunities present themselves. And remain focused on maintaining our high service levels and positive consultative approach. We’re looking forward to seeing what the next 15 years brings.