How to approach nonprofit recruitment depends on your organization’s needs, priorities, and growth stage. This statement is not meant to dodge the immediate and urgent question of “how do I recruit the best nonprofit professionals?” Rather, the statement helps you focus on developing an ideal persona of the job candidates that will help your particular nonprofit organization succeed. Let’s take that statement and look at each piece.
Nonprofit Employment Needs
Every business–profit or nonprofit–begins with a core group of employees. At the very beginning, this may just be the founder. Regardless of the starting point, when a nonprofit seeks to add talent to its organization, it should first consider the talent it already possesses. This will prompt a couple questions and considerations:
- Are the people we employ in the right positions? It’s not uncommon for nonprofit job seekers to gravitate towards organizations or missions that resonate with them. This may mean that they take any open position, rather than wait for the right open position. Consider: Is there an existing employee who can fill an urgent talent need better than the one they currently fill? This preliminary consideration will help ensure that recruitment efforts are focused on adding the right nonprofit professionals.
- How will the employee grow with the organization? Employee growth is mostly expected. Job descriptions offer it, and job candidates talk about wanting it. However, it’s helpful to include context and a timeframe to this question. One nonprofit may need someone to build a marketing department over the next five years, while another may need a nonprofit professional to “do marketing” and other operational work indefinitely. Consider: Will the organization offer a growth path for the position? Being clear and honest about the growth potential for a position can help organizations avoid employee turnover or frequent reorganizing of staff roles.
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Nonprofit Talent Priorities
Not all nonprofit organizations are built the same. Just as mission, vision, and values will differ from one organization to another, so too will the priorities. As it relates to nonprofit recruitment, employers will almost always have to make trade-offs during the candidate selection process, and so it helps to prioritize selection criteria to develop a candidate persona in advance. Let’s take a look at a couple criteria for prioritization.
Experience vs. Education
This is a standard consideration for almost any open position, but for nonprofits, the stakes are often higher. It is common for nonprofits to operate on limited resources– the refrain “do more with less” comes to mind. But a couple dangers may exist here.
One is to under-prioritize experience–maybe with the intent to save on salary and utilize “on-the-job” training to fill experience gaps. This can certainly work, but it will require more time to ramp-up a new hire. For smaller organizations or lightly staffed nonprofits, this time investment in training can negatively impact other areas of operations.
Another danger is to under-prioritize education–perhaps done with the assumption that having done the work will always trump knowing how to do the work. Having a “doer” on staff is a great asset…as long as they are doing the right thing, in the right way. Effective applicant screening and candidate interviews can mitigate this danger by verifying that the candidate’s experience comes with quantifiable accomplishments and examples of how the experience matches an organization’s needs.
Nonprofit Professional vs. For-profit Professional
Using again the example of recruiting for a marketing position, an employer could prioritize recruiting a marketing professional, a nonprofit professional who can “do” marketing, or (the gold standard) a nonprofit marketing professional. This is not semantics. Thinking through how these different candidate personas align with the needs of an organization is vital to not just making a good hire, but in making the right hire.
Additionally, prioritizing the skills and experience that an organization requires will tighten the recruitment target and, in turn, produce better candidates and a more efficient hiring process. If a nonprofit truly wants to do more with less, a well-defined recruitment target is essential.
Nonprofit Growth Stage
A nonprofit organization in year-one will need to approach recruitment quite differently than an organization with decades of institutional history. Differences may include the amount of resources (people and capital), organizational structure, community of supporters, network of partners and advisors, and scale of operations.
It is important for an organization to account for these differences as it considers nonprofit recruitment strategies. Strategies are not one-size-fits-all, and any approach to recruitment should aim to leverage existing advantages and resources without requiring significant investment in new ones.
Recruiting Strategies that Scale
It is tempting to follow the lead of larger organizations and attempt to implement their recruitment strategies. After all, those strategies often produce great results in acquiring widely-known and accomplished talent. However, these strategies are not always effective when scaled down to smaller organizations. Trying to do so will create an unnecessary risk of over-investing in a process that under delivers on results. And it cuts both ways too, when larger organizations underinvest by using small-scale strategies in recruitment.
For example, a multi-regional nonprofit may contract with a recruitment firm to fill high-level executive positions. The needs and resources of this large nonprofit may allow for this investment as part of a recruitment strategy. However, a smaller nonprofit would have trouble justifying such an expense, even for a relatively high-level position. It would be better off tapping into its existing network of supporters, advisors, and partners to fill the position.
The goal should not be to hire the most qualified candidate at all costs, but to hire the best candidate for the organization at the right cost.
Defining Your Approach to Nonprofit Recruitment
The unique characteristics of your nonprofit organization will determine your best approach to recruitment. Developing your approach is first a matter of identifying your needs, determining your priorities as it relates to those needs, and creating an ideal persona of the job candidate that will help your organization succeed.
Finally, be sure that your recruitment strategy takes into account your organization’s growth stage–including its size, resources, and scale of operations. Your best approach to nonprofit recruitment should not solely focus on the desired hiring outcome (hiring the best), but also on the desired impact of hiring (advancing your organization’s mission).