With the economy near full employment, employers of all stripes are struggling to fill empty positions. Nonprofits, which frequently offer lower salaries than for-profits, are at a disadvantage. And if you’ve long relied on the appeal of purpose-driven work, you may now have to compete with so-called social innovators that seek both societal good and profits, offering similar opportunities at higher pay. The bottom line: It’s time to take a more formal and aggressive stance when it comes to recruiting and retaining qualified staff.
Employers have traditionally looked to job applicants to sell themselves, but the roles have flipped. In a flush economy, applicants often have multiple offers to choose from, so nonprofits must learn to market their organizations to potential hires.
It’s up to you to make candidates understand just how exceptional your team’s work, the specific position, and your workplace’s culture are. Fill them in on the first projects they’ll encounter, as well as your organization’s goals, so they can envision themselves on the job. Regardless of your mission — somber as it maybe — remember that excitement sells.
At the same time, you still need to find good matches for your organization. One of the best indicators is a candidate’s passion. Search for applicants who’re passionate about your mission, not just nonprofit work in general.
When screening and interviewing, look for evidence of that passion, such as previous volunteer work in that area. Ask where else candidates are interviewing, or at least the types of organizations they’re approaching. Also, pay close attention to their level of engagement: How quickly do they respond to your emails, calls or messages? Have they done their homework on your mission and programs? Do they have questions for you? You’re generally better off finding a committed cultural match and cultivating the necessary skills than vice versa.
Finally, you may need to expand your usual search channels. It’s not enough to post on industry job boards. Leverage social media and employee referrals. Consider veterans, individuals with disabilities and former convicts trying to rebuild their lives. (Some of these may earn you tax credits.) And look internally for employees ready for promotion or with high potential.
Of course, hiring is only part of the battle — you also want to keep great staff onboard. One of the primary reasons today’s employees move on, especially Millennials, is the lack of growth opportunities. Your nonprofit, therefore, should offer staffers ways to enhance their personal and professional development.
Mentoring is one solution. Whether through a formal mentorship program or informal relationships with more experienced colleagues, mentoring is consistently considered a valued employer attribute. New employees like having a champion to turn to, and these relationships help build loyalty, too.
Your organization also can implement “stretch assignments.” These are projects or roles beyond an employee’s current skills or expertise. They could include:
- Ongoing projects, where employees can assume greater responsibilities, or
- One-offs, such as opportunities to represent your organization at a meeting or speak at a conference.
Stretch assignments can benefit both staffers and your nonprofit. Employees gain knowledge, experience, and exposure to new areas. And organizations cultivate employees with the critical skills needed to take on other jobs and leadership positions down the road.
There’s no doubt that staffing poses a more daunting challenge for many nonprofits than it has in the past. However, you can continue to recruit and retain top-notch staff by adjusting your strategies.