While every business faces unique challenges in their hiring process, none have quite the same array of difficulty as the non-profit sector. Hiring in non-profits is often restricted by tight budgets, meaning many of those working in the non-profit sector do so with low salaries. They stay in it “for the love of the game,” so to speak; many are even volunteers, not employees.
Burnout has been rising amongst non-profit workers for decades. Recent crises in world health, politics, and judicial bias have made it more difficult than ever for many activists to maintain high spirits. There seems to be little or no reward for many of those working in the thankless realm of the non-profit sector.
If you’re in charge of hiring for a non-profit operation, you want to gather the best candidates you can find. However, you’re likely working under tight restrictions. Likewise, the people seeking jobs in the non-profit sector have desires, interests, and goals of their own, which may make it difficult to find people with long-term prospects. The stark truth is that many non-profit employees only stay in any given role for 2-3 years.
Luckily, with the proper perspective and a few tricks of the trade, you can kick your non-profit hiring to the next level and achieve greater alignment rates, longer careers, and better overall outcomes.
Here are the 7 best practices for hiring non-profit organization employees.
#1: Strongly Emphasize Values and Mission
Some people go through their lives and careers seeking nothing more than money. To them, work is a transaction; they sell their time and their energy for the money they need to live and thrive.
Others go through life with a mission. They don’t want to “just” make a salary to survive; they want to tangibly change the world for the better.
This second group of people tend to care a lot more about the culture, values, and mission of any organization they work for. Many of them will value working for a proactively beneficial organization over an organization that will pay them more but accomplish less. These people will also typically reject working for organizations and companies they feel are unethical.
This is an opportunity. As a non-profit organization, you are most likely deeply involved in activism, whether it’s on a global scale or a scale focused solely on your local community. Whether you’re working towards prison abolition, reforestation, an end to factory farming, or support of the oppressed, there are people out there whose passion aligns with your organization’s mission.
When recruiting for a non-profit and producing copy for that recruitment, you need to emphasize your values, mission, goals, and outlook.
- State your overall mission clearly and precisely.
- Promote the organization’s values as a whole, and of the individuals you already have on staff.
- Discuss the values, outlook, and drive you want your ideal candidates to have.
- Showcase examples of your successes, projects, and outreach your organization has accomplished.
All of this is meant to do one thing: build a robust, tangible picture of the organization and the good it does. This helps to attract the people most interested in your area of activism.
#2: Make Use of Non-Profit Hiring Websites
Every industry and niche has its selection of job and career websites. As a non-profit, you have access to a range of specific sites and networks you can leverage for your recruiting.
Here’s a list of both standard and niche sites to consider:
- LinkedIn. Networking via LinkedIn is very powerful, and the network tends to be an excellent resource for building both networking connections and referrals. More on that later.
- LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn has a system of group communities, which are often focused on a specific topic. You can create your own based on your area of focus or join those that align with your own and see if anyone is interested in joining your team.
- The Big Names. The largest job search portals, such as Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster, and CareerBuilder, are perfectly acceptable. They may not be focused on non-profit work, but they have such large audiences that you’re going to find some interested people regardless.
- Idealist. Idealist is probably the number one non-profit job portal online. They’re also multi-language and host career fairs regularly, further expanding your candidate pool.
- National Council of Nonprofits Career Center. As a national organization, this site has access to a broad pool of possible applicants. It also maintains many other resources that can be useful to a non-profit, so if you don’t already have a relationship with your local branch, this is an excellent opportunity to build one.
- Foundation List. Another sizable national resource for non-profit job seekers. You gain access to a broad candidate pool for various causes.
- Devex. This group is primarily focused on international NGOs, so while they maintain a presence in the U.S., they may be best for international organizations.
- Bridgespan. The Bridgespan Group is a great resource for non-profits. However, they tend to focus most on the coordinator, board-level, CEO, and other upper-level positions rather than ground-level roles.
This list is just a selection of the sites available to a non-profit organization seeking new employees and volunteers. Whether you need to fill a board of directors or pick up a grant writer and fundraising expert, there are people out there of all levels using these sites and networks to find their next career.
#3: Actively Encourage Word of Mouth Referrals
People tend to build social circles centered around common interests and common ground. Sometimes, this means a shared hobby, the shared class for their children, or a shared community around a cultural interest. More often, though, people will build social circles around their passions and careers.
That means that each employee you hire is, themselves, a resource. Chances are pretty good that they have friends, acquaintances, and connections to social groups focused on the same area of activism as your organization. After all, if they’re passionate about it, they’re probably doing more than just participating in your organization. They’re posting online, joining online groups, and socializing with others with shared interests.
When you have an opening to fill, circulate it internally and ask anyone in your organization to refer anyone they know who might be interested in the role. You can then give any referred applicants a closer look; employees who have a built-in social connection when they are hired tend to last longer and work more productively, so it’s of net benefit to hire people with referred connections.
#4: Look to Fill Higher-Level Roles Internally First
The truth is, one of the strongest assets any non-profit has at its disposal is itself. Any time you have an opening to fill in the mid-level or higher range (from coordinators to directors to board to CEO), consider looking internally.
“‘All good organizations look to promote first before they look to hire; it’s smart business, it’s good for morale, and it’s cost-effective,’ said Friel. However, as organizations get bigger, promoting gets more difficult. ‘The bigger the organization gets, the more likely the talent will get hidden away,’ said Friel. Organizations can lose track of “young stars,” or department heads may not be willing to give up exceptional talent. ‘In a good organization, you look across the organization and move people around to their greatest need, and you give people opportunities to get promoted.’” – Tom Friel, via The Bridgespan Group.
Promoting from within helps with retention and career satisfaction, maintains institutional knowledge and personal connections, and helps maintain continuity. It also shuffles a job opening downwards, and lower-level positions are often easier (and less expensive) to fill than upper-level positions. Plus, having worked with the individual for months or years before the promotion, you already have a solid grasp of their abilities, proclivities, and talents, so you can more accurately judge how well they will fit in a higher-level role.
#5: Be Realistic and Up Front with Compensation Packages
Appropriate compensation is one of the most significant challenges a non-profit organization faces.
On the one hand, to maintain status as an effective organization, you want to put as high a percentage of your income as you can towards your activism to do the most good with the money you have available. All too often, charities, NGOs, and non-profits fall into the corporate trap of over-paying executives and under-paying ground-level workers who keep the organization running. It’s why sites like Charity Navigator exist to rank and grade organizations based on how much of their overall income and donations they spend on executive salaries.
The truth is, a non-profit role will rarely be genuinely competitive in terms of salary. That’s why our #1 tip is to focus on the mission, values, and tangible benefit the organization brings to the world. To an extent, your employees will need to be invested due to their morals, ethics, and drive to better the world rather than their goal of making money.
Set a firm upper limit on your salary and look for opportunities for benefits that can be compelling to potential hires. For example, remote work, sponsored childcare, education assistance, flexible hours, and even extra vacation time can all be notable benefits for your potential employees.
#6: Keep in Touch with Candidates You Pass Over
The people you don’t hire are nearly as important as those you do.
“Say thank you to those who helped and to the candidates who weren’t chosen. “You may want to go back to both in the future,” said Friel. A well-conducted search should make the organization friends, not enemies.” – Tom Friel, the Bridgespan Group.
When you hire for a position, you build a candidate pool of qualified individuals who are in the running for it. You can only hire one (or two, or however many open roles you have), but you have more people in the pipeline who could be perfectly qualified for the position as well. Keep this candidate pool warm.
There’s always room for the situation to change. Maybe a higher-level role opens up, and you promote someone, opening up a position one of those candidates would be perfect to fill. Maybe the person you hire doesn’t work out or needs to leave for personal reasons unrelated to the role. Maybe someone else departs the organization, and you need to fill their shoes. Regardless of the reason, maintaining an active candidate pool allows you to fill those roles quickly.
The two most important things to do are:
- Thank the candidates who don’t make the cut, inform them that the position is filled, but let them know that they’re first in line if another one opens up.
- Maintain contact with the candidates on an ongoing basis, even with something as simple as a monthly newsletter.
This way, these people are primed and ready to go if you need a new employee and think they can fill the role. Of course, the longer it has been since they applied, the more likely they are to have found work elsewhere and may no longer be interested in your organization. Pool decay is a natural part of hiring, but it’s still better than abandoning the pool and starting over each time.
#7: Keep the Motor Running
Hiring ebbs and flows. Sometimes, you’ll only have the opportunity to hire a few new people throughout the year. Other times, you may have dozens of positions to fill in a matter of weeks.
If you only rev up your hiring process when you have an active need for a candidate, your time-to-fill will skyrocket. Instead, keep your hiring channels open and your ear to the ground, even when you’re not actively hiring, to keep that candidate pool fresh and warm. That way, when you need to fill open positions, you can do so quickly and easily.
Hiring for a non-profit organization is a unique challenge, but one that can be met with strategic thinking and a deep understanding of what drives individuals to commit to such meaningful work. By emphasizing your organization’s values and mission, making smart use of specialized hiring websites, encouraging word-of-mouth referrals, considering internal candidates for higher roles, being upfront about compensation, keeping in touch with past candidates, and maintaining an active hiring process, you can attract and retain the passionate, dedicated individuals who are the lifeblood of any successful non-profit.
Remember, the individuals you are looking to hire are those driven by a sense of purpose and a desire to make a real difference. By focusing on these aspects, you create a magnetic pull for the right kind of talent. It’s about creating an environment where their passion for change is recognized and nurtured.
Furthermore, always approach the hiring process with empathy and understanding. The people you are looking to hire are often those who are putting their ideals and values above personal gain. They are the ones who will carry your organization’s mission forward, who will fight tirelessly for the cause, and who will inspire others to join in the effort.
Do you need help with hiring non-profit organization employees? Contact our team today and we will gladly help you.
Page updated on January 24, 2024.