Looking For Employees For Your Nonprofit?

With unemployment hovering near historic lows, competition for new hires is heating up. The pool of available talent seems to be shrinking. That inevitably puts pressure on the nonprofit sector, when it struggles to compete against for-profits on paychecks.

That pressure is almost certainly being felt among non-profits in Washington and Oregon which, between them, account for more than 400,000 not-for-profit employees.

nonprofit oregon

So, what can a nonprofit organization do to raise its game in this tight job market?


The most obvious approach is to play to your strengths. You may not be able to compete on pure salary levels but there could be opportunities to create an overall attractive package by including other items or demonstrating flexibility in your employment policy.

For example, If you can’t compete on pay, can you compete on perks? “There are benefits that have great value to a candidate,” says Tom Friel, former

CEO and chairman of the nonprofit Bridgespan Group.

For example, occasional working from home, daycare, additional vacation time, or even offering a candidate the freedom to earn additional income beyond their job.

Another potential competitive edge could be the reputation and culture of your organization. It’s worth investing the time and effort to raising the profile of your organization in a positive way.

Look for example at the current list of organizations that feature in the list of “100 Best Nonprofit Workplaces” published by Oregon Business

Magazine, or the nonprofits section of the “100 Best Companies to Work Forproduced by Seattle Business magazine.

You might even think about contacting key people in some of these organizations to learn more about what they do to enhance their images.


Another key aspect of a successful recruitment policy is having a clear recruitment strategy, both for the organization as a whole and for individual campaigns.

Unfortunately, this is an area where some not-for-profit organizations have fallen seriously short. Take a medium to long view on the job implications of your nonprofit organizational strategy to identify gaps in current skills sets and begin the process of building a talent pipeline.

Tom Friel notes: “A lot of organizations hire for a perceived need without doing it against the background of understanding what the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and the staff are, particularly against that need.”

In other words, make sure you’re hiring the employees you need. The smaller your organization, the less you can afford to get things wrong.

You need a documented, structured hiring process that includes details of where you will look, your budget, advertising targets, your timetable and the creation of job descriptions. This can then be applied to each recruitment campaign.

Also, ensure your interviewers are properly trained both to interview effectively and to “sell” your nonprofit organization. Online feedback suggests this is a particular weakness in the not-for-profit sector with interviewers lacking clarity, duplicating questions or focusing too much on selling the organization and simply not asking enough questions.


Are you adequately tracking and training your home-grown talent for potential promotions? Also, can you talk to them about their own contacts, asking whether they know of individuals who might make suitable hires?

Position your current staff in a way that will unlock their potential. Determine whether your team members are performing below, at, or above their current responsibilities,” says Elizabeth Chung from leading online fundraising platform Classy.

“Then consider whether they can succeed in an advanced role. You should also ask your staff about their own aspirations. Continue to develop their skillsets.”

And what about your volunteers — might any of them be looking for a paid role or do they know someone who is?


Other things you can do to enhance your chances of employing the right people include:

  • Review past recruitment successes. Which ad media and job sites were used and which attracted the best candidate?
  • Separate the “must-haves” from the “nice-to-haves” in terms of
    job requirement qualifications. For a particular job, draw up a list of the absolute essentials. Do candidates really need those professional qualifications? Exactly what depth of experience is essential?
  • Don’t be tempted to roll several responsibilities into a single job. This is common among non-profits but generally not appealing to job candidates. Even if they initially accept this, they’ll quickly feel overworked and lacking in focus. They won’t hang around.
  • Seek feedback from candidates on their interview experience and their observation about your organization and the people they met. Encourage frankness. This will stand you in good stead for future campaigns.
  • Look beyond your sector, even beyond the not-for-profit world, especially if you’re looking for specific business skills rather than experience in your particular area.

Look at the staff bios on most nonprofits, and you’ll see that corporate pedigrees are rare,” says consultant Curtis Chang in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “But while nonprofits don’t have the pay to drive recruiting, they usually offer a better cause and more flexible lifestyle — both significant (and under-leveraged) assets in attracting talent. But the bigger point is that nonprofits just aren’t trying. They’re not looking beyond their own industry, and so their talent pool is always going to be thin.”

  • Keep track of good candidates who don’t make the final cut or who don’t have the requisite skills for a particular opening. Thank them for attending and ask if you can stay in touch in case suitable openings occur in the future. They may be invaluable later and could form part of your talent pool.

Finally, no matter how desperate you feel to fill an opening, don’t rush into a hire. Maybe outsource for the short-term or reward current employees for taking on additional temporary responsibilities. Be sure to do your due diligence in terms of checking credentials and taking up references.

And in your desperation, don’t fall into the trap that a promising but unqualified candidate can be molded into the role. “This aspirational thinking is … the recipe for making bad hires,” says consultant Curtis Chang.

“In my experience, the post-mortem on some bad hires often involves the phrase, ‘She can grow into this role from the hiring process.”


Of course, it’s not all about recruitment. A sound HR strategy includes employee retention. Is it time to ask yourself whether your nonprofit organization is doing enough to keep its high performers?


  • How is your work environment? Is it open and friendly, encouraging feedback and ideas? Is it clean and comfortable? What can you do to improve the culture?
  • Do you give credit for good performance and new ideas? Organization-wide acknowledgment is every bit as important as a raise or promotion.
  • How accessible are you and your leaders? If you’re regarded as sitting in an ivory tower, don’t be surprised if some of your people, including the senior team, are plotting an escape.
  • What are you doing to support and train your most promising employees?
  • Is work-from-home on your agenda? It’s high on the list of most employees wants. Could you action this, even on a limited basis?

Recruitment and retention are likely to become even more demanding in the future. Taking the time now to establish a long-term strategy for your organization could ultimately be the key to its success.

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