nonprofit HR management

Nonprofit HR management: recruiting talent when money is tight

Nonprofits have an interesting challenge when it comes to recruiting and hiring.

If you’re in nonprofit HR management, you may be resource constrained – meaning you don’t have:

  • Large budgets to hire outside recruiters
  • In-house recruiters who can lead your search for new employees

Also, many times the compensation you can offer candidates is less than what someone in a similar role could earn at a for-profit institution.

So, how should you go about recruiting?

Let’s look at some nonprofit recruiting strategies that can help you work through these challenges, including:

  • Knowing your employer value proposition as a nonprofit
  • Building a mission-driven hiring process
  • Finding talented candidates who are passionate about your mission
  • Overcoming common obstacles to nonprofit job offer acceptance

Recognize your hiring advantage as a nonprofit

At your organization, you may not have the ability to offer competitive benefits and pay. But let’s isolate all compensation factors for now.

Beyond total compensation, as a nonprofit, you have something to offer that is very desirable to many job seekers – the possibility of waking up every day and doing something that makes a difference.

This should be the key value proposition you present to potential employees.

Because your organization provides its employees with the opportunity to make a unique impact, your recruiting efforts should highlight that.

If you take your mission statement and put the words “opportunity to” in front of it, you’ve found your specific employer value proposition.

When you acknowledge the extraordinary value of doing meaningful work as a career and emphasize it, then:

  • Candidates can connect with your mission on a deeper level.
  • The idea of working for you becomes more compelling through that connection.
  • The other parts of your hiring package may receive less scrutiny.

Weave your mission through your hiring process

Once you know your employer value proposition as a nonprofit, it’s important to put it front and center in as many steps of your hiring process as possible.

1. Employer branding

This transparency should start with your employer branding.

Think of places candidates might be looking online where you can highlight your opportunity to make an impact:

  • At the top your webpage that describes working for your organization
  • In the opening lines of your job ads
  • On social media (e.g., when sharing job openings or testimonials from current employees)

For example, let’s pretend you work for a bee conservancy organization.

At the top of your employment webpage, your headline reads: Together we can empower underserved communities through the power of bees.

From there, you:

  • Explain you’re looking for talented associates who want to be a part of your mission.
  • Highlight how rewarding it can be to create a more sustainable future through bees.
  • Invite potential employees to make a difference with you today.

Remember, these digital spaces may be the first place potential employees’ interact with your organization.

To incorporate your employer value proposition and mission further into your nonprofit hiring process, your managers may need training on:

2. Sourcing and vetting candidates

It goes without saying that many job seekers are motivated by a huge salary.

Yet, others are mission-oriented people who would love the opportunity to make a difference every day at work. As a member of nonprofit HR management, you might need to look beyond the traditional talent pool to find them.

For example, you may be able to connect with passive candidates on networking sites and forums related to the space you work in as a nonprofit. Engage with the people who seem to share your values and invite them to learn more about your opportunity.

Volunteers and board members might know of prospects who share values that align well with your mission, too. As brand ambassadors, they can help widen the pool either through informal social media mentions our more direct actions, such as reaching out to people and inviting them to apply.

Once you begin receiving applications, look for resumes that point to interest in your cause. Sometimes college choice, major or an internship experience will suggest a candidate’s passions align with your mission.

3. Interviews

During interviews, your goal should be to have mission-centered conversations that generate excitement about your job opportunity and gauge a candidate’s commitment to your cause.

Here’s how you can do that:

  1. Begin interviews by sharing your own story – who you are and why the work of your nonprofit was important to you. The goal is to convey your excitement and passion for your mission.
  2. Take time to educate candidates on the importance of your work if needed.
  3. Then ask interviewees to share their story – their experiences that connect to your mission and ask how they got involved.
  4. Look for alignment, and present your job opportunity as a way for them to begin or continue working in their area of passion.
  5. Then, you can start discussing the specifics about the role.
  6. At the end of the interview, if a candidate seems like a good fit, then go over benefits and salary.

Be ready to overcome common obstacles

While pay and benefits are common roadblocks, nonprofits sometimes lose out on good talent for other reasons:

  • Lack of remote work opportunities – Candidates believe they can do a job virtually, but they often aren’t given that option.
  • Inconsistencies – Candidates observe something about an organization’s leadership or culture that doesn’t seem to agree with their mission or values.
  • Lack of access to leadership – Candidates want access to an organization’s leaders and to feel their voices will be heard, but many organizations don’t operate that way.

It’s tough to look into the reasons why someone wouldn’t want to work for you, but it helps to plan ahead before hearing one of these objections first-hand from a candidate.

Get insight into the particular concerns your potential hires may have by:

  • Asking why a job offer wasn’t accepted
  • Reading your reviews online on popular sites (e.g., Glassdoor)
  • Conducting a survey of current employees to take the temperature of your employer brand

With a bit of probing and brainstorming, there may be creative solutions to the obstacles you uncover that aren’t very difficult to implement.

For example:

  • Could you create a few part-time positions instead of a full-time role (so employees could still work another job where they might get benefits)?
  • What small-budget workplace perks could you offer?
  • Could you allow office positions to work remotely 1-3 days a week?

Leap of faith

In nonprofit HR management and recruiting, the key is to lead with your heart – right up front – to capture the interest of your candidates and draw out their passion for your mission.

When you find candidates who are on fire for your cause just like you are, you find people who may be ready to take a leap of faith and pursue a career based on personal fulfillment rather than financial gain.

For more hiring strategies that help you recruit the talent you need to fulfill your mission, download our free magazine: Building a better team: How to attract, recruit and hire top talent.


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