Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Recruiting for Nonprofits: What We've Learned

In the last 12 months, Captain Recruiter has filled 17 positions for Kiva, a rapidly growing nonprofit based here in San Francisco, CA and our first nonprofit client. Working with Kiva, we’ve learned a lot about what makes nonprofit recruiting unique, and no it's not that their salaries are lower!

There tends to be two main demographics of people who apply to nonprofits. The first are the wide-eyed, world-saving folks that most of us think of when we hear the word “nonprofit.” They are passionate and motivated, but they may not be particularly realistic about what they can expect from a job or company, and usually have no idea what their own strengths and limitations are. As a recruiter, these guys can be difficult to assess—they might have dreams of ending world poverty through microfinancing, but can they also code PHP in their sleep?

The second big demographic looking for work with nonprofits is people at the other end of their careers. These are people who have spent most of their careers working for decent to generous pay in positions that utilized their skills, but maybe not their hearts. It’s easy to undervalue these candidates’ good intentions because they may not be as vocally impassioned as the fresh graduates, but they may feel just as strongly about the mission, and they are seasoned professionals with advanced skills to match.

Regardless of background, the overwhelming majority of nonprofit applicants do care deeply about the organization and the mission in general. These people are the lifeblood of the nonprofit world, and they must be treated with respect, even if they can’t be hired. They feel they have a personal connection to the nonprofit, and so communication is key-- reach out to each individual you must reject, and let the down easy. For many applicants, the recruiter they speak to may be the only human contact they ever have with this nonprofit—if they have a poor experience, they may abandon their connection forever. This means lost donations, lost volunteer hours, and negative word of mouth for your client.

Nonprofits have a reputation for offering salaries well below market rate. In a lot of cases this is true, but many nonprofits can actually offer a competitive or even above-market package. It’s important to communicate clearly and as early as possible what a general salary range might be, but it doesn’t need to be stressed ad nauseam. There’s no need to be self-conscious about your salary range-- if the applicant is aware of what she might be offered and still chooses to proceed with the hiring process, be confident she feels it’s worth it.

We now work with a number of nonprofits, and every one is unique in its own way. As with any company, it takes a little time to get to know exactly what they’re about and what they’re looking for. But, nonprofit recruiting can also be a lot of fun—seldom will you speak to such a diverse and well-informed pool of applicants, and when you finally find the right match, you can take a little world-saving credit yourself.

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