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Nonprofit Hiring: How to Overcome the Compensation Crunch

Hiring tips and how-tos are plentiful in today’s digital age. Regardless of how you hire, it’s clear that hiring the “right” people is critical to a company’s success.

At See3, finding the right person goes beyond finding a candidate with the appropriate experience and qualifications. The right candidate for our team of do-gooders has a genuine desire to make the world a better place. But, like many of our partners at nonprofits and social causes, we struggle to compete against larger competitors who are recruiting top-tier talent with top-dollar salaries. While it’s not easy or pleasant to admit, our most frequent challenge in hiring is compensation. This hiring obstacle is shared among most nonprofits and small to mid-size businesses.

The hiring process for nonprofits and their service providers (like See3) is unique. We have more to lose if we make a hiring misstep because resources are limited. Conversely, large corporate businesses can lure away a candidate with an offer they can’t refuse (or can they?). Despite not having the same deep pockets as larger businesses recruiting from the same applicant pool, cause-focused organizations and businesses offer numerous intangible benefits that can overcome the compensation crunch.

The first step to utilizing these benefits is to recognize them and highlight them in your job descriptions. There is no perk or positive cultural aspect that isn’t worth mentioning. Have a casual dress code? Say it. Are pets welcome? Brag out it. Do you offer the ability to work remotely or have flexible scheduling? You better mention it. Have all-staff volunteer days? Offer health insurance or other non-salary benefits as part of the compensation package? Flexible parental leave policies? Put it all in there! Do be careful with wording to avoid alienating applicants with offensive language choices. This is your organization’s first impression on a candidate. Make your workplace enviable. I’ve found the B Corps job board to have a wealth of exceptional job descriptions, like this one.

As I mentioned in a previous article, nonprofits and social causes offer the opportunity to collaborate with other do-gooders and make the world a better place. As cheesy as it sounds, isn't that a fantastic reason to go to work every day? Working for an organization committed to making positive change translates into higher job satisfaction for the candidate. Measuring a candidate’s commitment to having a purposeful career versus their salary demands is a powerful hiring filter. If the candidate seems more concerned with how much money as opposed to how much impact they will yield, then perhaps they aren’t the right fit, no matter how impressive their resume is.

The second step to hiring great candidates is to get your job descriptions in front of applicants eager to do good. There are three rapidly expanding applicant pools from which cause orgs and non-profits can exploit their mission-based competitive advantage:

1. Millennials. According to Ariel Schwartz at Co.Exist, over half the millennials in the job market would take a 15% pay cut in exchange for congruent company and individual ideals. By targeting young professionals who are early in their careers, nonprofits and their service providers can target hard-working candidates who are eager to make a different in the world and probably aren't yet too concerned with paying a mortgage. While there are plenty of other costs for these candidates to consider (rising student debt, for instance), the pull for millenials to do work that does good is strong. 

2. The career changers. More and more often resumes are crossing my desk from talented individuals who have years of professional experience in completely unrelated fields, starting over in search of a more meaningful career. In a Forbes article exploring career change, organizational psychologist Dr. Michael Woodward elaborates on the inevitability of career change, saying, “when your values are dramatically misaligned with those of your employer, you will become disengaged and possibly even disgruntled.” In my experience, most folks changing careers are current graduate students obtaining an additional degree in their new area of interest.

3. Activists turned career do-gooders. These applicants are seeking to turn their passion into a paycheck. Nonprofits and social causes can provide a stable, sustainable framework for activists who were previously working unpaid or for low pay in causes they care about. Most often, they aim to transfer the skills they have acquired through grassroots activism to the nonprofit sector. 

As millenials, career changers, and activists turned career do-gooders enter the job market, there is a swell of talent waiting to apply for open positions. At See3, we’ve experienced the frustration of the compensation crunch in the hiring process on numerous occasions. However, as a company entering its 10th year of operations, we know who we are, and we know that we have more to offer than just a fair salary. We are continually refining our hiring process to recruit, hire, and retain talented and purpose-driven individuals.

There is no one-size-fits-all hiring guide, and we welcome your suggestions for bringing talented do-gooders to your team. What strategies and tactics do you use to recruit talented people to your organization? 

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