Modernizing the Nonprofit Hiring Process

Ryan Parker
April 14, 2022

Nonprofits typically have a narrow focus: Every cent they receive and every minute they spend at work are devoted to furthering the organization’s cause. But that can lead to human resource practices falling behind the times. Updating your nonprofit hiring processes can drastically improve your ability to meet your goals.

Traditionally, nonprofit recruiters and hiring managers have only had loose hiring processes to follow. Without a formal process, managers may follow their own paths, resulting in hiring practices fragmented by department or even team. Modernizing your nonprofit hiring process and formalizing practices across the organization drives greater consistency and efficiency — producing better talent results.

Here’s how to upgrade the hiring process at nonprofit organizations.

Define Your Brand Advantage

As a nonprofit, you have an advantage when it comes to defining your brand to prospective candidates. A mission-driven culture can set you apart from organizations you’re competing against for top talent.

Here’s how to develop an employer brand that drives your talent strategy.

Communicate Your Culture

Nonprofit organizations traditionally have distinct employer cultures. Employees are driven by shared values and work together to accomplish common mission-driven goals.

Identify what makes your culture unique from other nonprofit organizations or similarly sized companies in your hiring area. Do your mission and vision permeate every aspect of your work, for example? Is your leadership team highly respected by employees? Do employees understand your values and incorporate them into daily tasks?

These distinguishing factors set your culture apart and can become one of your greatest strengths for attracting talent to your organization.

Advertise the Job Honestly

Being transparent about your culture and available roles can protect your organization from making bad hires. A bad hire is often the result of mismatched expectations between what the candidate expects of the job and what it actually is.

You can head off those types of misconceptions by going beyond job descriptions to actually show the role in action.

Don’t try to soften aspects of the job that you think may turn people off. Just because these elements aren’t attractive to you or people who have left the role doesn’t mean that everyone feels the same way. A grant writing role may not appeal to everyone, for example, and that’s fine: It just has to appeal to the right people. 

In fact, the more you can narrow the pool of qualified, interested applicants, the easier the selection process will be.

Use video to share a day in the life of an employee in the role. Ask employees to share what they love most about the work so that candidates with similar interests and working styles can envision themselves in the role.

Post these realistic job previews on your careers site to help applicants decide whether the role is right for them. Share engaging videos and snapshots of life on the job on your social media channels to generate interest in nonprofit jobs at your organization.

Tap Into Passion and Purpose

Organizations in the nonprofit sector have an advantage when it comes to attracting purpose-driven candidates.

Part of your unique value proposition is your mission. Candidates who believe in what you’re trying to accomplish and who value a strong sense of purpose in their work will find your job openings especially rewarding.

In your employer branding materials, draw a clear connection between the role and the value it brings to your organizational mission.

Set a Proactive Sourcing Strategy

Many nonprofit organizations, while they have a lotto offer prospective employees, fail to communicate job openings effectively. There are hundreds of qualified candidates for the roles at your nonprofit, but if you can’t get your postings in front of the right people, you can’t access that wealth of talent.

Here’s how to invest in a proactive sourcing strategy to find the right candidates for your organization 

Seek Out the Talent You Need

Don’t wait for the right candidates to come to you, because chances are high the best candidates won’t find your job openings without some help. Many nonprofits only advertise jobs in a limited capacity, sometimes only by word of mouth. Although organic exposure is a helpful supplement to your sourcing strategy, it shouldn’t be all there is.

Proactively find and reach out to the talent you need. Post openings on popular job boards, including LinkedIn, where they’ll get exposure to thousands of potential candidates. Sector-specific websites such as Foundation List and the National Council of Nonprofits job board are good resources, too, but may draw from a smaller talent pool than broader job boards.

When posting job openings, be careful about criteria that could unnecessarily screen candidates out. The criteria you list on the job posting will affect how it shows up in job searches and who ultimately will see it. Don’t require experience for entry-level roles, for instance, or only people with experience will see the posting — and that’s not your target audience for entry-level roles.

Build Relationships With Candidates

Nonprofits are often community driven, and that sense of community can be a powerful factor in your sourcing strategy. 

Even if you don’t currently have job openings, proactively build relationships with potential candidates. Engage with volunteers and interested community members during events. Follow up with candidates who began an application but didn’t complete it, as well as candidates who were qualified but didn’t quite make the cut in a previous opening.

When sourcing specific roles, do research to find candidates whose skills and experience could be a good fit for the role, and reach out to them individually. Candidates tend to react favorably to personal outreach from recruiters, as it signals the value you place on providing a good candidate experience.

Promote Leaders From Within

One strategy for proactive sourcing is to promote from within. If you already have high-performing employees at your organization, consider them for future leadership positions. Existing employees already have a deep understanding of your mission, vision and values, and they presumably work well with the rest of your workforce.

Promoting employees can have a distinct impact on your talent acquisition strategy. Instead of sourcing candidates with specialized skills for a leadership position, you can focus on filling gaps created at lower levels by employees who moved up.

If you’re primarily seeking external candidates to fill lower-level positions, you have a wider pool to draw from. Since these roles can be trained on more easily, you can focus on hiring for qualities that can’t be trained, such as conscientiousness or investment in the mission.

Upgrade the Selection Processes

Candidate assessment practices today are wildly different from what they were 10 years ago, or even five. While the for-profit sector has been faster to adopt new practices in hiring processes, those changes have been slower to reach nonprofit recruiting.

Here’s how to upgrade candidate assessment and selection processes when hiring nonprofit staff.

Identify Job-Related Criteria

The first step to selecting the right candidate is identifying the most important skills, competencies, qualifications and experience required for each role.

Begin by revisiting job descriptions. If they haven’t been updated in a while, you may find that legacy requirements have little to do with the job as it is today. Many older job postings require four-year degrees, for example. But is a degree really necessary for the role, or is it unnecessarily narrowing your candidate pool?

Consider the most important outputs you need from individuals in the role. What skills and competencies do they need? What personality traits drive success in the role? To find these answers, consider assessing candidates who are currently successful in the role. This can help you pinpoint essential factors that drive their success.

Once you’ve isolated the most important factors, compile a success profile to compare against candidates during the selection and interview process.

Assess Candidates for Relevant Factors

With your success profile in hand, you can assess candidates more effectively. Psychometric tests can provide objective data on candidates who are most likely to succeed in the role.

Incorporate an assessment into the application to collect data on candidates who are most qualified, and move those candidates further down the hiring funnel. Situational judgment tests can provide a glimpse into how candidates react to relevant job scenarios.

These types of tests can help predict which candidates are most likely to succeed in the role.

Conduct Behavioral Interviews

Upgrade your interview process, too. The questions typically asked during each interview could differ widely, making it nearly impossible to assess candidates fairly. Revisit the types of questions that hiring managers typically ask during an interview.

Develop a script that includes standardized questions for each role. These questions should focus on behaviors to elicit a better understanding of how candidates are likely to act on the job. Provide a scorecard based on the questions in the script, allowing hiring managers to compare candidates objectively and support better hiring decisions.

Drive Your Mission With Updated Nonprofit Hiring Processes  

Modernizing the hiring process at nonprofit organizations does a lot more than just build your talent pool or reduce time to fill.

Good financial stewardship is everything to a nonprofit: High-profile donors and board members want to see evidence that you’re making the most of the money you receive. Optimizing your hiring process demonstrates your investment in strategic human capital management.

With an updated nonprofit hiring process in place, you can find the talent you need more efficiently. This produces better outcomes for your organization and empowers you to take your mission further.

Ryan Parker
Enterprise Sales Executive
Enterprise Sales Executive with 20+ years of experience providing turn key solutions that create organizational efficiency for Mid-Market and Enterprise Level businesses across multiple industries.

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