The Art of Nonprofit Recruitment: Finding the Right People to Fuel Your Mission

If you work in the nonprofit sector, you know that it is full of passionate, heart centered and mission driven people, ready and eager to employ their skills to create change in their communities.

If you’re a leader in the nonprofit sector, you also know that it takes more than just passion to make change happen. Hard skills, business acumen, tactful fundraising, and strategic planning are essential to running an organization efficiently and effectively.

So how do you build a team that strikes the perfect balance?

In episode 16 of the Nonprofit Council Podcast, Blair Search Partners Founder and CEO, Trevor Blair, discusses nonprofit recruiting and how implementing a well-rounded, human-centered approach to finding the right candidate is the new best practice—and why it’s more effective than simply putting out a job description and crossing your fingers.

Working With a Search Firm is a Solid Business Decision

First, before we get into how useful it can be to work with a search firm, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Can nonprofit organizations and public agencies afford to hire an executive search firm to reach top talent?

The answer may surprise you.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, hiring the wrong person can cost your organization up to 30 percent of the employee’s annual salary. Once you factor in the soft costs such as onboarding, training, staff time, lost productivity, and offboarding, it can cost anywhere from 2x to 5x the annual salary of the role you are filling.

And it’s not just a financial impact that takes a hit. A bad hire can also wreak havoc on your organization’s productivity, reputation, culture, and morale. Especially if the position is a high level role or at the executive level.

From this perspective, it’s clear that not only should nonprofits consider hiring an executive search firm to help with their recruiting process, but that in this day and age, they really can’t afford not to.

Connecting With the Right People Matters

An executive search firm that specializes in nonprofits and mission driven organizations, like Blair Search Partners, can offer professional recruitment, highly customized processes that reflect your unique mission and culture, and access to top talent from across the nation that you may not have the chance to connect with otherwise.

Gone are the days when retaining an executive search firm is reserved only for the big and wealthy private corporations.

Today, nonprofits and public agencies of all levels are partnering with recruitment firms to find the right people to fuel their mission.

Talent acquisition impacts overall organization health

Talent acquisition is one of the most critical factors impacting the health of your organization in 2024. Outside of fundraising, it’s your greatest source of lifeblood and longevity for your organization.

The current market is competitive, and with access to roles across the globe at their fingertips, high-performing candidates have many choices.

That means it’s more important than ever to stand out with a recruitment process that prioritizes relationship building, sees the candidate as a human being, and clearly articulates your organizational culture and mission.

Hiring an executive search firm can help you do just that.

The Art of Nonprofit Recruitment

So, how can you rethink your recruitment process to really find the best people to advance your mission?

It really comes down to using Human Centered Design Principles in your hiring process. An effective hiring and recruitment process that stands out from others is one that is cohesive, well thought out, and focused on the candidate.

Lengthy, clunky, cumbersome, processes just won’t cut it anymore. What’s important in today’s job market is to create a talent acquisition strategy that is warm, welcoming, and highly personal.

Here are some ways you can incorporate Human Centered Design Principles into your hiring process to attract and retain candidates that are a perfect fit to fuel your organization’s mission.

Work on Your Internal Culture

Your current staff is your greatest tool in nonprofit recruitment. Each one of your talented and dedicated employees has their own network of colleagues who are just as talented as they are. As the saying goes, A players tend to hang out with other A players.

When you create a place where people love to work, where the culture is thriving and your staff feel valued, your employees will want to bring their friends and colleagues—other top talent—on board with them.

On the other hand, if your culture isn’t where it should be, your employees will not be recruiting other top talent to join them, and may in fact be looking elsewhere themselves.

Plan Ahead

In addition to getting your culture right, it’s important to take the time to really understand what it is you are looking for in a candidate. What are the values and strengths of your ideal candidate? How do they fit into the greater ecosystem of your organization? What does someone really need to have to be successful in the role you’re filling?

Be realistic. While some candidates may look great on paper, it won’t matter if they don’t have the necessary qualities for the position or share the core values of your organization.

A role that’s not quite the right fit for one candidate, may be a perfect fit for another. Make sure you can communicate clearly and specifically what your perfect fit looks and sounds like, so you (and the candidate) know exactly what you’re looking for.

Update Your Hiring Process

From start to finish, your hiring process should look like one that you wouldn’t mind going through yourself.

That means you may need to consider scratching the panel-style-firing-squad first interview you’ve been preparing, and consider a friendly phone call or coffee meeting instead.

Convoluted or overly complicated hiring practices can weed out some of your highest potential candidates, simply because it communicates that your organization doesn’t view them as a human being whose time is valuable. If a candidate doesn’t feel valued in the hiring process, they’ll look elsewhere.

Stop Trying to “Weed Out” Candidates

“The nonprofit sector is so much more relationship based than other industries,” Trevor says in his interview with May Harris on the Nonprofit Counsel Podcast. “You really want a hiring process that results in candidates feeling good when they come out the other end, regardless of whether they got the job or not.”

Your hiring and recruiting process can have a big impact on your reputation. Many organizations and businesses fall into the trap of putting the majority of the heavy lifting on the candidate during the hiring process, rather than taking the extra steps to do the work themselves.

Creating a journey for your candidates that puts them through multiple tests to try and “weed out” unfit applicants may be losing you more than you realize.

In fact, you’re more than likely losing some of your most diverse and valuable talent!

Take a look at your process and ask yourself, what kind of candidate may opt out of this process? What qualities do they have that would benefit our organization? What other strategies can we use to get to know them better, without putting them through the ringer?

Think of Your Candidates as Your Future Stakeholders

In the nonprofit sector, relationships are everything.

You never know whether or not your current applicant will become your future volunteer, donor, committee member, even board member.

That means you never want someone to leave your hiring process with a bad taste in their mouth about your organization.

The goal of a highly personalized hiring process is for your candidate to walk away holding your organization in an even higher regard than they did before, regardless of whether or not they are hired for the position.

By taking the time and responsibility to get to know your candidates and removing the expectation that they do the heavy lifting throughout the process, your organization will not only stand out as one that values its employees, but you will open up opportunities and access to a wider pool of candidates that may have just the one you are looking for.

Reach Out If We Can Support You

Are you a mission-driven organization looking for a nonprofit executive search firm in San Diego, Phoenix or beyond? Want access to the nation’s highest caliber talent while working alongside a partner who really gets it? Or are you a candidate looking for your next career move?

Contact us at Blair Search Partners and let’s see what we can do together!

Want to hear more? Listen to Trevor Blair on the Nonprofit Counsel podcast here.