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Business Professionals and Non-Profits: Opposites Do Attract

Business people have analytical skills.  Non-profit organizations have an increasing need for analytical skills. One would think it’s a match made in heaven. But due to misconceptions on both sides of the employment fence, there is a leadership gap.   Monisha Kapila, founder of ProInspire,  believes that the non-profit talent shortage has many sources – retiring baby-boomers, the rapid growth in the non-profit sector, poor recruiting strategies, and perceived barriers to entering the non-profit world.

According to the Bridgespan Group, non-profit organizations will need nearly 80,000 senior managers by 2016. Manpower’s fourth annual Talent Shortage Survey of 39,000 employers across 33 countries, indicated that despite a sluggish global economy, 30% of employers are having a hard time finding suitable employees. Management and Executives ranked number 5 out of 10 in the list of hard to fill jobs. With fewer people entering the workforce, baby-boomers beginning to retire, global recruiting of business talent, and the incredible growth of nonprofits, the result is a perfect storm of hiring issues.

Biggest Mistakes in Non-Profit Recruiting

  • Not Recruiting – most non-profits do not have a full-time Human Resource department to actively recruit. So instead many assume potential employees will come to them and hope they include the most qualified.
  • Too concerned about competing on salaries – non-profits often do not try to recruit experienced business professionals because they don’t believe that they can offer a salary that would match a private company offer. However, salary is not the only factor in compensation. Non-profits need to emphasize their “soft benefits” – wide responsibility, flexibility, passionate environment, and learning opportunities.
  • Ignoring professional development – career paths are important to encourage growth and retain talented employees. Non-profits can arrange cross-training opportunities or  possibly partner with other organizations for employee exchange options.

Non-profits can address these challenges and find the best business candidates by using recruiting firms specifically geared towards non-profits, define the positives of your organization’s culture and brand the organization as a good place to work. Another option is to consider the older employee – the retiring baby boomers who are looking for a second career and are more concerned about making a difference than making a living.

How can a non-profit identify the ideal business candidate?
A non-profit can increase the likelihood of a successful hire from the business sector by making the following inquiries during the application and interview process:

  • Motivations and Interest – a candidate should be able to explain their motivation for changing careers. They should demonstrate a sincere desire to make a difference and a passion for the organization’s mission.
  • Adaptability and Flexibility – the culture of a non-profit is very different from the culture of the typical corporation. Inquire about the candidate’s value system, preferred work environment, ability to deal with multiple and changing priorities, and willingness to do “whatever it takes” to complete a project.
  • Relevance of Previous Work Experience - does the candidate have transferable skills such as analytical, strategic planning, project management, or leadership skills.
  • Research – did the candidate do their homework and learn about your organization? Do they understand the organization’s vision and mission? Are they aware of previous successes or current challenges?
  • Previous Non-profit Experience – does the candidate have volunteer experience? In what types of roles? Do they have any background in non-profit management? Have they taken seminars or workshops related to non-profits? Do they subscribe to non-profit journals, magazines, or blogs?

What can a business professional do to transition to a non-profit?

  • Consider your motivation for wanting to enter the non-profit sector, are you really looking for a career change?
  • Research organizations to find those that are a good fit with your values and interests, understand their needs and challenges
  • Understand the challenges of your field and how they may be different within a non-profit, be ready to explain how your previous business experience has addressed similar issues
  • Learn about non-profit management – volunteer within an organization, volunteer for a board, take seminars or workshops, read relevant journals and blogs

For the past several years many business professionals have been dealing with shrinking budgets, staffing issues, and searching for new sources of revenue. And the recession doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon, giving non-profits a recruiting edge. The choice seems obvious – work with the issues at the corporate level, or work with the issues at the non-profit level AND make a difference in the world.

Jennifer Elder, CPA is the owner and President of The Sustainable CFO, making the world better one business at a time. The Sustainable CFO provides practical and effective small business consulting, on-demand CFO services, and business coaching services for environmental and socially responsible businesses. Visit their website at www.sustainablecfo.com or follow her on Twitter @SustainableCFO


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  • ingrid von sury

    I worked for an International Company for 18 years as I had two sons to educate and the salary that I was paid was excellent. Now that they are independent I would like to work in a non-profit organization as I have always wanted to knowing that the people are more focused on service delivery than, money, I know that it will be very satisfying, humane experience and a nice feeling knowing that my work makes a difference in the lives of people in need. I have the passion to do it and a go-get-‘em attitude. Who can tell me how I can get an interview as up to now it has been impossible.

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  • http://www.proinspire.org Monisha Kapila

    Thank you for highlighting this important issue. One of the areas that ProInspire focuses on is helping nonprofits understand how they could leverage the skill sets of business professionals, and helping business professionals think through where they could best start within the sector. We have a Fellows with investment banking backgrounds who are at global health organizations, and Fellows with consulting backgrounds at education organizations. Our Fellowships have proven to be win-win because the nonprofits bring in great talent with unique skills and the Fellows have an entry point into the sector that leverages their experience.