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Posted by Angie Salmon on Thu, Feb 26, 2015 @ 02:00 PM

NFP_competing_for_talentRetaining and recruiting the right people is an ongoing struggle for any entity, and not-for-profit organizations may find competing for talent especially difficult. Your corporate counterparts can mobilize a dedicated recruitment staff to fill positions and often offer employees higher compensation and expanded career opportunities.

Not-for-profit organizations can use a number of strategies to level the playing field in the war for talent, however. From using social media tools and proactive tactics for recruiting to creating an environment that fosters employee engagement, not-for-profits can amp up their employee retention and recruitment strategies – often at a low cost.

Recruit Proactively

Although your HR department may be lean, you can leverage your existing staff to create recruitment ambassadors for your organization. Once an important opening is available, form a search committee with members of your organization who have influence and a stake in the outcome. Be sure to tap other staff for referrals.

Consider the responsibilities of the empty position prior to starting the employee search. Are you looking for leadership? Do you need midlevel employees who are equipped for the challenges your organization faces? Once you have a clear idea of the position’s responsibilities, you’ll be better prepared to evaluate the applicant pool.

Get Social

Recruitment is trending away from the traditional “post and pray” method. The 2014 Not-for-Profit Employment Practices Survey conducted by Nonprofit HR found that 60 percent of respondents used LinkedIn to help with recruitment. A little less than 50 percent used Facebook and 21 percent used Twitter. Other websites that may help with recruitment include Simply Hired, Indeed and Flipdog. You should also consider associations that are specific to your mission area or functional need.

Old-fashioned, in-person networking is critical, too. Employee recommendations and suggestions from funders and other partners can be more effective than posting a job position in a classified advertisement.

Look At Your Competitors

Not-for-profit organizations may not have the organizational structure or resources to develop internal succession plans for each critical position. Therefore, creating an external succession strategy may be necessary.

Results from the Not-for-Profit Employment Practices Survey also showed that 45 percent of mid-level professionals came to their current organization from another tax-exempt organization. You should assume other organizations are examining your key players, and you can develop relationships with talented professionals in your field or geography before a specific need arises.

Seek a Professional

When hiring a critical position or conducting a CEO search, part of your recruitment process should include an evaluation of your internal capabilities. If your organization does not have the staff or time to handle an employee search, you may want to consider enlisting outside help. An executive search firm can assist your search committee in identifying and evaluating candidates and support due diligence such as background investigations, pre-employment assessments and reference checks. An outside compensation consulting firm can also help provide documentation and reasoning for compensation levels, which given the IRS scrutiny on excessive compensation for not-for-profit organization executives, can provide benefit and protection.

Retention – Defend Your Key Employees

Once hired, losing an employee is both expensive and disruptive to your organization. When factoring in salary costs, recruiting expenses and the downtime that results from training a new hire, the cost to replace an employee can range from 33 percent to 150 percent of the open position’s salary.

With the recovering economy, people may be more willing to change jobs or look elsewhere for opportunities. A 2014 survey from Right Management found that more than 80 percent of employees intend to leave their current job. Other organizations may also be courting your top performers, so your organization needs to play some defense when it comes to retaining its key people.

Employee Engagement

Employees who feel connected both to the mission of your organization and their co-workers are less likely to search for other jobs. You can create an engaged workplace by: providing appropriate management/supervisor training; improving teamwork in all levels; enhancing the connections between employees and the mission; addressing underperformers; and offering professional growth opportunities. Other engagement drivers include providing employees with the tools and resources they need, giving appropriate and timely recognition, and encouraging open, two-way communication across the organization.

Professional Growth Opportunities

Many not-for-profit organizations are small and thus cannot offer a clear career path for high-performing employees. To ensure professional growth opportunities, consider forming cross-functional work teams for special projects, giving an employee the opportunity to manage interns or other staff or lead a significant strategic initiative on behalf of the board. Title enhancement may also be a low-cost way for employees to feel valued for their contributions.

Creative Benefits

Providing fair and sufficient pay is critical to your employees, but when budgets are tight, not-for-profit organizations may consider other benefits to retain employees and attract new talent. When you examine other organizations, take note of the benefits that they may offer and compare them to your organization’s policies. In addition to base compensation, your not-for-profit can reward its employees with “bonuses” in the form of additional time off, overdue technology enhancements, or continuing education.

Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to explore flexible work arrangements, job sharing opportunities, and alternative work schedules. Creating a competitive advantage by offering employees such a unique benefit is often an outstanding retention tool. As employees become used to this flexible work arrangement, it becomes incredibly difficult to return to a “typical schedule.”

Highlight What Sets Your Organization Apart

It is important to remind employees of your organization’s unique benefits. Providing occasional overviews of the non-cash incentives employees value can be important – especially when they are comparing their base pay to their peers.

Not-for-profit organizations can boast an appealing “mission orientation” or philanthropic focus that is unmatched in the corporate world. Taking advantage of your unique position in the employment marketplace can enhance your recruiting and retention potential.

For more questions or concerns about how you can retain and recruit the employees you need, please contact us here.


Angie Salmon leads the Not-for-Profit practice at EFL Associates in the CBIZ Human Capital Services division ( She can be reached at 913.234.1576 or

Tags: non-for-profit, competing for talent

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