How Nonprofits Can Find Amazing Employees in a Competitive Job Market

Great employees are one of the most important assets of any organization. While your nonprofit may rely heavily on volunteers, you also have passionate and skilled employees to help accomplish your mission.

But finding the right people for those jobs is increasingly difficult. Unemployment in Oregon is hovering near historic lows. And with new businesses flooding into the state, the competition for the best talent is fierce. Believe it or not, Oregon has become a seller’s market that favors job seekers.

So how do nonprofits–who can’t compete with the private sector on salary and benefits–win in the search for great talent? Here are a few tips to improve your sourcing and stand out in a crowded field of employers.

1. Showcase your mission and your values

Almost every job seeker I meet tells me they want meaningful work. Yes, people need to earn a living but they also want to make a difference in the world and a job that matters.

I believe this is an almost universal desire, especially among younger workers. Employment data backs this up. A study by Deloitte Insights shows that nearly 80 percent of millennials would prefer to work for “mission-driven” organizations. And employers with a clear social mission have 40 percent higher levels of employee retention.

But what makes work meaningful isn’t just about the mission, it’s also about the organization itself. Increasingly, people are making career decisions based on the culture, values, and image of the prospective employer. A 2016 survey by Corporate Responsibility Magazine showed people would take significant pay cuts to work for organizations that have good reputations.

So your mission and your reputation matter, often more so than the salary. This is a dynamic that gives nonprofits a competitive advantage in the hunt for the best talent.

As a nonprofit, you’ve got a social mission built into the very core of your organization. Don’t hide it when you’re looking for new employees! Promoting your mission and values–along with how you operationalize these concepts into your business model–is going to attract the kind of candidates you need.

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So when you advertise your next job opening, consider leading with a strong pitch about the organization. Think of your job post as an opportunity to brand your nonprofit and share its vision, mission, and culture. If you’ve got a video about your organization, include it, if possible, in the job post! This is going to help you attract not only more candidates, but the kind of candidates who will best fit in your organization.

2. Talk about salary… please!

I hope the point I made above was clear: you don’t need to compete on price when it comes to finding great employees. You can leverage your social-mission and values to overcome a below-market starting salary.

Many nonprofit leaders don’t believe this. This is why, among other reasons, they so often leave out a salary in their job offers. Unfortunately, the logic behind this practice – that no salary is better than a low salary – doesn’t work.

In fact, the number one thing that keeps candidates from applying for a job is the lack of salary information.

Please stop and read that last sentence again. The barrier here isn’t a low salary. Many job seekers are willing to overlook that for the right opportunity. The problem comes when the employer doesn’t share any salary information.

Vu Le of the Nonprofit AF blog has already provided an exhaustive list of why not including a salary in your job posts is counterproductive. But let me draw special attention to the reason that I feel it is most damaging. People look for transparency when they apply for jobs.

Employers who don’t post a salary are increasingly viewed with skepticism and distrust. That skepticism can destroy the credibility, goodwill, and candidate enthusiasm you generated by emphasizing your mission and values.

It also leads to fewer candidates. According to a 2016 survey by job board consultant, Jeff Dickey Chassins, 71 percent of respondents are more likely to apply for a job it at least some salary information is included.

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Not including a salary reduces your talent pool and undermines your brand as a socially-responsible nonprofit.  In the long run, you’re far better off listing a low salary–or a wide salary range–than leaving that space blank.

Of course, more is always better when it comes to attracting candidates and making hires. If you can’t compete with salary, focus on your other employee perks. That can mean formal benefits like healthcare, retirement, and vacation time. It can also include other office perks, like flex scheduling, remote work, family leave, or free donuts every Tuesday.

3. Watch your language

Here’s a truth about job postings, regardless of whether they come from a nonprofit or for-profit organization: most of them are awful.

One way you can get a comparative advantage in finding talent is simply by writing better job descriptions. Ditch the overly-bureaucratic language and HR-speak for a more straightforward description of the position and the kind of employee you’re looking for.

There are three specific areas where I think language is particularly important in your job announcement.

Job titles

First, you need a job title that people understand and that clearly describes the position. When employers use esoteric or vague titles for their job posts, it stifles the response rate from applicants.

When people browse through job postings, they usually only see the job title; they have to click the link to get all the details. If the job seeker doesn’t understand the job title you’ve used, they’re likely to skip right past the listing.

So avoid the HR-centric job titles like “Communications Officer 4” or the cute-but-confusing titles like “Chief Happiness Officer.”  Instead, use that valuable real-estate to describe what the job is really all about.

Job requirements

Second, you need to be clear about the roles and responsibilities of the job. Way too often, job posts read like laundry lists of responsibilities the future employee might have. Rarely is there a distinction between the skills a qualified candidate must have, versus preferred skills, or even “icing on the cake.”

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I understand the desire to want it all when you hire an employee. The problem with this approach is that it affects who applies for the job. Many qualified candidates get scared off because they don’t meet every item on your wishlist.

For example, an internal report by Hewlett Packard found that men will apply for a job if they meet 60 percent of the listed requirements. Women, on the other hand, will only apply if they meet 100 percent of the requirements. So when you don’t prioritize your needs, you lose a lot of amazing female candidates.

Word choice

Finally, you need need to be careful with the language you use throughout your job description.

If you’re serious about finding the absolute best candidate, you don’t want to do anything that excludes women, and other minority candidates, who represent over two-thirds of the eligible workforce. But the truth is that unconscious bias has a way of sneaking into job descriptions. One way this plays out is in the words we use to describe jobs.

Research from ZipRecruiter found that up to 70 percent of job descriptions have gendered keywords which subtly dissuade good female candidates from applying. Using gender-neutral language for the same jobs generated 42 percent more applications. And, interestingly, there was an increase in applications from both women and men.

Again, many of our biases are unconscious, so implementing gender-neutral and other inclusive language can be difficult. Before you post another job, try testing it with a language evaluation tool like Textio or Gender Decoder. You may be surprised by how much you can improve your job description and, in turn, reach out to great candidates.

A version of this article originally appeared in the newsletter of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon