Armanino Blog

How to Recruit Your Nonprofit’s Next High Performer

by Grant Lam
December 17, 2014

It’s an age-old challenge: finding top finance talent when everyone is fishing in the same pool, from your nonprofit peers to deep-pocketed, for-profit corporations.

Today’s nonprofits are all looking for the same thing: candidates who have that elusive mix of qualifications, motivation and interest (and who understand the nature of nonprofit compensation). Being able to recruit a qualified Controller or other senior-level finance professional in direct competition with the for-profit world is certainly challenging. But, so is luring away experienced nonprofit talent, especially if you’re a smaller nonprofit.

Of course, you could always “post and pray.”

In fact, that’s the sum-total recruitment strategy for many organizations. The Executive Director or human resources staff makes a few calls, posts the position on a promising nonprofit website or two … then waits. They hope that the right candidate will happen along.

The holes in that strategy are obvious. It overlooks qualified private sector candidates. It doesn’t necessarily reach gainfully employed candidates (for-profit or otherwise). And, the passive approach potentially drags out the search process.

5 Steps to Finding the Next Great Finance Professional
Ultimately, you’ll need to employ a strategic recruitment plan if you truly want to find qualified, mission-driven candidates. Here’s how:

  1. Sell your organization: This starts with a clear understanding of your brand and the unique value proposition you offer as an employer. Remember, you may be competing against for-profit employers who have taken great pains to build their reputation as an “employer of choice.” So, lead with your mission—and the fact that you offer a higher purpose than simply making money. Clearly convey the impact that candidates can have working for you. Share with them a story that illustrates the impact your organization has had on specific communities and specific people. That message will resonate with the right candidate.
  2. Sell the position: Remember the advertiser’s adage and “sell the sizzle not the steak." Intrigue a candidate by conveying exactly what makes your organization such a great place to work. Ultimately, you want to convince your preferred candidate that the position is one that only he or she can really fill. Help eliminate unqualified candidates by defining six or seven of the most important characteristics needed for the job—fundraising skills, management expertise, public speaking—as well as some “nice-to-have" qualifications that would make the candidate an asset to your organization.
  3. Establish a strategy, budget and timeline: Determine how you will find the best candidates, whether it’s through online periodicals, job boards, personal networks or other means. Calculate your recruitment costs, both in terms of hard costs and staff time. One way to get around tight recruitment budgets is to tap appropriate social media (LinkedIn and your organization’s Facebook page, for example). Finally, budget an appropriate amount of time for your search. It can take from 90 days to six months to close the deal on a senior-level position.
  4. Pay attention to compensation: The for-profit sector enjoys a decided leg up when it comes to salaries. So, be creative in how your organization deals with gaps in salary. Emphasize your total compensation package, particularly benefits and any programs related to organizational culture and work/life balance. Benefits with a particularly strong perceived value (and generally low cost) include the ability to work from home once or twice a week, daycare, extra vacation time and education assistance. In addition, pay attention to the details of compensation. Structure a package that will attract the preferred candidate, but make sure it conforms to fair market value. Compensation data should be used to determine the appropriate compensation package. 
  5. Maintain momentum: Time kills deals so don’t lose momentum once your first-choice candidate has been identified. In the improving economy, candidates are often receiving multiple offers at the same time. So, if you’ve narrowed it down and are ready to move, don’t let another day pass, go ahead and make your best offer in terms of compensation, benefits, vacation, time off, etc.

As you recruit, do so with an eye to the long-term. It is important to attract candidates who will be a good fit with your organization’s culture, and are likely to stay and remain engaged. In particular, be aware of potential culture shock when recruiting. Pulling a Controller from a national nonprofit into a smaller one can create a bit of dissonance. The recruitment process should include clear communication about the organization’s culture and a realistic preview of the job so that you can identify someone who’s going to be comfortable with the realities of the organization and the constituencies it serves.

Make the Right Hire
Finding the candidate who is the best cultural fit for your nonprofit organization can be challenging. But by following these best practices—and seeking professional assistance when appropriate—you can make a successful hire.

December 17, 2014

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Grant Lam - Partner, Audit - San Francisco CA
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