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Nonprofit HR’s Blog

by Patty Hampton, CSP

There is a quiet storm brewing in the nonprofit sector. Everyone is talking about the “War for Talent,” but I’m not sure we’re experiencing a war at all. Instead, we’re experiencing a swell of talented professionals who we like to call “sector switchers” entering the job market. These “sector switchers” can be college grads, encore career professionals and everyone in between. We’re also experiencing an upswing in nonprofit hiring. But what we’re not experiencing is a shift in nonprofit mindsets. Few nonprofits seem ready to “go to battle” for the best and brightest nonprofit talent.

This War for Talent is nothing more than propaganda that continues to shape the mindsets of many recruiters and hiring managers about this battle or race that exists to hire the best talent. From what I’ve seen in regards to hiring practices within the nonprofit sector, very few organizations are approaching recruiting and hiring strategically or competitively.

According to our 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, 50% of nonprofits plan to create new positions this year, and there is much evidence to suggest that talent engagement and retention, leadership development and investment in infrastructure are key drivers for nonprofit growth. The jobseekers are there, and the open positions are there, but the recruitment strategy isn’t.

Nowadays, you can read about how many baby boomers feel more confident about retirement and how millennials are finally getting stable jobs. Overall, job seekers are taking another look at the job market and at the nonprofit sector. With that in mind, nonprofits need to wake up! It is past the time to strategize and activate plans for dealing with three critical areas: talent retention and engagement, leadership development, and infrastructure investment.

Talent Retention and Engagement

If the talent you have is your most valuable asset, then a major investment in retention and engagement is critical. I strongly believe that the nonprofit sector will continue to evolve when it comes to talent retention and engagement. Areas that drive change are technology, stakeholder demands, and increased competition for donor dollars. In other words, this “war on talent” only exists when there is a lack of retention & engagement strategy. Nonprofits must have a plan to grow their current workforce to drive business growth from the inside out.

Leadership Development

Nonprofits need to concentrate on developing their mid-level managers. Mid-level managers are often ignored. Instead, most organizations focus on developing senior level leaders. Remember the show Malcolm in the Middle? Like Malcolm, your mid-level managers get things done! They are what I consider the quiet geniuses in the organization. Mid-level managers operate from the middle to push the strategic objectives forward. This consistent momentum that often goes unrecognized is known to some as the nucleus or organizational intelligence and sustainability. As the 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey states, with 68% of nonprofits reportedly with no formal succession plans, one can only conclude that many nonprofits are not developing talent where it matters – the middle.

Investing in Infrastructure

The nonprofit sector continues to be unable to shake off this myth that they need to operate from a position of doing more with less. This is absurd! Nonprofits need to think more like businesses. Nonprofits have similar if not the same needs to scale their infrastructure that corporations experience. This vow and position of starvation that people think nonprofits need to take is not helping. It’s time to invest in infrastructure and forget outdated stereotypes about “overhead.” Having donor dollars earmarked for overhead is necessary for nonprofits, especially when that “overhead” is talented staff. The ability to get off life support and move to a place of being financially healthy to serve leads to greater capacity throughout the communities that benefit from nonprofit work.

As the nonprofit sector continues to grow and the economy shifts from good to great, the quiet storm that is brewing in the nonprofit sector around talent, leadership, and infrastructure will be a Tsunami if we don’t strengthen our organizations in these areas that matter most.

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