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Sell your Nonprofit: 3 Strategies for Acquiring Exceptional Development Talent

By: Stephen Belenky, Director

Stephen Belenky

Attracting talented staff members is a challenge for all nonprofit organizations. Recruiting exceptional talent requires strategy! As described in PMA’s blog post, Identifying Talent: Nonprofit Development Professionals, four categories of development talent are bubbling to the surface as of late:

  1. Ambitious, Proactive Development Leaders – The economic downturn resulted in two types of employees – those content to blame the economy for poor fundraising returns, and those who rose to the challenge with dynamic efforts. Organization leaders weary of excuses are seeking the latter in increasing measure.
  2. Recent Transplants – The notion of the development professional’s rolodex, with scores of potential donors waiting to support your mission, is largely a thing of the past. Good process, innovation and critical thinking are rising expectations, and professionals who exhibit these traits are strong candidates, whether longtime residents or brand new to the region.
  3. Career Transition from For-Profit Sector – The sector has grown as individuals from the for-profit sector set their sights on nonprofit development positions. Board seeking, results-oriented professionals with experience in strategy development and implementation are increasingly looking to those in career transition as a source of fresh perspective.
  4. The Blocked Development Professional – In development departments across Charlotte, emerging talent has hit a ceiling, with department heads unlikely to leave. Those who engage in community activities network and devote themselves to professional development opportunities are apt to rise to the top of HR searches.

Yet, knowing the ideal profile of a development professional and recruiting that candidate are two different discussions. Simply posting a position to one of many philanthropy sites isn’t going to cut it these days, where the small pool of truly qualified development professionals is in high demand.

More and more, PMA is finding that nonprofits are reluctant to sell themselves to prospective development professionals. The phrase, “we shouldn’t have to work for it…they should be approaching us in these difficult economic times,” is far too common. Ego often inhibits leadership from the reality that it is a great time for a development professional to be seeking employment and she/he has the luxury to be selective.

That being said, ego isn’t always a factor as many nonprofits simply feel ill-equipped to service the needs of exceptional talent. The phrase, “we just can’t compete with the larger organizations,” is often a dead give-away for a nonprofit that hasn’t taken the time to consider those unique opportunities it has to offer talented professionals.

The solution? Sell your nonprofit. Be proactive in your recruitment and intentional about your tactics. If you consider what development professionals want – often an opportunity to be working in an innovative and forward-thinking environment – you’re likely to position your nonprofit to recruit the very best. But claiming innovation and forward-thinking isn’t enough; you must demonstrate it within the context of 3 basic strategies that are sure to keep you in the game of recruiting exceptional development talent:

  1. Focus on your mission and recruit individuals who resonate with it. Like donors, development professionals are zealous about some services and less enthusiastic about others. It’s on you to demonstrate that your organization is pushing the boundaries of programming in an area that is of particular interest to the prospect.
  2. Play up your strengths and recruit individuals in search of a particular environment. You may be small, but you can offer them a collaborative team, a dynamic setting, and plenty of opportunities to lead. Don’t be surprised to learn that many professionals will gladly give up the larger development office where their responsibilities are likely to be static, for the smaller development office where every day is different and their position is integral to the fabric of the operation.
  3. Commit to their growth and demonstrate that commitment in the search process. Your nonprofit may not be able to compete with larger organizations in terms of salary, but you can offer an intentional professional development plan to advance his/her skills through such activities as webinars, workshops, industry and networking events, and one-on-one mentoring. Promote your commitment to their growth and watch the quantity and quality of resumes increase exponentially.