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How to Find an Executive in a Competitive Nonprofit Job Market

A recent article in TheNonProfitTimes pointed out that even though the general workforce has shrunk over the past 10 years, the nonprofit job market has expanded, to the point where the nonprofit sector is the nation’s third largest employer, trailing only staid institutions like retail and manufacturing.

However, this growth doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to land a job at a nonprofit than it is in another line of work. As more and better-trained executives seek jobs in the nonprofit sector, the competition for them starts to look much more unforgiving, just like the competition for executive positions in corporate America.

Couple this with the fact nonprofits are beginning to cede jobs to for-profit companies that are exploring long-term care, health, and education, and it’s easy to see that it’s difficult not only for the candidate to find the job, but for the nonprofit to find the right candidate.

With this in mind, it is vital that the right opportunities and roles get married to the right candidates. This requires a keen understanding of the given vertical in play, not just the entire nonprofit ecosystem. According to a new Johns Hopkins University report, the three largest employers in the nonprofit sector are healthcare, education and social assistance entities. These also happen to be the three verticals driving the most job growth, but the qualifications for a leadership position differ dramatically across each vertical.

Increased competition for jobs in the nonprofit sector is often the result of baby boomers seeking a sense of fulfillment. They’ve made money and built careers, and they are now looking follow their heart and give back through work for a nonprofit. For employers, culling the best and brightest from this herd is more difficult than ever, with so many people at all ages and stages of their careers seeking these roles and so few having the right training and experience.

As often as not, the best possible candidate for your role may not presently be working in the nonprofit sector, and this creates challenges. The qualities to lead a major retail brand are not the same as running an education nonprofit. So how can nonprofit organizations identify the best executive candidates, let alone recruit them?

The key is to pinpoint why the candidate wants to enter the nonprofit sector, and which executive skill set they can bring to the organization to help it meets its goals. As an employer, determine what’s most important to the organization before beginning the search for a new candidate. Is the goal to continue the success of previous executives, or is it to inject new ideas and thinking to achieve the organization’s mission? Those two strategies require two different kinds of executives. If your nonprofit is looking for new ways of thinking, it might make sense to hire an executive who has experience revitalizing a for-profit company on their resume.

Another important thing to keep in mind is the determination of the candidate. It is important for employers to understand an executive candidate’s motives for choosing a career in nonprofit. Is he or she simply looking to cap a successful career with a feel-good job title, or do they have the passion, drive and determination to make the nonprofit an important part of their life? Every employer wants a candidate who will buy into the core values of the organization, and this is more important in the nonprofit sector than anywhere else.

Again, it’s important to find the best fit for the particular position, and not just the person who appears most qualified on paper. As the Johns Hopkins report illustrates, nonprofits are a vital part of American life, and build a sense of community, both in the workplace, and in the areas they serve. Increased competition is an indication of a growing industry, and it’s encouraging to see more qualified workers enter the nonprofit sector.