If you were to ask a dozen nonprofits to identify their greatest organizational challenges, they would all say “money” and “manpower.” If you were to ask them to name just one, it would be “manpower.”
Pat MacMillan, author of The Performance Factor and Hiring Excellence, has for many years observed the problems associated with recruiting for nonprofit ministries. He has categorized his observations into six broad areas—a list of things to “not do.”
Don’t Wait Like Spiders in a Web
“The recruiting efforts of many ministries,” according to MacMillan, “are passive and as a result reactive.” You counter that you are active. You have lots of strategies, brochures, mailings, speakers, and conferences. But that is not the point, says MacMillan. You do not “seek out…disciples and challenge them to ministry.” But rather “like spiders in their webs,” you sit and wait, ready to respond should someone stumble in. Pat’s conclusion—the dreaded “a” word—you sorely lack aggressiveness. You need to recruit aggressively.
Don’t Harvest Without Cultivating
Instead of being proactive in our search, writes MacMillan, “We are constrained to wait on the fringes and take what is available or left over.” You need to develop and offer more ways to cultivate potential recruits, and be a part of their lives before they join. It will take more resources, time, and manpower, but it will give people a reason to know you before they join.
Don’t Harbor a “Poor-man’s” Attitude
A poor-man’s attitude is one that says, “No really qualified person would want to join us.” And I have heard some people add, “Look at me.” That attitude, according to MacMillan, “not only makes these organizations tentative in their efforts to recruit the very best, but it also makes them more willing to abandon all their selection criteria except that of ‘availability.’” Work is one of the arenas where people shape and give expression to the skills and gifts that are hard-wired into them. They are looking for a place to shine, to be their best.
Don’t Set Unrealistic Expectations
Setting unrealistic expectations is not about raising the bar too high, rather it is raising the wrong bar. MacMillan’s fourth observation was the tendency on the part of nonprofit organizations to establish unrealistic qualifications and commitment requirements. While this might sound like the opposite of the “poor-man’s” attitude, it is more likely a failure to clearly define and then match unique jobs with unique skills. Arthur Miller in a PMI article states that the first step to effective recruitment is to “develop critical requirements of the job to be filled.” I know it sounds obvious, but it may not be something you have done with intention or in writing. You may have the attitudes you want down pat, what you have not done is identify in writing the critical skills (or outcomes) you need in each of the roles that make up a complete team.
Don’t Lose Touch with the Context and Culture in Which You Recruit
“As recruiters,” writes MacMillan, “we need to understand the context and culture that shape the people we hope to recruit.” How do you reach those who are now in their twenties and thirties? When it comes to recruiting Gen Xers and New Millennials, there are two things we know. First, they want to work for a person not an organization. They must meet and interact with the person who will be their boss or team leader, and if possible, with the team itself. This means team leaders need to be recruiting their own team. Second, Gen Xers and New Millennials want to get feedback from their peers about the organization. Since there is some distrust of people higher up, it is best to let them talk with people their own age. It is also critical that these “same age” people be open, honest, and transparent with the candidate, or the war for talent is lost.
Don’t Send Dusty Messages
We all agree that up-to-date communication methods do contribute to our effectiveness in recruitment. However, “it’s not the medium,” writes MacMillan, “that needs dusting off, it’s the message!” Telling our story is an art. It can be done well. It can be done poorly. Sometimes the one telling the story gets “a little too close to the sun” (i.e., Icarus) thinking the story is about them, and they and the organization both get burned. Two things you can learn from Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor; guilt and fear don’t work. “Stories that use fear or shame to mobilize action may seem effective in the short term but can be counter productive in the long term,” she writes. Fear and shame are emotions that move people “away from” not “towards.” The key to attracting the very best is in communicating how others have brought their strengths to the work, every day, and how they can do the same.