Finding top-notch talent is a continual challenge for any nonprofit leader. Our nation’s currently-low unemployment rate means stiffer competition for a smaller pool of potential candidates. Furthermore, the limited funding afforded to most nonprofits makes it difficult to offer the pay and other benefits to attract leading prospects. The challenge is compounded by the fact that many nonprofit organizations have a very small (or nonexistent!) human resources staff to dedicate the process of seeking new talent.
When a client has a critical senior position that comes open such as CEO or Executive Director, or a very hard-to-fill position, such as Director of Development, we are often asked if they should attempt to recruit for the position themselves or spend the time and money to hire a professional recruiter for the job.
1. Do you have at least two candidates that you would be comfortable offering the position to right now?
In many cases you already know a candidate who would be perfect for the position, whether internal to your organization or somewhere in your professional or personal network. In fewer cases, you may actually know two or more people who could successfully fit the bill. It seems simple, but, I’m a big believer in ensuring you have multiple, serious prospects for any given position. It’s always important for the organization to have choices, and it also benefits the candidate – no new hire wants to be perceived as the de facto choice, rather than the most talented person in a pool of candidates…even when the pool is small! If you don’t have several potential candidates in mind, it may be worth the effort to bring in a recruiter to help expand the pool.
2. Do you have staff with the time capacity to effectively recruit?
Successful recruiting is not a simple undertaking. The recruiter will need to develop a high-quality position announcement, have it approved by the appropriate stakeholders, research the best places to post the announcement, organize and reach out to networking contacts, review applications, respond to candidate inquiries, and coordinate all in the decision-making process, such as interviews, onsite visits, and reference checks. Though activities could be handled by multiple staff members, in total they do require a significant amount of dedicated time. The last thing you want to do is cut corners or rush the process, so you need to ensure that the staff involved understand the priorities and are prepared to address them adequately. You may need to adjust their workloads to compensate for the time needed for recruitment tasks. You will also want to make sure that they have some basic background and training in human resources and in particular, recruitment, to ensure that any future miscommunications or (at worst) legal issues, are avoided. This training doesn’t need to be extensive or include a degree in human resources, but they should seek skilled counsel on how to effectively conduct the search within the confines of hiring law and best practice. If you don’t currently have the staffing capacity to cover all of these tasks without detriment to your organizational mission, hiring a recruiter may be advisable.
3. Are you well-connected to the target geography?
Most senior-level candidate searches are listed as regional, statewide, or even national postings. In reality, the salary, benefits, and relocation packages offered may mean that candidates are more likely to be local. If this is the case, you may be very familiar with the local associations, organizations, and other resources where you can connect with and recruit for candidates. However, if you are truly conducting a search beyond the area with your strongest local connections, it may be more difficult to effectively “headhunt” the talent you seek.
4. How great would the impact of multiple searches be to the function of your organization?
Some positions present a greater recruiting challenge than others, whether due to a limited pool of applicants or limited resources for recruitment. In these situations, it may require multiple searches to find the right person for the role. The need to conduct multiple searches can range from frustrating to catastrophic, depending on the situation. For example, an interim Executive Director you have put in place may be fine leading the organization for an entire year, while searches are conducted. In other cases, there may be much greater pressure to place a position, either because the interim leadership is not prepared to serve for a longer time period or because of external pressures requiring a quick placement, such as obtaining a grant that requires a permanent leader to be in place before grant funds can be drawn upon). While you may be successful at filling the position during the first round, on the first run, it is crucial to be prepared in case you don’t.
If you do plan to conduct your own search and anticipate multiple rounds or searches for other roles, you may want to consider further developing your organization’s internal recruitment capacity. For example, it may be worth the effort to establish a part- or full-time human resources position that could encompass recruiting.
Again, deciding whether to self-search or engage a professional recruiter is never an easy decision. It is not clear-cut, especially for nonprofit organizations with limited resources, for whom the decision to engage a professional will come at a high opportunity cost.
As you reflect upon the answers to these questions, it may become obvious that hiring a recruiter is the best option. If so, I suggest you review the six questions we recommend you ask before engaging one.
If you decide not to hire a recruiter, don’t hesitate to use our process for free. You can get a copy of Lean Recruitment, the step-by-step guide to our process for free here (a $9.99 value).
Also, don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions by finding a time to talk by phone.