3 Steps for Nonprofits To Take Advantage of the Great Resignation
Four million American workers quit their jobs in April of this year, 3.6 million joined them in May, and 3.9 million followed them out the door in June. Outlets like NPR, Forbes and countless more have acknowledged this as the arrival of the Great Resignation, a phenomenon first described by Anthony Klotz, a management professor at Texas A&M University, in 2019.
If your first thought is to put the blame for this unprecedented exodus squarely on the pandemic, think again. COVID-19 completely disrupted traditional corporate workplaces, but the mass departure we are seeing now goes far beyond simple Zoom-fatigue. The pandemic has only accelerated a movement that had been picking up steam for years. Modern employees are reassessing their values, more aggressively protecting their time and opening themselves to possibilities that give them a greater sense of purpose. And why wouldn’t they? Facing multiple existential threats to humanity, a seemingly endless list of societal issues and a government seemingly unable to adequately address them, skilled workers are looking for ways to put their skills to productive and gratifying use.
This is why the Great Resignation bears deep discussion and heavy thought for the nonprofit sector. I won’t mince words: The Great Resignation offers one of the greatest recruiting opportunities — if not the greatest — in recent history. Nonprofit leadership across the country should be chomping at the bit to attract motivated, purpose-driven candidates among the millions searching to hit the reset button on their careers in search of a more meaningful path.
Here are the three steps nonprofits must take advantage of during the Great Resignation.
1. Change Your Hiring Criteria
In my experience, Nonprofits have long overvalued previous nonprofit experience when considering candidates. This must end. A majority of Great Resignation candidates will have minimal nonprofit experience, lacking the hard skills that the open position requires. This is no reason to toss their resumes aside. Hard skills, largely, can be taught.
Give candidates as many opportunities to prove their commitment to your nonprofit’s mission as possible through cover letters and interviews. Measure them based on their soft skills — the personal and interpersonal traits that will make them productive members of your team, rather than upon how easy it will be to onboard them. Specifically relating to fundraising — the life blood of all nonprofits — these soft skills are the most critical. Surely, on-the-job experience — whether in a nonprofit or for-profit — is important, but just as important are the six areas that I look for in a fundraiser:
- Excellent listening and social skills
- Passion for the cause
- Dedication to success
- Flexibility and openness to innovation
If a candidate demonstrates these characteristics, I urge nonprofit leaders to think long and hard before telling them “no.”
2. Ease Workers' Transition From Other Sectors
A highly skilled worker who has left a job in tech or finance in search of a nonprofit job will arrive with certain expectations for the way that a workplace operates and helps them to be successful. They’ll look for nonprofits with a clearly-defined organizational structure, a supportive culture that values intelligence and hard work, an appreciation for innovation, fair compensation, tech savviness (i.e. basic IT functionality) and opportunity for advancement. Put simply, these workers want to feel good about waking up in the morning and going to work. In the past, these concerns have led to young professionals being labeled “entitled.” These are not entitled millennials. They are modern workers. It is up to nonprofits to adapt — not them.
It is very difficult to check all of the boxes I just listed in establishing a company culture. But the path to the Great Resignation was lined with the failure of for-profit companies to do this. Many new candidates will have tried their hands at startups in the for-profit space to find a facade of mission-driven messaging evaporating into a chaotic, greedy and uncaring work environment. It is also time to do away with the “take less because we’re a nonprofit” mentality. It is so much more cost effective and forward-thinking to hire the right person at or above market rate than to hire someone on the cheap.
A large number of Great Resignation workers are also coming from the service industry, a sector that is known for notoriously demanding and unglamorous work. A successful nonprofit will work to create a transparently mission-driven, structurally cohesive experience for these workers. If it does, new hires will stay. Their work — and your nonprofit — will flourish.
3. Aggressively Pursue a Positive Culture and Get Out of Your Worker’s Way!
Nonprofits must also be wary of creating the workplace pitfalls that led to the Great Resignation in the first place. If the virtue of your organization’s mission does not trickle down to the treatment of your workers, you will not keep them and you will not succeed. Do not ask for “off the clock” work and do not expect email or Slack correspondence at all hours of the day. Do not dismiss ideas of intersectionality or microaggressions as meaningless and easily ignored buzzwords — they are not. Pursue opportunities to avoid workplace discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, age or disability.
Meanwhile, clear your employees’ paths to success. Do not overburden their schedules with large, lengthy meetings. Do not weigh them down with red tape. Empower your people — new and long-tenured employees alike — with the time to hunker down and grow. The Great Resignation makes it clear that if you don’t, your employees will quickly begin looking to the door.
Look, at the end of July of 2021, there were 10.9 million open jobs in the U.S. alone — the highest on record. That number was a million more than leading economists had predicted for the month. If we apply the fact that 10% of non-government jobs in the U.S. are with nonprofits, that means there are 500,000 open jobs in the nonprofit sector. That is a lot of competition. In my work as a nonprofit board member and adviser, and as a donor, I often see a lack of adaptability in nonprofits. I see them stuck in the dark ages' when it comes to systems and fundraising tactics. Adaptability will give a nonprofit a leg up on its competition.
If nothing else, the Great Resignation and its resulting talent rush should show that long-term success has everything to do with hiring and retaining the best people possible, and, to do that, a nonprofit must adapt, modernize and grow internally before affecting its mission externally. Doing things a certain way only because “that’s the way it’s always been done” won’t fly anymore.
Nonprofits — let’s get hiring!
Lisa Zola Greer is a philanthropist, nonprofit adviser, convener and the author of the bestselling book, "Philanthropy Revolution." Over the last decade, the Greer home in Beverly Hills, California, has been home to nearly 200 charitable salons and events connecting nonprofits with donors and the community.
In 2021, Lisa is serving as commissioner of the California State Commission on the Status of Women, a board member of the New Israel Fund and an executive committee member of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors. She has also served as commissioner and chair of the Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage Commission, trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and a board member of many organizations, including the District Attorney’s Crime Prevention Foundation, Make-a-Wish of Greater Los Angeles, Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles and others.
Earlier in her career, Lisa was a studio executive at NBC and Universal Studios, and she founded and led several companies, including a management consulting and strategic advisory firm specializing in digital media and entertainment businesses. A native of Los Angeles, Lisa holds a bachelor's degree in history from UCLA and a Master of Business Administration from Pepperdine University.