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The pipeline imperative (or how to engage talent even when you’re not hiring)

It’s been established that nonprofits benefit from developing and engaging talent pipelines. Yet pipeline development is rarely done, for a slew of well-documented reasons, such as lack of current nonprofit leaders who champion these efforts, lack of nonprofit staff who are knowledgeable about and/or responsible for pipeline development, or lack of systems in place to nurture talent over time.

Today more than ever, the nonprofit sector may be missing a major opportunity to figure out pipeline development once and for all. We’re witnessing an unprecedented influx of talent to the nonprofit sector, including a surge of recent graduates, career changers, and older employees. At Commongood Careers, we’ve seen the volume of resumes for our clients’ searches triple or quadruple in many cases. Even organizations that are not advertising any positions are receiving unsolicited resumes and requests for informational interviews.

So how can we take advantage of building relationships with these talented people, and ultimately create pipelines we can tap down the road?

One example comes from Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund that addresses global poverty. For the upcoming summer, Acumen Fund had 10 intern spots open and received applications from over 700 candidates. They asked themselves, “What can we do to engage the other 690 candidates?” After a couple of emails and meetings, they decided to run an experiment: invite the non-accepted candidates to a private conference call briefing from senior Acumen staff. Not only was this a way to Acumen leaders to thank these candidates, but also offer ways to stay engaged with both the organizations and the social innovation space as a whole.

Sounds easy, right? Creative ways to engage talent like the approach taken by Acumen do not require tons of staff bandwidth, and result in laying the foundation for future touchpoints with talent that has expressed interest in your organization. Use these opportunities to invite these talented individuals to volunteer, donate, blog, or participate in your organization in other ways. Track these candidates over time, even if it’s as simple as adding them to an email list and sending them a quarterly note. Engaging talent early and often is bound to contribute to the success of your organization’s future recruitment efforts.

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