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The Voice of Nonprofit Talent


Commongood Careers is an innovative talent partner for the nonprofit sector. Functioning principally as a retained search firm that supports social entrepreneurs with their recruitment and hiring needs at every level of the organizational chart, Commongood Careers also works to provide resources for socially-driven jobseekers and to address talent-related issues throughout the sector.

To this end, Commongood Careers recently developed and distributed a 25-question survey 15,000 members of its candidate pool. The survey asked jobseekers to share their attitudes, motivations and challenges in pursuing careers in the social sector. The following report is intended to provide employers with a deeper understanding of what employees prefer and expect from them. This information can help organizations be more effective at recruiting, hiring, developing and retaining talented individuals.

Three major themes emerged in the survey results. The first, Cultural Connection, reveals the participants’ motivations and values. The second, Employment Incentives, explores compensation-related concerns and preferences. Finally, Career Development offers a glimpse into their longer-term plans and aspirations.

Theme 1: Cultural Connection

Although most nonprofits consider “candidate fit” with their organizational culture to be one of the most important factors in making a hiring decision, survey results illustrated the degree to which jobseekers also place cultural connectivity above almost all other factors in assessing their job opportunities.

When asked what type of organizational culture they desired, a “collaborative, team-oriented” environment was most prized, with respondents indicating that this was one of their primary reasons for choosing nonprofit over private sector jobs. Demonstrating a “strategic, results-oriented” approach was also essential, as was an effort to engage employees in the development and implientation of that strategy. People want to see, feel and impact results while working in organizations that they believe are effective agents for social change.

Theme 2: Employment Incentives

Although survey participants indicated high levels of tension around “doing good” while also needing to earn a living, they did not want to make substantial trade-offs in the process. While “mission” still ranked first in evaluating job opportunities, “salary” finished second and remained a prevalent theme throughout the survey.

When asked to consider which non-salary benefits were most important to them (other than standard healthcare)

“vacation policies” topped the list, with second place going to “flexible work plans such as 4-day weeks and working from home.” Both factors ranked far above traditional benefits such as dental, vision, performance bonuses, tuition debt support and family leave.

Theme 3: Career Development

Respondents voiced a clear intent to stay in the sector and pursue leadership roles, with 63% indicating a plan to stay in the sector for at least ten more years; 82% saying they wanted to hold a nonprofit executive-level role at some point; and 66% stating that they were ready, or would be soon, to hold an executive position.

When asked what might keep them employed at a single organization for 5-10 years, the top response was “feeling continually challenged by my job.” On the other hand, respondents indicated that the relative absence of career ladders, mentors and professional development might limit their long-term ability to remain in the sector.

Implienting Strategic Responses

Jobseekers agree that the need for change is real, as over 75% of respondents agreed with each of the following statements:

  • Organizations must change their recruitment practices to attract next generation leaders.
  • Organizations must change their employment practices to retain next generation leaders.
  • Organizations must do more to professionally develop future nonprofit leaders from within.

To provide some ideas for nonprofits looking to put this information to work, the following strategies are offered:

1. Define and publicly share a statement about your organization’s unique culture and values.
2. Define your “employer brand” and leverage your marketing resources in your hiring efforts.
3. Develop a proactive, year-round commitment to recruiting and informational interviewing.
4. Consider “re-scaling” growth plans for increased salaries across fewer, higher-level employees.
5. Stay current with evolving salary trends and maintain your competitiveness in compensation.
6. Get creative with benefits, offering more flexibility with vacation time and employment arrangements.
7. Build career ladders for every employee, identify successors, and promote employees regularly.
8. Challenge and develop employees through in-house training programs and mentoring opportunities.

Download the full report.