The Effect of One Word in Successful Nonprofit Recruitment

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Pavel Ignatov /

September 9, 2013;Quartz


In a blog post that’s redolent of the analysis of early Nate Silver, Leanne Pittsford outlined some remarkable employment trends in the nonprofit sector, entitled “Four charts that should scare the nonprofit sector.” The first two charts outline some of the more challenging employment trends seen in the nonprofit sector, using the more traditional terms for the sector.

  1. In a simple Google analysis of the terms “nonprofit jobs” and “non-profit jobs,” the number of people searching for jobs at nonprofits “has gone down by either half or two-thirds since pre-2005.”
  2. When looking at the top nonprofit job site, Idealist, the author noted a dramatic decrease, approximately 30 percent, in job search interest on the site.

At first glance, the data above contrasts sharply with other national data provided Nonprofit HR Solutions, a forum that puts out a yearly report on nonprofit employment trends. In their 2013 report, the data suggest increases in nonprofit hiring. Their data states:

  • In 2012, 40 percent of nonprofits surveyed said the size of their staff increased. This is a three percentage-point decrease from last year, when 43 percent of nonprofits surveyed said their staff increased, but a six percentage-point increase from two years ago, when only 34 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in staff size.
  • Twenty percent indicated a decrease in staff size. Most interviewees reported that their staff size has held steady or increased slightly over the past year, as the economy has improved.

While the two may conflict, what might be happening is a change in the way nonprofits are recruiting, potentially using new words, phrases, and approaches to recruit talent. In additional data by Ms. Pittsford, the contrast might be due to the attractiveness of the fields of social enterprise and “social good.” Her remaining two charts state:

  • In searches around “jobs social enterprise” and “social enterprise jobs,” the spike in interest from 2009 to today has increased by approximately 60 percent.
  • According to Pittsford, when looking at the term “social good,” “the number of people looking for jobs in ‘social good’ is going up. The term ‘social good’ has risen in popularity over the last few years, and according to its technical definition, it includes both nonprofits and social enterprise.”

According to Pittsford, the nonprofit sector should start reclaiming the “social” words more to retain talent by making “the nonprofit sector an attractive place to find a job and build a career.”—John Brothers

  • Rebecca

    The terms social and enterprise are strong and are found in case studies that new grads have often studied. However, I have long wondered why an entire sector identified and marketed itself by what it is NOT, instead of what it is or has the potential to be. There is a growing independent, autonomy-seeking and entrepreneurial spirit among career seekers. We are more than our tax status and I welcome the end of the label nonprofit used in any other context than tax filing.

  • Amandah

    That’s the power of words. Make sure your choose the right ones for your nonprofit.

  • Colin Jones

    Analyzing Google’s search data provides insights into what people are interested in while the Nonprofit HR data reflects the needs and hiring of nonprofits. The two aren’t in conflict. Just because fewer people are actively searching for nonprofit jobs doesn’t stop nonprofits from hiring more – they could just be hiring from a weaker pool of candidates or hiring candidates whose first choice is a different industry.

    The declining cachet of nonprofits and widespread perception of nonprofit workplaces are still cause for concern.

  • Leanne Pittsford

    Thanks John for covering my article, “Four Charts That Should Scare The Nonprofit Sector”. Unfortunately it looks like you misunderstood the points I was making. I’ve written a response on my blog, “This Is Disturbing: How Nonprofit Quarterly Totally Missed The Mark On ‘When You Work At A Nonprofit'”.

    @Rebecca: Great point about case studies in social enterprise. New grads have been studying social enterprise models and that’s what they look for when they get out of school. There’s no such precedent for the nonprofit model.

    @Colin: I agree these trends are a cause for concern. As motivated individuals look elsewhere, nonprofit becomes the second choice for socially-minded job seekers.