Fifteen strategies for nonprofits to recruit and retain millennial leadership

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Nonprofits face unique challenges. Charitable giving is “down.” And competition for dollars has become far fiercer. Add to this the fact that they are competing with private industry for top leadership talent and the picture can begin to look mighty grim.

It need not be so. The newest generation entering the workforce over the past several years, the millennials, represents a great deal of talent, including leadership abilities, and may just comprise a pool of recruits that find nonprofits attractive.

The attraction of nonprofits for millennials

While many decry the values and work ethic of millennials, the truth is they have the potential to become highly valuable employees, if they find a work environment that fits their core beliefs and needs. Nonprofits have the potential to meet many millennial needs:

  • They want to work for companies and organizations that have more than just a profit motive as their top priority.
  • They value organizations that exhibit social responsibility. In fact, as consumers, they patronize companies that have committed to environmental sustainability and to making contributions to “causes” - elimination of poverty, social equality, diversity, etc.
  • They want to merge their work with their lifestyles, and nonprofits can often support this more than private industry.
  • They want their opinions to count and to be recognized for their contributions. And that recognition need not always be money.
  • They want to earn enough to live comfortably, but salary is not a top priority.
  • They want opportunities for growth and development in order to grow in their careers.
  • They want to work differently – and that includes flexibility of hours and even work space, something that may be difficult in a corporate environment with its bureaucratic policies and “rules.”
  • They want to see real purpose in the work they do. Nonprofits can often provide greater purpose than for-profits.

But the fact remains that nonprofits have a harder time recruiting and retaining millennials in a competitive market. So, just how can they recruit and retain the best and the brightest for the leadership roles they need?

Here are some strategies that may help.


1. Have a social media presence, especially on Facebook and Instagram. LinkedIn is a given, but the competition with private industry is stiff. It’s not necessarily that you will recruit on these platforms, but you do need a strong presence that can be viewed once a potential recruit is aware you have an opening. Millennials will check you out on social media.

2. If you are recruiting on college campuses, avoid the elite schools. Again, competition is rigorous.

3. Develop a strong volunteer/internship program. This will allow young talent to get to know your organization well and to participate in collaborative work with your other staff. Assign “mentors” who can develop and “groom” the most talented interns. In addition to demanding social responsibility, millennials want opportunities for professional (and personal) growth and development. If you are looking for millennial leadership, the best pace to begin is when they begin a relationship with your organization.

Hiring and onboarding

Once you have a pool of recruitment applicants, the interviewing and hiring process begins. There are two activities going on here. First, you are attempting to determine if the candidate has the skill set you need and is a “fit” for your organizational culture. Second, the candidate is sizing you up to see if you meet his needs and demands.

Presenting your organization to a millennial

You will want to speak to the following, if you can offer them:

  • The potential for growth within the organization and your commitment to promote from within.
  • Flexibility of working hours and spaces, if you are authorized to offer that
  • Benefits beyond retirement and health insurance. Do you offer optional benefits as some private organizations do? Perhaps a gym membership?
  • Millennials are social. They value working in collaboration with others where they can express their ideas and opinions openly. Emphasize the collaborative work and decision-making processes that you employ. The hiring manager for Pick Writers says, “We evaluate translation agencies and provide reviews for public consumption. Our processes require teamwork and lots of collaboration. What we find is that our millennial hires love working in teams and appreciate the fact that we allow them to write reviews that express their own evaluations and opinions.”
  • Speak to your professional development programs and activities. Millennials place a high value on working for an organization that will support and promote their skill development.
  • Don’t ever promise anything that you cannot deliver. It’s disingenuous, and your new hire will be disappointed. That disappointment can lead to looking for a job change early on.

Retaining millennials

Millennials are considered to be job-hoppers, fairly or not. And for older folks in the workplace, the fact that their average job tenure is 1.7 years is a bit shocking. The average cost of replacing a career employee can be as high as $15-20,000. It’s important, then, that you take steps to keep them. Given what you know they want, here are the logical provisions you should make.

1. Give them work that is meaningful and leads somewhere. If they feel that all of their tasks are simply process-oriented, they will lose interest quickly. They must feel that the work they do contributes to overall organizational goals.

2. Be realistic about their future career opportunities with your organization, but at the same time, define the steps for them so that they can see the potential. And assure them that you are willing to provide the professional development opportunities that will get them there.

3. Provide time for socialization at work that isn't necessarily work-related. Planning events and activities, and even including family members in those activities, is valuable to millennials.

4. Provide leadership responsibilities as soon as possible. This may be leading a project or some activity, not necessarily a managerial position. But it will give them a sense that they are an important and contributing part of the organization. Suppose, for example, that you have a millennial who is really tech-savvy. She can be provided the opportunity to train some of your older managers who may not be “up” on certain technologies.

5. Encourage them to volunteer outside of the work place and provide time with pay to do just that. They want to feel they are contributing to their communities too.

6. Offer work flexibility as much as possible. Millennials can be highly motivated to work well beyond a normal 8-hour work day if their work is meaningful. At the same time, they want to be able have some flexibility in determining their work hours. Fortunately, technology makes remote work far more possible today than ever before. If your millennials are producing and meeting deadlines, how important is it to you that they punch a time clock at work?

The wrap

Millennials know what they want in terms of work. And they know the types of organizations that they want to work for. Nonprofits can be an excellent fit for their values and belief systems and provide a work environment that they will find both meaningful and personally fulfilling.

Elisa Abbott is a freelancer whose passion lies in creative writing. She completed a degree in Computer Science and writes about ways to apply machine learning to deal with complex issues. Insights on education, helpful tools and valuable university experiences – she has got you covered;) When she’s not engaged in assessing translation services for PickWriters you’ll usually find her sipping a cappuccino with a book.

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