Maximizing the Mission: Recruiting at Not-for-Profits

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Not-for-profit organizations are not immune to the challenges of the tight labour market. Jonathan Oldman, CEO of the Immigrant Services Society of BC, knows first-hand the importance of maintaining a strong employer reputation. For the ISSofBC, this involves highlighting the significance of the organization’s mission to provide support to newcomers to Canada. 

Staffing at Not-for-Profits 

“In certain regards, I think the pandemic has had the same impact on our sector that it had on every sector,” Oldman explained to Goldbeck Recruiting. Among the challenges listed by the new CEO were increased burnout, talent shortages, and the blurring of professional and personal lives owing to remote work. The organization relies on a team of about 350 paid staff and an approximately equal number of volunteers. 

“We’re always trying to recruit the best and the brightest,” says Oldman. “To do this it’s important to market ourselves as an amazing employer. Of course it’s about compensation, but it’s also about culture.”

Highlighting Culture and Mission During Recruitment

While not-for-profits are often unable to go dollar for dollar with the most aggressive for-profit job offers, they are able to offer their employees a sense of purpose that money cannot buy. 

“Fundamentally, I still believe that people want to work in organizations where they feel that they are contributing something important and that they’re part of something larger than themselves,” says Oldman, referring to this combination of culture and purpose as the ‘secret sauce recipe’. “If you can do those things, you’ll continue to be successful at recruitment and retaining good people, regardless of the circumstances.”

Direct Experience an Asset, Not a Necessity

Oldman, still in his first year on the job, says the organization is fortunate to employ a good number of people with a direct link to the company mission. 

“I’ve certainly been struck by the number of people who received service or volunteered for our organization, saw the impact of our work, and were then motivated to apply for a paid position with us,” says Oldman. “It’s incredibly inspiring.”

Like organizations in other sectors, however, ISSofBC have found it best to keep an open mind when recruiting talent. Oldman himself had a quarter century of experience in BC’s not-for-profit sector prior to assuming his current position. While none of his past work directly related to the immigrant serving or settlement sector, he finds many parallels. 

“A lot of the issues that we are dealing with involve community connection, employment, housing, mental health support, and trauma,” he notes. “These are all really familiar issues for me that I’ve worked to address in other organizations. This is a slightly different context, but those are things that I care deeply and passionately about.”

Oldman says he’s excited to continue learning and searching for new contributors. “If the CEO can be appointed without any direct experience working in immigration,” he reasons, “then other people can as well.”

Maintaining Partnerships and Relationships

Key to success for any not-for-profit is the ability to establish and maintain relationships with sponsors and stakeholders, an especially challenging task during a pandemic. 

“I think everyone in the last two years has shown an incredible degree of flexibility and understanding of the uncertainty we’re dealing with,” says Oldman. “That goes from federal and provincial governments through to corporate partners, donors, funders, and volunteers.”

Oldman explains that collaboration and partnership are fundamental in the sector, “The most successful relationships that we have are built on mutual trust, mutual benefit.”

Not-for-Profit Overhead and Infrastructure 

With so many not-for-profits seeking support, it falls upon organizations to show potential supporters that they’ll receive a good ‘bang for their buck’. This often leads to expectations that groups will minimize their administrative overhead, an expectation that Oldman believes misses the point. 

“I think that often the not-for-profit sector gets tagged with this question of ‘what is your administration overhead’, as if somehow that is separate from delivering good service to people,” says Oldman. The CEO thinks that the pandemic has helped to expose the flaw behind this thinking.  “I think that perhaps in the last two years people have understood that investment in digital capacity and IT infrastructure is core to being able to deliver good service to people as they change and evolve the way that they consume and use community services.” 

Oldman believes that investing in people is equally important. “It’s not a luxury,” he explains, “it has a direct connection to the quality of service that we deliver to our clients. I think that our partners are increasingly aware that we need to be a well-run organization to be successful in our mission.” 

Not-for-Profit Sector Underappreciated

“I think our sector is frequently undervalued and underappreciated for the work and the commitment that people make,” opines Oldman, adding “a great many people in our sector could be earning more money doing different things.” 

He speaks of the ISSofBC team with both pride and gratitude, noting that, while their backgrounds differ, their commitment brings them together. 

“I don’t think that there’s one life journey that is the right one,” he says “but I think that we ask people to be committed and passionate, and to go the extra mile for the people that we serve.”

Cited Sources
Personal communication with ISSofBC CEO Jonathan Oldman
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Goldbeck Recruiting

Goldbeck Recruiting is a contingency recruitment and executive search firm located in Vancouver, BC. Since 1997, we have been helping companies fill challenging positions that require a unique combination of skills, professionalism, and industry background.

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