tuition reimbursement

With unemployment rates hovering between seven and nine percent, you’d think the labor market would be loose, instead of continuing to tighten up. But today’s situation is unique, primarily due to the recent COVID pandemic. Millions of people are out of work, but for a number of reasons they have chosen to either retire early, work part-time from home at another job, or live off unemployment benefits until their savings eventually run out.

What’s a non-profit manager to do in a situation like this? The answer is to be creative. Historically, it’s been tough for non-profits to attract and keep workers at all levels of the organizational hierarchy, particularly for top spots. Nowadays, in the post-COVID era, when working from home is the norm, labor markets are perpetually tight, and entrepreneurship is at an all-time high, even for-profit businesses are discovering the travails of recruitment and retention.

Fortunately, not-for-profit entities have a few special weapons in their arsenals that for-profit organizations lack. What are they? It’s a mixed bag, but includes all the usual suspects plus at least a half-dozen strategies that are relatively new to the scene. Here’s a look at 12 ways you can identify, attract, interview, motivate, and retain talent to your not-for-profit company.

Career Development Programs

Offering career development is one of the oldest, most powerful ways to retain, but not necessarily recruit, talent. However, if you know how to present your organization’s offerings during the interview phase, it’s possible to leverage this tool for both attraction and long-term retention. The key is to be clear with candidates about the specific programs you offer. 

For instance, rather than say that ‘we have some excellent job-training and career enhancement courses that are free for everyone who works here’, consider spelling out how the coursework is set up, what it teaches, and that employees can study and test on company time. But, be careful not to pitch the training as something that merely prepares workers for a future spot in a for-profit corporation. Be honest about what they’ll learn, and explain how the coursework will help them grow and advance within your organization, not in someone else’s.

Tuition Reimbursement

Tuition reimbursement is one of the crown jewels of not-for-profit (NFP) recruiting tools. Many people who aim to work outside the for-profit corporate environment are more focused on obtaining master’s and doctoral degrees within their fields. When your organization offers to cover at least a portion of the cost, you automatically can have a leg up on other employers who might be attempting to lure your candidate with an offer. Make it clear to job-seekers that even though you can’t cover the entire amount of tuition, it’s simple to use a private lender for a student loan that can cover the remainder of their education bills. This is true for both college, graduate, and doctoral programs.

Political-Neutral Missions

One of the worst things you can do is pitch your organization in a political light. Too often, job seekers hear interviewers speak glowingly about missions that have more to do with politics than with charitable, philanthropic goals. For decades, NFPs have been stereotyped as politically liberal entities and have often sought job seekers along those lines.

How does this damage your image and your ability to hire excellent talent? First, if you’re too blatantly political, you could end up jeopardizing your entity’s non-profit tax status. Second, when you position yourself politically on one side or another, you automatically eliminate 50 percent of all job seekers.

The secret is that graduates and young people who tend to be politically conservative often avoid NFPs like the plague. Working to be politically neutral is one of the fastest and most effective ways to broaden your pool of potential hires. Practice your pitch so that it comes across as 100 percent non-political.

Help with Student Loans

Even nominal help with student loan repayment can serve as a bright light to anyone who recently graduated from college. This strategy is in the ‘every little bit helps’ category, but it’s even more powerful than that. Job seekers, for better or worse, assume that an NFP entity can’t bring anything to the table but career development and a sense of doing good for society. 

Of course, that’s a huge misconception. Your job as a recruiter is to dispel it immediately. Let applicants know that they’ll get help with student loans after they reach a milestone like one, two, or three years of continuous employment with your entity. Consider setting fixed monthly amounts for loan assistance rather than percentages of total debt.

Flex Time

In an era when large percentages of the work force operate from a home-based office, it’s essential to have flex time on your menu of benefits. As is the case with many perks, it’s often effective to set a one-year milestone before the worker can have full access to flex time and other scheduling benefits. Not long ago, the chance to work a flexible schedule was unique to the NFP sector. Today, you have to beef up your offerings because traditional, for-profit corporations have discovered the allure of this benefit. One way to structure it is to allow at-home employees the chance to choose their schedules as long as they put in 160 hours per month.

Liberal Vacation Policies

For the past century, one of the ways the teaching profession has brought people into the fold is with extremely liberal vacation policies. Until recently, that included a three-month summer break and a couple more longish ones for Christmas and spring holidays. NFPs can do the same, even without the ability to give 12-week vacations. One way to get creative with this technique is to let workers design their own vacation schedules, with the chance to add a few six-day work weeks in exchange for additional vacation days. Someone who puts in ten six-day weeks within a year could end up taking a four-week annual vacation.

Job Security

It makes sense to play your job security card during every interview. Today’s college graduates and mid-career candidates know full well that the for-profit corporate sector is fickle on this topic. Nearly every week, there’s a financial news headline discussing major layoffs at one or another big-name corporation. People are emotionally and financially allergic to the idea of being laid off, which means you, as a hiring manager, can get plenty of mileage from this concept.

Achievement Recognition

Good pay, plenty of time off, and continuing education aren’t the only factors that motivate people. Recognition from peers is high on the list of what makes workers enjoy their jobs. Plan for several recognition events per year, making sure to include as many people as possible. Awards can include cash bonuses, trips, major appliances, gift certificates, and more. Don’t forget to hand out the traditional plaques and trophies, which sometimes get a bad rap but are beloved by those who receive them.

Competitive Pay

You have to be careful in the pay category because you’re obviously constrained by a budget. Even so, it’s possible to consider combining three positions into to so as to increase individual salaries. Financial institutions and manufacturing firms use this technique to great effect, and so can you.

Comfortable Working Environment

Don’t omit the long list of comfort items when it’s time to hire. That means possibly restructuring the office environment so that people can bring pets to work, wear whatever they want (within reason), eat lunch in a number of locations, have access to a fully furnished break room, park close to the office, and have use of a functional kitchen whenever they need it.

Dedicated HR Staff

Interviewees don’t have to see everything you do to bring them on board. That means you should have a dedicated HR team, even if budgets don’t allow for a full-time human resources department. Identify at least three key employees who can act as your HR staff. Assign them with the job of creating a short-term and long-term talent acquisition plan. If some of your current workers bring especially pertinent experience or education to the table for this kind of work, consider doling out bonuses or upping their pay for the effort. It might cost you now, but creating a solid, long-term hiring and retention plan will pay dividends year after year. You’ll save a lot by keeping skilled people longer and not having to pay for retraining.

Insurance and EAP

At the top of most job seekers’ question lists is an item about health insurance. Included under that umbrella is the subject of employee assistance programs (EAPs). Make sure your interviewees know exactly what kind of health care coverage that’s available to them if they sign on. Likewise, explain that your NFP understands the vast toll that addiction takes on society and are committed to assisting anyone on your team who faces a problem in this area. Offer details about insurance coverage and explain specifics about EAPs. Anyone in the hunt for a new job knows the high dollar value of these kinds of benefits.

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