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The Unexpected Nonprofit Job Candidate You Need

The Plenty Team
May 8, 2015

Have you ever been the new guy? Of course you have. Maybe you were new to a company, a weekend softball team, an activity for one of your kids, or a neighborhood. Let your mind travel back to that time for a second. 

Think past the part where you’re wondering if you’ll fit in and are nervous about whether you’ll eventually be a critical part of this new group like you were in the last one. Fast forward to when you’re in the group, you’re acclimating, and you’re taking it all in. 

Do you remember that moment when something obvious and important happens and a thought occurs to you? You are waiting for someone more senior in the group to point it out, but time passes and still no one says anything. You can’t seem to figure out why everyone doesn’t see or acknowledge, what for you, is the three-ton elephant in the room. You start thinking to yourself, “Am I crazy or…”

You finally build the courage to ask someone who seems nice and open enough. They laugh, shake their head, and say, “That’s just how it is. You’ll get used to it.” You smile meekly, while thinking there’s no way you’re just going to go along with this when the problem could easily be confronted and solved. 

So you, being the brave, tenacious person you are, say something. You challenge everyone to acknowledge that elephant in the room. It’s uncomfortable. It stirs things up. But things change as a result. Or maybe this time they don’t change. 

In either case, time passes like it always does.

As you sink more comfortably into your role and the group, your laundry list of “suggestions for improvement” start to meld together. And as more time passes they start to seem unimportant. After all, this is your community too, and for all its imperfections you belong here.

Then, unexpectedly and without warning, you’re no longer the new guy.

You forget about your list altogether. You laugh a little when the current new guy leans over to you and asks, “Is it just me, or…” And as more time passes, maybe you bristle instead of laugh. But eventually being new and easily seeing elephants in the room seems far away.

That’s how the story goes, right? The thing is, every part of that journey is an important one. The lifecycle of the new guy pumps new ideas - and familiar truths that we haven’t come to terms with - into a group’s consciousness. Often, contributing those sometime provocative thoughts is part of the process of how someone new takes ownership and becomes part of a community. As organizations with hefty missions to fulfill, you need disruptive ideas, and you need people who are invested in your community. However, without some new blood, without someone bold enough to not just have a fresh perspective but actually share it, you’re missing the most important part of the equation. 

At Plenty, we often give the medicine that the world is changing, and the nonprofit community has to move forward with it. Our work is too important and the lives of the people we serve matter too much for us not to be nimble and welcome innovation, especially when it means increasing our impact.

We can easily do this by infusing new ideas and fresh perspectives into our teams. One of the greatest assets in the nonprofit space is that we have a community of professionals with institutional memory and hard-won nonprofit experience. Our other greatest asset is openness to talented new professionals with different viewpoints and professional backgrounds who can offer an outside perspective to keep us moving forward. These talented people help us move the needle of change by harnessing the best ideas and opportunities from outside of the space and putting them into action in our important corner of the world. 

We know that now is the time for the nonprofit sector to invest in growth, and at Plenty we frequently witness the positive implications of doing so. Every week we hear about new nonprofit job openings at organizations across the country, and almost as frequently we hear the senior staff at these nonprofits talk about how they can’t seem to find the person with the right technical experience or interest to fill them. What we often don’t see however, are these leaders looking outside of the nonprofit sector during their candidate search. Why is that? Why shouldn’t we capitalize on the opportunity for a fresh perspective and different thinking by reaching outside of the nonprofit community? The answer - we should be.

Not that you need convincing (or maybe you do), but here are three benefits to hiring from outside the nonprofit space:

1. Passion. We’ve heard people say that because someone hasn’t spent their career working with nonprofits, they can’t possibly be passionate about effecting change. We’re not so sure that’s the case. Think about your volunteers - some of them express so much enthusiasm and energy for your organization’s mission that they give you a morale boost every time you talk with them. Yet most of those passionate volunteers likely have full-time jobs that are not in the nonprofit sector. The point is that it’s easy - and common - for people to have passion without job history.

So how do you gauge whether you’re talking to a passionate person? Start by getting them to talk about something they care deeply about, and see if their eyes light up like some of your most committed volunteers. You can spot authentic zeal from a mile away, so look for it in a passionate person with a strong interest in your mission. 

2. The viewpoint of someone you want to know better. Many cause-passionate people working in the for-profit sector who want to be part of your team have a personal connection to social good organizations. As discussed above, they may be volunteers, or they may be donors or people who have benefitted from the services another nonprofit offers. In those cases, because they’ve interacted with nonprofits from one of these outside access points rather than as staff, they think about things from the viewpoint of an end-user. Is that important? It absolutely is.

We talk a lot about the imperative to design for people. That means not just doing what you’ve always done as an organization, but instead tailoring your strategy to your constituents and building around their wants and needs. Having someone on your team whose thinking naturally comes from that perspective is critical, and will organically help you better understand your audience. Hearing their perspective on a regular basis can help the rest of the team adapt a more user-focused approach. Even if a potential new staff member hasn’t volunteered with, given to, or been served by your specific organization, their design for people orientation is invaluable as you do the transformational work of meeting constituents where they are.

3. New networks. There’s a strong sense of community in our space. We catch up with friends and former colleagues every year at the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum conference and take turns asking critical questions about new technology platforms at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference. That’s a real asset for people with careers in the nonprofit sector because we’re all accessible and connected to each other. At the same time, because we’re interconnected, many of us have similar or overlapping networks. The beauty of bringing someone in from outside of the nonprofit space is that their networks aren’t intertwined with the rest of the community yet. They can help us meet and engage with people who aren’t yet on our radar and could be our next great volunteer, donor, talent, or connector to others. Our advice all year has been to peer-enable everything, and this mantra includes your internal team. Use your staff as a way to access new networks and new ideas. Model the way for the peer-to-peer efforts that you ask your fundraisers to make by peer-enabling your own staff’s reach.

Our advice? Be open to new talent, supporters, and connectors regardless of how unconventional their background seems to be. We need the best talent, the brightest ideas, and the most innovative solutions to address the urgent change we seek to create - regardless of where they come from. That means building an organization where seasoned nonprofit veterans and former for-profit professionals committed to our cause work side by side. After all, is doing anything less really maximizing the opportunity to unlock abundance?

Your path to growth starts with your team. Make sure you and your team have the industry insights you need to be successful. Download our latest e-book, "The Expansive Impact of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" today for the most important nonprofit trends impacting your success. 

Download your copy here!

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