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August 26, 2008
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Charities Target Millennial Generation Workforce
Emphasizing mission helps nonprofits attract,
retain staff

America's nonprofit organizations are focusing on their missions to attract and retain the next generation of employees, according to a new report released today by the Johns Hopkins University Nonprofit Listening Post Project.

By emphasizing that the nonprofit workplace can offer a greater sense of personal fulfillment and flexibility compared to many jobs in the for-profit world, nonprofit practitioners are finding it possible to respond to the staff recruitment and retention challenges they are facing, according to the participants in a roundtable convened by Johns Hopkins researchers.

"Our participants' experiences show that offering staff a life of meaning can be a powerful tool for recruitment that appeals to both millennials and baby boomers," said Lester M. Salamon, report author and director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. Other techniques being used to attract millennials involve shifting recruitment efforts to the Internet and exploring ways to offset student loan obligations.

Appealing to the millennial generation is one of four key workforce recruitment and retention strategies identified by the nonprofit practitioners and other workforce experts participating in the Johns Hopkins roundtable, which was convened to follow up on a prior survey on nonprofit workforce challenges. The other strategies are:

  • Selling the "context" — the physical environment, the work environment, and particularly the "mission." Noted one roundtable participant: "We give our employees and recruits numerous opportunities to hear about the organization's values and discuss whether we are living up to them. This has made a huge difference for us in attracting and retaining a workforce."

  • Approaching recruitment proactively. Given the lack of knowledge young people have about nonprofits, organizations are actively reaching out to potential recruits. One organization created a "next generation leadership council" of young professionals in their 20s and 30s, which has resulted in participants becoming board members and donors, as well as bringing their friends to the organization. Another organization reported that its most successful recruitment and retention activity is its formal internship program, with about 60 percent of its interns being hired as staff each year.

  • Redefining work and the work environment. Organizations are redesigning benefit packages to adjust to new family structures, offering flexible working hours, and utilizing focus groups to stay attuned to worker concerns.

  • Roundtable participants also identified some additional steps that are needed to allow nonprofits to meet the workforce recruitment and retention challenges they face. These include:

  • Greater nonprofit recognition of the need to staff, and invest in, human resource departments to be more effective in recruitment and retention;

  • Improved programs to offer relief to debt-burdened recent college graduates, possibly with the help of public debt-forgiveness programs;

  • Special efforts to reach out to diverse communities in staff recruitment.

  • The full text of the report "A Nonprofit Workforce Agenda: Report on the Listening Post Project Roundtable on Nonprofit Recruitment and Retention" is available online at www.jhu.edu/listeningpost/news .

    The Listening Post Project is a collaborative undertaking of the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, the Alliance for Children and Families, the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, the American Association of Museums, Lutheran Services in America, the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, Theatre Communications Group, and United Neighborhood Centers of America. Its goal is to monitor the health of the nation's nonprofit organizations and assess how nonprofits are responding to important economic and policy changes. The project maintains a nationwide sample of approximately 900 nonprofit children and family service, elderly service, community development, and arts organization. Support for the project has been provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Surdna Foundation.