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Why you need to build you nonprofit’s employment brand. And how to do it.

June 13, 2018

A version of this was first published on Philanthropy News Digest.

In the not-too-distant past people wanting to “do good” inevitably gravitated towards nonprofits and government.  While these are still primary career pathways for folks with a public service bent, job seekers are pursuing other career avenues as well—social purpose businesses and social enterprises are just two examples. We have certainly seen this trend in CRE’s corner of the nonprofit universe—capacity building for other nonprofits as well as some government agencies and foundations. In the eleven years I have worked here, I have seen our field become increasingly competitive for recruiting top talent and staff. Those interested in consulting to nonprofits now have opportunities to work for large for-profit consulting firms, smaller boutique consulting organizations, as well as a handful of other nonprofit capacity builders. We’re not the only nonprofit seeing this increasingly competitive talent market—our clients are experiencing the same thing.

All of this speaks to the growing importance of knowing—and being able to communicate—your organization’s employment brand, regardless of your organization’s issue area. Put simply, the employment brand is the image an organization projects of itself to attract and retain employees. More commonly used in the private sector, employment branding is poised to grow as a practice in the nonprofit sector as hiring becomes more competitive. Branding, or what distinguishes a nonprofit from others, has gained a lot of traction among nonprofits in recent years.

To be sure, many organizations promote an employment brand of sorts without labeling it as such. In interviewing for one of my first positions in the nonprofit world, the organization’s executive director explained to me that my position would allow me to experience all aspects of how a nonprofit operates, something unique to her smaller sized nonprofit. Her pitch worked—I took that job over a much-better compensated one. However, even if an organization intuitively understands its employment brand, there is still value in formally articulating it.

It’s true that creating an employment brand has the possibility to be intensive and resource-draining, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you are thoughtful in how you approach it. Here are three steps to building out your organization’s employment brand:

1. Understand your organization’s employee value proposition (EVP). Your organization’s EVP captures the benefits staff receive for bringing their talents to your organization. This can include everything from salary (can be a challenge for some nonprofits), an important organizational mission (typically not a challenge), employee benefits, professional development opportunities, work-life balance, and more. How your organization communicates its EVP to the outside world is a crucial part of its employment brand.

You can land on your organization’s EVP in a variety of ways. You can gather information from employees through interviews, focus groups, online surveys, or even by carving out time at a staff meeting. New or recent hires are an especially useful source of information since they recently assessed you as a prospective place of work.  But, across all of these ideas, is a fundamental approach: ask staff. That way your EVP and employment brand are authentic.

2. Articulate your organization’s employment brand statement—even if it’s just for internal use.  You can go in many different directions here. Your brand statement can be more of an internal document outlining the values and benefits that best capture why people come and stay at your organization that you use to guide all your recruitment and retention. It could also be a more refined statement that you can use on the employment section of your website and/or integrated as part of job postings. Easterseals, for example, highlights three  aspects of its employment brand on its website: a generous set of employee benefits, extensive professional development activities, and the opportunity  to make real change in the lives of people with disabilities. The AARP promotes its exceptional commitment to staff diversity and long-standing commitment to employee volunteerism (all staff get paid time off to pursue outside volunteer opportunities).  Teach for America is another organization articulating its employment brand well, stating on its website that its culture of friendship and leadership development opportunities are great reasons to join the team. All of these are good examples of organizations highlighting their employment brand as part of their external messaging.

3. Integrate your employment brand into existing recruiting activities. Your organization’s employment brand becomes a crucial piece of your recruitment efforts. It acts as an important recruiting tool, helping you make the case to potential employees, and as a kind of “fit-filter” helping you assess candidates. Just make sure that your recruitment strategy matches the audience your employment brand will appeal to—for example, using social media and other digital channels to reach those new to the workforce if your brand highlights professional development and early-career mobility.

After you’ve landed on your organization’s employment brand, staff should be continually reminded of it. This will help ground members in their reasons for coming to work at your organization and help sustain their engagement over time. Naturally, your employment brand may evolve over time, and you should be prepared to revisit it periodically and change it as needed.  An out-of-date and/or inaccurate employment brand is likely to be a target for staff derision—not inspiration.

If your organization goes through a thoughtful process to create its employment brand, and updates it over time as needed, your team will be much better positioned to attract and retain motivated, fulfilled employees.

What distinguishes your nonprofit as a place to work?  How would you describe your organization’s employment brand?  Email me at [email protected] to let me know.

By Director of Consulting, Jeff Ballow