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Bringing business savvy in-house

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Question:

What are three ways nonprofits can recruit socially-minded professionals from the business world?

Answer:

* Focus on professional development.

Nonprofits need to focus on the professional development of their people in addition to focusing on recruiting.

People in the business sector want to make sure that if they step into the nonprofit sector, they will have the option of stepping back into the for-profit sector at a later time.  We have to give them the confidence that they can live in both worlds.

Often their greatest interest is not compensation.  But they are
concerned about how they’re developing as people, and in their
career trajectories.

At Acumen, we’ve done a lot to professionalize our culture in
terms of investing in training so we are attracting the best and brightest from the sector who want to transcend the image of the
more typical nonprofit by working in a culture that values their
development.

It costs money to train people.  But with the collaborative nature of the nonprofit sector, you can train in creative ways.

For example, you could bring someone from a foundation to spend a lunch session with your staff to train on issues of fundraising.

At Acumen, we’re really leveraging the community around us.

It’s a more engaged way of giving than just donating dollars.  We’re able to honor their skills.

* Work with the business world.

When I was a management consultant, I was able to dabble in the nonprofit sector for a year while I worked on a project with Acumen.

I don’t know if I would have made the switch to Acumen if I hadn’t worked with them for a year as a consultant and appreciated their high standards of accountability and performance.

I believe that if more people had the opportunity to experience what it may be like to work in a nonprofit organization, they would be more likely to make the transition.

Given that the costs of transitioning from the for-profit sector to nonprofit sector can be quite high, nonprofits need to find creative ways to engage businesses, either on a paid or pro-bono basis, because it provides corporate professionals an opportunity to see what it may be like to work at such an organization.

* Create sabbaticals for business people.

I think we often can underestimate how much the for-profit sector wants to engage with us.

We assume that if businesses are interested, they’ll approach us.  But often they don’t know how to engage, so we can be more creative and show them the different ways we can work together.

So in addition to finding projects, nonprofits can create opportunities for individuals to take short-term but full-time roles at their organizations.

Acumen Fund started a fellows program – which selects professionals to spend one year in the field – to create such an opportunity; it allows people to use their skills to help our entrepreneurs but also gives them a strong understanding of the realities on the ground.

If we are really trying to change the sector and attract people from the private sector who have skills we can benefit from, we need to continue to learn how best to engage these individuals.


Deepti Doshi is talent manager for Acumen Fund, a New York City-based nonprofit venture fund that invests in enterprises that use market-based approaches to serve the poor. A former management consultant, Doshi spent a year working with Acumen to build its fellows program on a pro-bono basis  prior to joining its staff.

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