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Why You Need to Build Your Nonprofit's Employment Brand and How to Do It

June 12, 2018

Employer-branding-on-hrexaminer-jan-2011-webIn the not-too-distant past, people who wanted to "do good" inevitably gravitated toward nonprofit and government work. While both still attract lots of people with a passion for causes and public service, job seekers are pursuing other career avenues as well — including social purpose businesses and social enterprises.

We have certainly seen this trend in our corner of the nonprofit universe. Community Resource Exchange provides capacity-building support to other nonprofits as well as some government agencies and foundations, and in the eleven years I've worked here competition for top talent has intensified. Those interested in providing consulting services to nonprofits now have opportunities to work for large for-profit consulting firms with nonprofit practices, smaller boutique consulting organizations, and  infrastructure organizations focused on building nonprofit capacity. And when it comes to talent, our nonprofit 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." Put simply, an employment brand is the image an organization projects to the outside world with the aim of differentiating itself from other groups and attracting the best talent. And while it's still more common in the private sector, employment branding is poised to spread in the nonprofit sector as talent becomes more scarce and hiring more competitive.

To be sure, many organizations (intentionally or not) promote an employment brand without labeling it as such. When I interviewed for one of my first nonprofit positions, the organization's executive director explained to me that my position would allow me to experience all aspects of how nonprofits operate, something she believed was unique to her smallish nonprofit. Her pitch worked: I took the job over a much better-compensated one. However, even if an organization intuitively understands its employment brand, there's still value in formally articulating it. 

While it's true that creating an employment brand can be energy- and resource-draining, it doesn't have to be if your organization is thoughtful in how it approaches it. Here are three steps you can take:

1Understand your organization's employee value proposition (EVP). Your organization's EVP captures the benefits staff receive in exchange for bringing their talents to your organization. This can include everything from salary (which can be a challenge for some nonprofits), mission (typically not a challenge), employee benefits package, professional development opportunities, and/or work-life balance. How your organization communicates its employee value proposition 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, including through employee  interviews, focus groups, and online surveys, and/or by carving out time at a staff meeting or two. New hires are an especially useful source of information as they recently were in a position to assess your organization as a prospective place of work. Running through all these suggestions is a common theme: Ask your staff. That's the best way to make sure your EVP and employment brand are authentic. 

2. Develop an employment brand statement — even if it's just for internal use. You can go a couple of different ways here. Your brand statement can be more of an internal document that captures why people choose to join and stay at your organization and that you use to guide all your recruitment and retention activities. Or it could be a more refined statement that you post on your website and/or integrate into your job postings. Easterseals, for example, highlights two aspects of its employment brand on its website: a generous package of employee benefits and the opportunity to make real change in the lives of people with disabilities. 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 that articulates its employment brand well, stating on its website that both 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 is an important recruiting tool, in that it helps you make the case to potential employees and serves as a kind of "fit-filter" as you assess candidates. Just make sure your recruitment strategy matches the audience your employment brand is intended to appeal to; for example, if your brand highlights professional development and early-career mobility, use social media and other digital channels to reach younger job seekers.

Once your organization's employment brand has been defined, be sure to keep it in front of staff members. Doing so will help ground and remind them about their reasons for choosing to join your organization and will help sustain their active engagement in your mission over time. Of course, 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 become a target for staff sniping — not inspiration.   

If your organization develops its employment brand through a thoughtful, participatory process and updates it over time (as needed), your team will be much better positioned to attract and retain talented and motivated employees. Good luck! 

Why is your nonprofit a great place to work? And how would you describe its employment brand? Feel free to share in the comments section. 

Headshot_jeff_ballow_for_PhilanTopicJeff Ballow is a director of consulting at Community Resource Exchange. You can e-mail him at [email protected].  

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