In the knowledge or information age, the skills that nonprofit leaders seek when hiring have changed. What worked in the past doesn't today. In other words, for the knowledge age, you want to have a team of people who have the top soft skills to thrive. Your nonprofit needs to recruit and retain the best people because the competitive landscape is now tougher.
In 2020, the economy went into a tailspin for many people because of the pandemic, including donors. As a result, nonprofit groups that survive on revenue from contributions had to think fast. Unfortunately, groups failed, but those who took a proactive top to bottom approach on how they operate stemmed the bleeding. The best nonprofit leaders understood that one thing they could do was make sure they had the right talent. Organizations needed the right team on board. But, in the knowledge age, what does that mean? How do you find the best talent for your organization in this modern world?
3 Top Soft Skills for Your Nonprofit
We know that it will take time for leaders to overcome nonprofit challenges and reorient to operating almost entirely in the digital era. However, for leaders who want to thrive, surveying everything, including talent, is essential. And when it comes to hiring, 3 top soft skills are crucial. In short, new times mean new skills, and the following soft skills will help ensure you compete in a highly competitive social good environment.
1. Your Team Has to Want to Continually Learn
What if I told you that experience doesn't really matter anymore? Well, it doesn't matter as much in the digital age. Now, I know you're probably going to reply, “Well, you need to know how to make an ask!” Sure, you do need to do that for major gift fundraising, but most of your team aren't directly asking for major gifts in person. Instead, you have people in operations, marketing, finance, and other areas of fundraising.
Aside from the moments when your major gifts officers are actually sitting and speaking to major donors, almost everything else your talent team does is somehow operating off technology. If it isn't, your nonprofit has serious challenges. From nonprofit fundraising software, such as boodle.AI, to your social media platforms, and your internal communications platforms like Slack or your CRM, all operate on technology and even with artificial intelligence.
Technology is powerful, and it's accelerating so fast that updates to your platforms occur regularly. In short, what worked at the start of the year could be outdated by the end of that same year. So, that means that everyone on your team must want to learn continually. In other words, anyone who drags their feet concerning technology and isn't diving headlong into tech is not someone you want on your team of talent.
2. All Your Talent Must be Agile
Because technology is moving so rapidly, nonprofit leaders must also consider one of the top soft skills, the idea of agility. Now, this isn't multi-tasking, which we know doesn't work. Instead, agility is the ability to pivot from one thing to the next on a dime. Gone are the days when nonprofit leaders and talent could sit around the room and rehash ideas, projects, or programs over and over.
If nothing else, the events of 2020 showed the social good sector that they had to become agile. While we all hope once we get a handle on this pandemic, we won't have to deal with another again in our lifetimes… the truth is that technology forces us all to be agile. Again, with the rise of artificial intelligence, technology, and machine learning, your talent needs to be ready to adjust and reorient to anything. In short, uncertainty is built into the business landscape, and you have to expect the unexpected. We all live in a global world, and communications such as social media allow for ideas to spread quickly. That requires agile minds.
3. Critical Thinking is a Vital Skill
On the right, left, and center, there's more mistrust of institutions, which is essential for your talent and leadership to realize. For instance, we hear it neighbor to neighbor that there's a distrust of government institutions. However, there's also a distrust of the nonprofit sector. 48% of people with household incomes of less than $35,000 distrust nonprofits. For those who make more than $200,000, 35% distrust nonprofits. Further, 48% in rural communities and 39% in urban areas distrust nonprofits.
As we know, there's also distrust of media, and we've all heard “fake news” now for years. As it relates to the top soft skills, nonprofit leaders must hire and retain critical thinkers. In other words, you don't want to recruit people for your team who don't go deeper into the issues. You don't want workers who believe everything they read and parrot what they hear as fact. That said, we need to grow trust in our institutions, but nonprofits need people who know how to parse through the noise.
Critical thinking is essential because it allows for your talent team to solve the problems you face. It could be everything from diversifying your income to consideration of innovative programs to advance your mission. Moreover, when there's so much uncertainty, you need people who could think strategically and in detail. Leaders often talk about looking for people who think out-of-the-box. But what you want today is people who could conceive how to make new boxes. Innovation requires critical thinking.
How to Recruit Talent With the Top Soft Skills
Finally, now that you know the top soft skills for nonprofit recruiting, how do you do it? How do you recruit for those skills? You could do a few things, such as ensuring your job descriptions include demonstrative evidence of the soft skills you are looking for in your new hires. One of the best things you could do is to conduct a behavioral-based interview. Today, experience is good, but having essential soft skills is better. During a behavioral-based interview, you ask questions about past experiences focused on how the candidate handled situations. In doing so, you get to see if the talent you're recruiting used learning, agility, and critical thinking to overcome the challenges they faced.
About the Author:
Wayne Elsey is the founder and CEO of Elsey Enterprises. Among his various independent brands, he is also the founder and CEO of Funds2Orgs, which is a social enterprise that helps nonprofits, schools, churches, civic groups, individuals and others raise funds while helping to support micro-enterprise (small business) opportunities in developing nations and the environment. You can learn more about Wayne and obtain free resources, including his books on his blog, Not Your Father’s Charity.