Nonprofits tend to attract certain types of people to their organizations: compassionate, caring, hard-working and ‘mission-driven’. Many working in the nonprofit sector aspire make a big impact on their local communities and affect real change in the world.
But organizations also need to think about adding ‘entrepreneurs’ to their ranks. We see a lot of focus on entrepreneurs in other industries — especially the tech world — but we don’t often talk about entrepreneurship as it applies to nonprofits and charitable organizations.
Creating a Workplace That’s Welcoming to Entrepreneurs
Hiring entrepreneurs can be an asset for nonprofits. Philanthropic businesses need a team of dedicated workers who are brainstorming new ways to solve problems, alongside continuing the current objectives of the organization. Nonprofits need workers with a ‘take charge’ attitude — those who will challenge how things typically operate and come up with new ways organizations can make progress.
However, there are a few differences between being an entrepreneur in the nonprofit world versus being an entrepreneur in the corporate world:
Nonprofits often have to fix current problems, not necessarily design new products — Startups usually introduce a new product or service that customers want, but don’t always need. In the nonprofit world, entrepreneurs are typically dealing with long-standing problems that need to be fixed, rather than creating new products to sell to customers. Some organizations are trying to address complex social issues that don’t have an easy solution, which can make it especially challenging to be an entrepreneur in the nonprofit sector.
Success and growth doesn’t mean the same thing for nonprofits and for-profit companies — Most businesses are driven by the need to make money, whereas charitable organizations must measure progress in different ways. Nonprofits do need to meet fundraising goals, but they also need to find other metrics by which to access their own advancement. Some entrepreneurs who start their own businesses might expect a big payout once their company goes public or is bought out by a larger corporation. Entrepreneurs who start nonprofits won’t see this kind of monetary recognition for their work, so they need to come up with goals that align with their altruistic intentions.
Nonprofit entrepreneurs have a different background and skill level than corporate hires — Recent studies examining the demographics of nonprofit entrepreneurs revealed some interesting discoveries. Nearly 60% of entrepreneurs working at nonprofits are women. Entrepreneurs in the nonprofit sector tend to be older than their more traditional counterparts. Nonprofit entrepreneurs are also more educated, compared to entrepreneurs who work for for-profit businesses. Research has shown that 89% of nonprofit entrepreneurs hold a bachelor’s degree, whereas only 31% of entrepreneurs outside of this realm have a college degree.
Qualities That Entrepreneurs Bring to Nonprofits
People with an entrepreneurial spirit have a lot to offer nonprofits, but they might not necessarily feel at home in a typical office environment. Philanthropic organizations typically have modest goals that they can accomplish in a reasonable amount of time. Entrepreneurs tend to be rebels who want to break that mold, aiming to beat expectations and achieve more in less time.
Organizations need to welcome these types employees with gusto and not push them to conform to standard nonprofit ways of operating. Entrepreneurs have many valuable qualities that nonprofits should adopt and encourage:
Entrepreneurs are more likely to take risks and challenge themselves — Entrepreneurs aren’t necessarily less afraid of failure than other types of employees, but they are more willing to put those fears aside and try something new.
Entrepreneurs tend to be both confident and creative — In order to start your own business, you need a healthy amount of gumption and the ability to think outside the box. Entrepreneurs often have these two qualities in spades, which sustain them during times of setback and help them overcome obstacles.
Entrepreneurs are independent and have no trouble taking charge — Employees who are used to working under a boss or manager are trained to defer to the higher-ups, not necessarily think for themselves. Entrepreneurs are comfortable working alone and leading the ship, which can make them perfect candidates for upper-level and executive roles.
Entrepreneurs have well-developed sales and marketing skills — When you run your own business, you have to be your own self-promoter and your own marketing team. Entrepreneurs have a knack for selling themselves and can easily transition this skill to fundraising and raising awareness for organizations that they work for.
Recruiting Entrepreneurs to the Nonprofit Sector
In order to hire employees who are self-starters, nonprofits need to come up with new ways to recruit people who already embody an entrepreneurial spirit.
Some organizations — like Charity:Water, Venture for America and the Kauffman Foundation — are already breaking the traditional nonprofit model by embracing a more “startup-like” culture and actively recruiting employees who work at for-profit companies. These nonprofits offer competitive pay and scout new hires who have an MBA or come from the corporate world.
There are other ways these forward-thinking nonprofits are rebranding themselves in an effort to target outside hires:
- They post job descriptions that appeal to certain personality types — Instead of focusing on the duties or function of a specific role, these nonprofits say that they’re looking for ‘ambitious’, ‘driven’ and ‘innovative’ applicants who could be at any stage of their career.
- They recruit using new marketing and social media tactics — These startup-like organizations post job ads outside of traditional channels, like Facebook and Twitter, in order to catch the attention of applicants who are not currently working in the nonprofit sector.
- They make their organization seem like a cool, hip place to work for — This sounds obvious, but branding really is key to attracting entrepreneurs and motivated individuals to your nonprofit. The more buzz and attention an organization gets for their work, the more people want to come work from them, even if they’ve never worked for a nonprofit before.
Professional Development Courses that Focus on Entrepreneurship
In addition to actively recruiting new hires, there are other ways nonprofits can encourage a more entrepreneurial way of working within their organization.
Research has shown that most employees want more professional development opportunities in the workplace, even if they’re happy in their current role. Additionally, many organizations desire to create a team of future leaders who can take their nonprofit mission to the next level.
Vail Centre aims to bridge the gap between mid-level executives looking for advanced training and organizations in need of outside educational resources for their employees. Vail Centre offers certificate programs from several top-level universities, including Yale, Duke and Cornell University. Esteemed professors and experts in the field of hospitality management are flown in to teach a three-day or week-long certificate course right here on the Vail campus. Upcoming programs for 2017 include Essential Skills for Leadership in Hospitality from Cornell University and a course on Nonprofit Management from Duke University.
Contact Vail Centre to learn more about courses and seminars that target entrepreneurs working in the nonprofit realm. For more information or to register for an upcoming program, contact Todd Wallis at [email protected].