NGOs have become major employers around the world, offering their recruits a meaningful career. But how can they be sure of attracting the top talent? We show them how.
Big companies and government departments may provide the lion’s share of national economies, but there is no denying the importance of an estimated 10 million non-governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world. In the U.S., 11.4 million people were working for more than 1.4 million NGOs in 2012, while Europe has 148,000 public benefit foundations, spending some €60 billion a year. The UK is home to some 168,000 charities, employing 1.1 million people. NGO classifications certainly differ from one area to another, but the overall picture is clear – the sector is now a major player in the job market.
All of which begs a question: How can NGOs compete for talent, especially when their base salaries are normally lower than those at corporations?
The desire to make a difference…
The answer is to offer real meaning to their working day. For many young people, the search for a purpose and the opportunity to make a difference – either to other people’s lives or to the environment – are powerful factors in their career decisions. ‘Save the planet’ may have become something of a cliché, but the ideas behind it resonate with a younger generation that has an appetite for change. “The younger generation’s quest for meaning is linked to their desire to understand the socio-economic environment, the objectives they’re assigned, and translate everything into concrete action,” explains Céline Foireau, General Secretary of WWF France. “Many also insist on the importance of the workspace, human relations, internal cooperation between teams, and ethics. They are willing to get involved but also seek flexible working hours and mobility.”
… and a willingness to lower salary expectations
However, that desire to make a change – and to see their career as an opportunity to help people or places in need – usually comes at a price. For employees, giving meaning to their weekdays is reflected in a willingness to lower their salary expectations. According to a U.S. study, Millennials would take a pay cut of $7,600 in return for a better quality of work life – in terms of more purposeful work, company culture, work/life balance or career development. And given the nature of their missions, NGOs certainly meet some, if not all, of these different criteria.
The need for professionalism
And yet, despite this complementary meeting of supply and demand, NGOs cannot afford to be complacent. Many need to step up their level of professionalism in terms of people management if they are to tip the balance in their favor when it comes to Millennial recruitment and retention. Meaning may be a determining factor in career choice, but the overall compensation package also has a part to play.
Given this situation, leading NGOs should look at ways to build efficiently on their base salaries. Research carried out in the U.S. reveals that NGOs are increasingly using modest bonuses and group incentives to achieve this. Pension arrangements and referral bonuses for bringing in new employees will also enhance an overall package, while training courses that help to develop employees’ career prospects and flexible working to improve their work/life balance also have real value.
Benefits that deliver
At the same time, benefits and rewards policies also have a role to play in attracting and retaining talented staff. Wellness programs that help employees to deal with sometimes stressful situations – either through exercise, nutrition, counseling or other support activities – are an effective way of driving engagement. Research by leading organizations has shown the importance of providing such support.
However, they should not be the sole objective of such policies. “A sound benefits and rewards policy must help employees to surpass themselves, work ethically, and celebrate the completion of a project,” highlights Céline Foireau, General Secretary of WWF France. “Rewards are the recognition of the internal force that is motivation, and should reflect an employee’s commitment to the company’s success and values.”
The challenge facing many NGOs today is therefore to design a policy that provides such recognition, while at the same time offering benefits that ease the pressure of working in the NGO environment. In the absence of easy answers, external experts can certainly help.
Insights from WWF – INTERVIEW with Céline Foireau, General Secretary
With fierce competition for talent recruitment and retention, what are the best assets available to NGOs and other charitable organizations, in your opinion?
The main asset is first and foremost the commitment to an environmental cause, with a long-term objective, as well as the active participation in the development of decent living conditions for future generations. This work, carried out within the framework of corporate social responsibility, highlights sustainable development. This objective cannot be achieved without ethical work, backed by experts. In order to carry out this mission, the use of digital tools is essential. It is important to showcase their capacities for innovation and creativity in order to adapt to socio-economic changes. These working conditions and this pro-commitment climate seek to foster exchanges between a scientific audience and experts, so they can all benefit from fruitful dialogue.
We often hear that graduates are looking for meaningful careers. Based on your experience with young talent, how important is meaning to them and can it be leveraged for recruitment?
The younger generation’s quest for meaning is linked to their desire to understand the socio-economic environment, the objectives they’re assigned, and translate everything into concrete action. Many also insist on the importance of the workspace, human relations, internal cooperation between teams, and ethics. They are willing to get involved but also seek flexible working hours and mobility.
A strategic, internal action plan on these items is indispensable to attract and recruit talent.
Besides salary, how important do you think benefits and rewards policies – even modest ones – are in keeping employees engaged in an organization like yours?
Recognition through salary works, but it has to be paired with daily appreciation on project management. This kind of policy has to acknowledge personal investment and vocation, provided by a good knowledge of the company’s challenges.
Motivating, fair management contributes to recognition while encouraging accountability and teamwork. A sound benefits and rewards policy must help employees surpass themselves, work ethically, and celebrate the completion of a project. Rewards are the recognition of the internal force that is motivation, through regular attention to employees’ commitment to the company’s success and its values. Last but not least, it has to reward individual or collective results with exceptional bonuses and facilitate skills and knowledge development through training.