13 Tips to Recruit Top Candidates When You Can’t Pay Top Dollar

April 2, 2023
3 minutes
A broken pink piggy bank sits on a green-and-yellow-spotted background.

Nonprofiteering is important work, and that means you want the best talent. Sourcing those skillful workers is one thing; getting them to sign on the dotted line is quite another. The primary sticking point? Nonprofit organizations often think they can’t afford the fat salaries and pricey promotions that draw top candidates—nor do they have the RSUs (restricted stock units) that make them stick around.

And yet here at Funraise, we’ve found that #humanehiring goes a long way. That means implementing a hiring process that’s equitable, transparent, and decent. And sure, some candidates are set on that six-figure base salary. But if you lead with an exceptional hiring experience, build a great culture, and bring a human touch, you’ll find yourself with a workforce that slays—and stays. Here’s how.

Give job applicants more than just money

When your budget is small and your impact is growing, sometimes all you can do is recruit hard, make the process easy, and provide alllll the perks possible.

1. Make the JD transparent.

When it comes to your job description, don’t sugarcoat the duties, don’t underplay the hours required, and please, for the love of all that is good and decent, don’t omit salary expectations. If your offer isn’t competitive, candidates deserve to know before putting in the time and effort to apply.

2. Don’t ghost.

Today, a lot of organizations are desperate to hire, but in the pre-pandemic days of yore, you may recall receiving hundreds of applications for a single role. In response to this outpouring of interest, many companies give applicants radio silence. That type of behavior is not humane hiring! Every applicant can be a game-changer, so don’t love ‘em and leave ‘em. Instead, do everyone the courtesy of writing back, communicating clearly, and respecting their time. (Even if it’s an automated response.)

3. Have a reasonable interview process.

We have friends who’ve gone through 10 or 12 interviews for one job. At a certain point, what other information are these employers looking for? And why do they need this person to commit a full day to a job they might not even get? At Funraise, we cap our interviews at three. People have lives, and respecting that fact early on is a sign that you’re truly committed to work-life balance.

4. True-up your current staff, too.

Nonprofits often tell us they’re nervous about posting salaries for new hires because current staff members aren’t making that much. Guess what? Whether you post salaries or not, a changing market requires you to adjust staff salaries accordingly. If you don’t have the funds to do it immediately, that’s fine. Make incremental improvements until everyone is fairly compensated. That creates the type of culture that makes people stick around.

5. Keep it real, always.

So you’re a small nonprofit where every staff member plays 9.5 different roles? That’s cool—but you need to let prospective employees know, so they can decide if they’re up for it. Maybe they’d love the chance to dabble in a little bit of everything. Maybe they’ll peace out. Maybe they’ll come back when you’ve hired a bigger team. No matter what, you’re making a connection and starting from a place of authenticity.

6. Train your staff.

A good interview process requires a good interviewer, but for most people, the skill doesn’t come naturally. Training staff members on how to interview ensures everyone is aligned and creates a consistent, enjoyable interview experience for your candidates.

7. Plan for the interview.

When it comes to drafting your interview questions, be intentional. Ask yourself: Does it really matter if your volunteer coordinator wants invisibility or flight as their superpower? Then, along with preparing said purposeful questions in advance, be sure to create a rubric for your questions and the scoring guidelines for answers. Finally, go over common questions candidates may ask so that the interviewer(s) can give accurate, genuine answers.

8. Send out interview questions in advance.

Thanks to the internet and teammates, pretty much no one has to problem-solve solo these days. Yet that’s what many candidates are asked to do during an interview. Instead of making each interview a scary pop quiz, send out questions in advance so candidates can plan accordingly and put their best self forward.

9. Encourage negotiation.

Hiring is a conversation, and top talent should negotiate. Rather than acting affronted when someone wants better compensation, embrace it. After all, negotiation is a part of life and a part of advocating for yourself. If you can’t offer more money, maybe you can offer more vacation, a signing bonus, or access to a super squishable office dog.

10. Don’t forget your internal candidates.

Organizations are so focused on recruiting and external hires that they often forget about the talent they have. Part of hiring humanely and cultivating a positive culture is recognizing and rewarding your current employees. Promoting internally also means you’ll be doing more recruiting for entry-level candidates, which is generally a less competitive population.

11. Communicate, communicate, and communicate some more.

Keep candidates updated on when they can expect to hear from you, whether they’re moving forward, and what they can expect in terms of next steps. Sending a quick email update costs you nothing and builds priceless goodwill.

12. Follow up after.

A simple, “Was it good for you, too?” goes a long way. (Uh, maybe phrase it a little differently, now that we think about it.) Improving the hiring experience is an iterative process, so keep on putting in the work to improve. Whether you hire someone or not, follow up to determine how you can do better.

13. Give feedback.

If you want to be humane in your hiring process, you need to give candidates feedback about how they did, assuming they ask. It closes the loop, and it can help them do better in the future. They might even use your feedback to become the perfect employee, all thanks to your astute critique—and then you can hire them!

And there you have it: a successful recipe for recruiting top candidates even if you can’t pay a top salary. A great candidate experience starts the minute they click “apply,” so be kind, stay flexible, and remember: you have so much more to offer than just a paycheck—though that paycheck is pretty darn important, too.

And one final note before you embark on your recruitment journey: If you’re searching for the best talent, you’ll love Nonprofit Jobs by Funraise, which promotes jobs at nonprofits that are committed to humane hiring practices. (Email us if you’d like to have your job+salary added to the job board!)

Mobile phone with donation form and donation charts floating around the phone.Mobile phone with donation form and donation charts floating around the phone.Woman looking at fundraising chart with button to book a call.Yellow shapes in background with donation form in front with stylized text, build an intelligence giving experience.Sparkling star.
Sparkling star.
Start For Free
Sparkling star.Sparkling stars.
Blue shapes.Blue shapes.Blue shapes.