The Great Job Market Debate: Education V. Experience

In today’s strained economy, there is an astounding average of twenty applicants for every job.  Much like it’s a buyer’s market in the housing sector right now, so is it a hiring manager’s market.  With so many people looking for work, hiring managers can be choosy about who they bring into an organization.  So, how does a job-seeker make him- or herself stand out from the rest, and what do hiring managers consider essential elements in a potential employee?  Not surprisingly, the answer is clear as mud.

First and foremost, a lot of it depends on the industry you’re talking about.  For example, a hospital would want to hire a surgeon who has a medical degree, specialized training in surgery, and a license.  Likewise, an architect needs to have the appropriate education and certification.  But aside from these and other specialized fields, there are a great many jobs for which a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is not necessarily integral to the work being performed.  For jobs that fall into this “gray area,” perhaps experience is the trump card.  For example, in seeking a donor development officer or marketing manager, a non-profit organization is likely to require a proven track record of fundraising or a dossier of successfully-executed marketing materials.   Formalized education is less important.

Much of the debate between education and experience in the workplace centers on the value we place on each, both as individuals and as organizations.  Make no mistake about it: both are important, but just how important they are can be highly subjective.  Most folks would agree that the textbook learning that happens in college is not terribly useful in a practical sense.  It can, however, demonstrate one’s ability to think critically, to convey an idea creatively and persuasively, and to successfully manage deadlines and competing responsibilities.  These “soft” qualities are often greater indicators of professional success than the actual coursework involved.  On the flip side of the coin, most of us would also agree that hands-on experiences – whether from a previous job, an internship or a volunteer endeavor – teach us far more about doing a job well and working with others than sitting in a classroom.

Whatever side of the debate you fall on, keeping the following tips in mind will improve your chances of getting hired in a highly competitive job market:

  • Know yourself and know the employer: Concentrate your efforts on applying to organizations and for positions that are a good match with your education and experience.
  • Highlight your assets:  In a resume and cover letter, focus on the things that separate you from the herd, and leave no stone unturned – even a simple volunteer gig can demonstrate qualities that set you apart.
  • Dress to kill: Show up to all job interviews on time and dressed professionally, even for an entry-level position.  Prepare answers to common interview questions ahead of time, so you’re not caught off guard.  Be prepared to highlight your assets and to give examples of past successes and challenges.

When all is said and done, one truth remains: We never stop learning, and we never stop adding experiences to our lives.  Whether or not these things occur in a formalized environment, we can and should apply them to the jobs we do.  The trick is in selling it.


Need a Vacation? You’re Not Alone

The following statement is probably a no-brainer for most of us out there:  Americans are woefully vacation-deprived.  According to a 2010 survey by Expedia, only 38% of U.S.employees are taking all of their earned vacation days.  Now, consider the following:  One of the biggest challenges currently identified by human resources personnel is worker burnout; men who take vacations every year reduce their risk of heart disease; and women who take regular vacations are far less likely to experience depression and anxiety than those who do not vacation.  What does all this mean?  It means that we as a workforce are generally stressed out, not taking vacations, and our health and happiness are likely suffering for it.

If a particular employer provides as a benefit, say, three weeks of vacation time per year, then why wouldn’t an employee take advantage of that?  The reasons are many:

  • In the current economy, many organizations and businesses are getting by with fewer employees, which results in greater workloads and more responsibilities for employees who remain.  Under such conditions, it’s often difficult if not impossible for some employees to leave for a week or more at a time.
  • For some, there is the guilt factor and/or the hero complex.  It goes something like this:  “I could take vacation, but I’d be leaving everyone else scrambling to get things done.  They can’t do it without me, therefore I can’t take vacation.” This mentality is very American.  In fact, according to Expedia, the U.S. and Japan are the only countries in the world where the workforce consistently chooses not to take advantage of vacation time.
  • Some employers offer the option of periodically cashing out unused vacation time.  More workers than ever are choosing this option as a means of saving or making ends meet.
  • Finally, many folks out there simply can’t afford take a trip right now, so it seems easier or more logical just to work.

So, we know the reasons why we can’t (or think we can’t) use our vacation time, but what are some reasons we should?  In short, it’s good for our physical and mental health, and it makes us happier, more productive employees.  Instead of feeling guilty about taking time off, we should regard it as a gift both to ourselves and to our employers.  Not even the most accomplished executive can sustain productivity and job satisfaction if he/she never has a chance to step away for a breather.  By insisting on using vacation time, we maintain a healthy work/life balance and we also promote a workplace culture in which employee health and happiness is important.

Assuming we decide to use that hard-earned vacation time, here are a few tips on making the most of it:

  • Prepare for your absence from work as best you can, so you won’t feel guilty, anxious or otherwise distracted while on vacation.  Remember that the world will not stop spinning while you’re away.
  • If you’re someone who gets an exceptional amount of enjoyment out of home improvement projects, then by all means make it a “stay-cation.”  Otherwise, getting away to a place that fills your senses is just what the doctor ordered.
  • Resolve to be unplugged:  Leave behind your work phone, pager, laptop and/or any other device that could tempt you or your supervisor/colleagues to communicate.
  • Savor the time away and when it’s over, resolve to make using your vacation time a regular habit so that you always have a fun-filled, relaxing break to look forward to down the road.
  • If you absolutely, positively can’t get away for an entire week or more, consider taking a Thursday and Friday off, or a Friday and the following Monday, etc.  That way, you’ll have four consecutive days off, but only used vacation time for two of them.

In the end, the need to use our vacation time reflects sage advice passed down through generations of humanity:  At the end of your life, which will you regard most fondly – all the hours you spent at work, or those special moments spent with your family?

Now…go turn in that vacation request.


Are All Your Eggs in the Federal Funding Basket?

While working for a relatively small non-profit that was facing cuts in federal funding, I lamented to a family member about constantly being at the mercy of the government.  His response was smartly simple: “If your program is truly needed and truly worthwhile, it will be supported.”  His larger point was that the people in the community will support programs and agencies they value, regardless of what the government does with its funding.  Point taken.  So why do many non-profits rely so much on federal funding, and how does an agency build value (and thus financial support) within the community?

Many non-profits have fallen into a faulty habit of chasing after federal money.  If a government grant pops up that even loosely relates to our agency, we must apply for it, right?  Not necessarily.  It might be an appropriate avenue in order to maintain or enhance programming in the short term; however, it’s never a good idea to create a new program around the availability of specific funding.  New programming should always be created in response to community need.  First develop an effective program to address an identified need, and then seek the funding to sustain and grow it.

Many non-profits have also fallen into the dangerous habit of relying too heavily on federal funding once they have it.  The problem with that is threefold.  First, government grants are always at the mercy of funding decisions that are made largely without our input and without consideration of our particular agency’s worth.  Secondly, most federal grants require a “cash match.”  If all our eggs are in the federal basket, we may not have enough outside the basket to meet the cash match requirement.  Lastly, government grants come with strings attached for how the money can and cannot be used.  If that “can” or “cannot” directly conflicts with our agency’s mission and vision, then it might not be the best source of funding.

Building a diversified funding base is critical to the health of any non-profit, but it can’t be done simply by hosting 5-K walks, golf tournaments and bake sales.  It must start earlier and become a core component in the life of the agency.  Here are a few broad tips for increasing an agency’s value in the community:

  • A successful non-profit must always operate in response to a legitimate need in the community in a way that other agencies are not.  No matter how much time passes or how much growth occurs, remaining dedicated to the community’s needs is essential. 
  • The agency’s board of directors and executive leadership must be professional, engaged, and dedicated to the mission.  
  • Utilize (and document) to the fullest extent in-kind donations and volunteer service, which demonstrates a commitment from the community
  • Adhere to accountability and transparency in all things, particularly finances, which will show the community that the agency is legitimate and worth donating time, goods or money.

If your non-profit is reliant on government funding, do not despair.  Federal money can be (and often is) an important source of funding for many non-profits, however it cannot be the only source.  The strength, sustainability and growth of any non-profit is grounded in the depth and breadth of support from the community it serves.


Overcoming the Social Media Blues

I sit at my desk staring blankly at the screen, my fingers hovering over the keyboard, poised to type out a brilliant message in 140 characters or less.  Nothing is coming to mind.  I look over to the stack of files on my desk screaming for my attention.  If only I could think of something interesting or inspiring to say, I could move on to what I really need to get done today.  Think!

Can you relate to this scenario?  If you work for a non-profit or community organization, you’ve by now likely at least dabbled in the world of social media.  Some of us wade in the shallow waters of this world, while others are doing swan dives in the deep end.  Regardless of how skillful we’ve become at navigating the ‘net, maintaining a relevant and captivating social media presence can feel like a chore that’s never-ending.  We’re dealing with serious, real-life issues on the ground in our communities.  We’ve got clients to serve, budgets to prepare, staffs to manage.  Who has time to think up and write Facebook posts, tweets and blogs, let alone read them?

We get why nearly every organization needs a social media presence: because everybody’s doing it.  We might have held back for a while, expecting that this social media thing was just a fad for the young folks that would quickly pass, but now of course we realize that not only is it here to stay, but it plays a significant role in the way our society communicates.  If we refuse to engage this mode of communication, we risk disengaging with the people behind those computer screens and cell phones – which includes potential clients, volunteers, donors and funders.  But how exactly does one tweet on a continual basis in a way that’s relevant to the organization and its mission?  What can one post on Facebook that could possibly appeal to the average Internet surfer?  I might be passionate about the work I’m doing, but how do I translate that in a meaningful way to the digital realm?

As with any organizational task, the most effective approach is to assign the task to someone who is most enthusiastic about it.  If there is no one on your staff who’s excited about social media, consider bringing in an intern or volunteer to do the posting (assuming, of course, he or she can be trusted to represent your organization online).  But if it’s you – the multitasking executive or the dedicated foot soldier – who is responsible for posting, tweeting and/or blogging about your organization, take heart.  It is possible to master this social media machine.  Start by following other organizations to get a feel for what they’re doing.  Consider your mission and what message you want others to receive about your organization and the work you’re doing.  And then simply be yourself.  Harness those traits that make you good at your job and then run with it.  Is humor your thing?  Do you like telling stories?  Are you a numbers person?  There is a place for these and many other perspectives in the world of social media. 

You don’t have to be a brilliant writer or orator to win at the social media game.  You just have to start talking.  Sometimes it’s as simple as reflecting on the challenge of thinking of something brilliant to say.  Who can’t relate to that?

Like this blog post – which, I might add, you took the time to read.  See?  You can do it.

The Value of Volunteers: Are You Missing Out?

It’s no secret that volunteers are valuable assets to nonprofits and community organizations, especially at a time when economic challenges make it difficult for agencies to meet their staffing needs.  But just how valuable are volunteers?  According to the federal agency Corporation for National and Community Service, a single hour of volunteer service is currently worth $21.79.  In 2010, 62.7 million U.S.residents volunteered a total of 8.1 billion hours, which was worth $173 billion.

Who are these generous folks, where are they volunteering, and what activities are they doing? Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1981) are the fastest growing age group of volunteers in America.  Between 2009 and 2010, their service increased by 110 million hours.  Religious organizations ranked highest among volunteerism sites at 35%, followed by educational institutions (26.7%) and social service agencies (14%).  Fundraising was the most common activity performed, followed by collecting/distributing food, general labor, and tutoring/teaching, respectively.

All of this data suggests that if your agency is not currently utilizing volunteers, you could be missing the boat – in a big way.  Not only are volunteers invaluable in terms of the services they provide, but being able to demonstrate the monetary value of volunteers goes a long way in helping your organization leverage funding.  While some organizations are more volunteer-oriented by nature, nearly all agencies can benefit from the time and talent of volunteers.  If you’d like to establish a volunteer program in your agency, start by gathering together your key employees and board members to discuss how volunteers could be beneficial.  Below are some helpful questions to ask each other (and don’t forget to write down the answers):

  • What things do we as an organization want and need to do that we aren’t currently doing?
  • What specific goals would we like to achieve, but don’t have adequate manpower and/or time to achieve them?
  • What things are staff members currently doing that they are not excited about and/or that take their time away from more critical tasks?

The answers to these questions will help guide your organization’s specific need for volunteers, or help to revamp the utilization of current volunteers.  From there, it’s a matter of organizing and advertising.  In short, if you build a dynamic volunteer program, they will come – and your agency will be a more successful, effective and visible part of your community.  Who doesn’t want that?

If you’re interested in establishing a volunteer program in your agency, contact CDP today!

Nonprofit Employment in 2012: Where Do You Stand?

Nonprofit HR Solutions, a national consulting firm focusing on the human resources needs of nonprofits, has released the results of its 2012 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey ™, a summary of employment practices in the nonprofit sector.  The report highlights data tabulated from 450 nonprofits across theU.S.  The full report is attached.

 Some key findings from the report:

  • The nonprofit sector is growing.  43% of nonprofits have increased their staff size, which is an increase of 26.5% over last year.
  • Job growth is occurring most in the areas of direct services, program management, and fundraising/development.  Growth in the area of fundraising/development is expected to double      this year.
  • 81% of nonprofits are utilizing existing staff to meet the responsibilities of eliminated staff.
  • Informal and formal networks are the most common recruitment methods used (81% and 80% respectively).  LinkedIn has become the most popular social media site for recruiting purposes.
  • The top five websites nonprofits used to recruit employees are: (52%), LinkedIn (40%), (39%), (38%), and (33%).
  • Only 26% of nonprofits participate in on-campus recruiting at colleges.
  • The greatest challenge nonprofits face in retaining current staff is the inability to offer competitive pay.
  • Ethnic/cultural diversity among staff is becoming increasingly important to nonprofits (51% say it is “very important”).

 How does your nonprofit compare?  How have you adjusted your hiring and retention practices to meet current challenges?  What do you see as the greatest opportunities and challenges as we progress through 2012? 

Ways Donors Give Money

Heart of the Donor recently conducted a survey of donor gifts and habits over a 12-month period. For many fundraisers, the results came as a surprise, with high percentages still using a traditional method of giving.

Here is a breakdown of the results:

How Donors Give

An overwhelming percentage of gifts are made through either a collection box or the mail. Following, but not too close behind is online giving in any way. Around 3 out of 4 people give through their office or in their place of worship and rounding out the bottom is text messaging.




With the internet and social media boom, it might be hard to believe that the traditional methods are still so popular, but one thing this chart doesn’t show is that most donors use multiple methods. Another aspect of the survey was to link the giving methods with donor age.

Mail vs. Online

This information shows that while donors ages 18-39 tend to prefer online giving, there is also a high percentage who use mail for donations. The flip comes around the 40’s with donors ages 40-70+ preferring to use mail for their giving method. This bracket also tends to be the most giving.

Points to Ponder

  1. Research indicates that the choices in how donors give are not mutually exclusive. Many people use more than one.
  2. Continue to use the strongest tools that you have to maximize your revenue but don’t be afraid to incorporate new methods.
  3. On-line giving is increasing in usage, importance and value but mail is used most among donors over 40.

Bottom line: Today you have many ways of sharing your story. Think through the different types of communication; knowing how to target the right groups for specific communications is an important part of your fundraising plan. It will help you make sure you’re sending the right pieces to the people most likely to use them. In order for the donors to catch the vision for what you do, they need to hear and connect with your story – the work you do, the people you serve and the goals that you have for the future. The story you share with your donors breathes your mission life.

Interested in learning more about donor development? Plan to attend our next training on January 20th, 2011: Resource Development through Fundraising and Donor Development. Click here for more information or to register on-line.

You can find the full report here: Heart of the Donor – Fundraising Success Survey

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