Pursuing a career in not-for-profit management
When I interviewed at an association management agency in my early twenties and was fresh out of university, I only had a vague idea about the association management industry. Over the years I have had the opportunity to mentor other new grads in not-for-profit management and, as it turns out, I was not alone. Not only is recruiting for an association management executive position at times challenging, but once we do get applicants, many of them have the same questions. The benefits of working with an association management company are endless, so why then is there a challenge in presenting this as a viable career option?
Association management is an untapped market for young professionals in Canada. Several related developments are influencing this. Firstly, the association management industry is rapidly growing. Secondly, by the year 2020, more than 50% of the North American workforce will be made up of millennials. Thirdly, pending retirements are opening opportunities further. How are we going to fill the spaces of those that will be retiring in the next 10 to 20 years with this generation of tech-savvy, digital-obsessed individuals who are looking to make a difference in the job market?
Consider where you are looking to recruit for your team. Having a team of young professionals that are actively getting the word out about job openings within your association is a good start, but connecting with post-secondary institutions offering not-for-profit management programs is an even better way to seek new talent. You will be connecting with students that are eager and already have the background knowledge on the industry, which will ultimately lead to new hires that can see themselves long-term with your organization. When we consider the high turnover rate with new grads, many of which might stay with one organization for 12-24 months before moving on, this investment is worth the time and resources. Ryerson University and Western University are just two examples of institutions that offer a post-graduate certificate in not-for-profit management.
At the core of your recruitment should be your value proposition. After you consider career longevity and general interest in the industry, the key to getting a young professional excited about a job is by making it clear to them what they will gain by working with you. Consider incorporating these into your ‘pitch’, which tap into the new grad experience:
- Gaining cross-industry experience right out of school: The chance to work with organizations in industries ranging from marketing, to healthcare, to research, to law, would be tempting for any new grad that might still be exploring their options.
- Working with passionate individuals and loving what you do: Generally speaking, the most passionate individuals are those willing to volunteer their own time for the advancement and awareness of their industries. Working with people who love what they do is contagious!
- Being valued for your expertise and receiving recognition: These individuals also recognize the skills that we as association executives bring to the table. They are the experts in their industry, and we are the experts in helping them achieve their association’s goals.
- Making a difference: We are responsible for delivering on the strategic plan to move the organizations we work with forward. We are also on the front line and can make or break a member’s experience. By maintaining that relationship, we leave each day feeling like we have made a measurable impact.
- Innovating and being creative:Challenging the status quo in search of a better process, presenting creative ideas and staying on top of industry trends are all part of what the millennial generation can bring to the table.
Once you have their attention, it is your responsibility to put your money where your mouth is – literally. Consider your wages; working in the not-for-profit sector can certainly mean working with a constrictive budget, but it also means that at times you may find that your organization is growing faster than you are able to allocate new staff to the work, resulting in working harder and longer hours than they might otherwise at a larger, for-profit firm. Though there is room for providing other benefits to your staff that might not necessarily be monetary, such as flexible hours or other perks, never underestimate how important an adequate wage can be in driving staff to persevere. Invest in your staff whenever possible through professional development and networking opportunities. The millennial generation is looking to grow, and if your organization does not offer educational and career advancement opportunities, they may look for an organization that does.
Ultimately, getting the word out about association management is critical to the success of associations. I believe in the millennial generation and how valuable their contributions are to the workforce. By generating excitement from the young talent we work with, sharing our knowledge and experience, and helping to build a strong team of association management professionals, we can each actively contribute to succession planning in the age of millennials.
A senior leader at Redstone Agency Inc., Maddy has worked with over twenty not-for-profit organizations. She was recently named a Top Forty Under 40® Award recipient by the Association Forum of Chicagoland and USAE Weekly. She is also the 2014 recipient of the Donna Mary Shaw Award from the CSAE. Maddy currently serves on the CSAE Trillium Chapter Young Professional Taskforce.
Twitter – @maddymarch or @RedstoneAgency