Talent Published Date, 2022

Are Education Requirements Negatively Impacting Your Nonprofit’s Talent Pool?

Created By: Jessica Shatzel and Craig Shelley, CFRE
October 26, 2022

You would expect employers to consider an applicant’s education when gauging their capacity to fulfill the responsibilities of a job. After all, a person’s educational background can say a lot about their strengths and abilities.

But does a candidate’s educational background and academic training truly indicate success in a nonprofit setting? What weight should be given to the professional and lived experiences of an applicant – even one that doesn’t have the educational background typically required for a job?

Prioritizing education over experience can create barriers in your nonprofit’s talent pool and hiring ability.

It’s fair to say that both education and experience can be reliable factors in weighing an individual’s ability to get the job done. However, as the pool for top talent shrinks—and workplace skills become more varied and wide-ranging — prioritizing degrees, and overlooking experience, could lead to your nonprofit missing out on adding individuals to your team with the ability to help it grow and thrive.

Nonprofits typically look for individuals with both the ability to do the job and a commitment to the organization’s mission. And that’s often found in job applicants who may lack the required educational background, but more than make up for it in experience, interest, and passion. People with hands-on experience typically bring a demonstrated ability to deliver on the tasks they are assigned and offer an innovative lens on how to approach the work based on their own varying experiences.

Focusing on experience will amplify your organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

For some job applicants, the lack of access to higher education or postsecondary training is often an obstacle to them getting the proverbial foot in the door. From inequity in public education to financial capacity, barriers to access can be insurmountable, especially for low-income and communities of color. This is as big a loss of opportunity for the potential employer as it is for the applicant. College degree requirements on job applications perpetuate barriers to access, in this case, to gainful employment. Meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts start with an acknowledgment that these systemic inequities and barriers exist; they can be elevated with a willingness to assess a candidate’s ability to fulfill job requirements based on skills and knowledge — and consideration of the value of an individual’s real-world experience despite the absence of a college degree or other educational credentials.

For many nonprofit organizations, the target community for services and support is one that is diverse. Focusing on employing individuals and community members with applied experience can have a huge impact on the success of your organization’s efforts and goals in a way that is increasingly impactful and authentic for those you seek to serve.

Essential skills in the nonprofit sector rarely come from college degree programs.

There are significant skills required of nonprofit professionals, such as relationship building, fundraising, and grant writing, however there are limited college degree programs that specifically prepare and equip students with them. In fact, most are advanced degree programs that require a greater investment of funds and time, again putting them out of reach for many. Yet finding people with experience in these areas is crucial for nonprofits – and an individual’s experience can rightfully outweigh education. Obtaining a higher education may prove an individual can succeed in academia, but not necessarily in a real-world job situation. Proven success in doing the actual work says more about what an applicant has to offer in the role.

Here are 6 sound reasons for giving serious consideration to a job candidate’s experience over educational background:

  1. Helps to eliminate barriers to entry in the hiring process
  2. Increases diversity of identity and thought in your organization
  3. Expands your organization’s talent pool
  4. Allows candidates to demonstrate what they can contribute to your mission
  5. Increases opportunities for authentic engagement with the communities your organization seeks to serve
  6. Helps to build the pipeline of talent for the nonprofit sector which can expedite the hiring process for often hard-to-fill roles

It's not uncommon to find that nonprofits are placing more emphasis and value on a candidate’s skills and experience over education level, and how that translates to success in their organization. As you continue to look for the best team members to drive your organization’s mission forward, eliminate barriers by focusing on their experience and passion.

Whether you need to address immediate hiring needs or want to develop a long-term talent acquisition strategy, we can provide you with the services you require. Connect with us today to learn more!

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