Special Report: Hiring Practices Somewhat Bumpy In Rough Economy

February 1, 2002       Clint Carpenter      

More than two million Americans lost their jobs during 2001, but nonprofits were for the most part able to keep an even workforce. And while many nonprofits made infrastructure changes in 2001 due to a staggering economy, the hiring of mid to senior level executives continued to flourish.

According to many executive recruiters, the job market is doing fine. Those with the experience are finding jobs, according to Colette Murray, chief executive officer for Paschal Murray executive search in San Diego.

She said that “90 percent of our positions require fundraising experience, so we’re really looking at fundraisers or executive directors who’ve had some fundraising experience.”

Murray said her firm does 40 to 50 searches annually and looks for somewhere between five and 10 year’s experience. Nonprofits may be making cutbacks in other areas to deal with the recession, she added.

At Americus, Ga.-based Habitat for Humanity International, 35 positions were eliminated in October, said Dennis Bender, senior vice president of communications. The cuts were made across the board at the more than 2,000 affiliated chapters. In addition to those layoffs, 53 unoccupied positions for which Habitat was recruiting will not be filled. Habitat employs 992 people worldwide.

“We began this year (2001) with some high expectations for significant income growth over calendar year 2000 and made some business plans and some staffing projections accordingly that we would see a significant increase in revenues,” noted Bender. “When they didn’t occur, even early on in the spring, we had to make some adjustments.”

While Bender said the cuts were necessary, he did stress that the international organization actually harvested as much money as it did in 2000, just not as much as was expected.

The layoffs in October came as a result of short falls in meeting income projections but didn’t affect the development of fundraising areas, said Bender. When asked about current hiring plans Bender said, “Well we are still recruiting for critical positions in development, or those in program which are leadership positions or viewed as essential to our mission.”

Gail Freeman, vice president and director for executive recruiter firm Isaacson Miller does not foresee the nonprofit job market changing much in 2002. One glimmer of encouragement, she said, is that during the recent holidays she “had three calls to ask if we would submit proposals to do searches for directors of development, vice presidents of development and one executive director position.”

Freeman works for the Boston-based firm out of New York City and specializes in development, public relations, and communications in the nonprofit sector. She closed 47 searches in 2001 while the firm usually handles 150 nonprofits annually.

“Mostly I do development directors, PR, and communications … and with that specialty I’m finding that we continually have requests to do work,” explained Freeman. “They continue to hire. … I have heard that there are freezes in terms of salary but for the top jobs they are hiring.”

According to Murray, her clients may be cutting back in other areas to compensate for a slow economy. “They don’t seem to be cutting back, at least in the major gift officers,” she said.

Murray said sections of California, Florida, and especially Aspen, Colo, present unique problems for recruiters because of the higher cost of housing. “It’s really off the map,” she said, “so salaries have had to be higher. But, I think they’re leveling off right now because everyone’s a little more sensitive because of the economy.”

Brunswick, Ga.-based Map International experienced little turnover in 2001, and Personnel Director Celia Larsen said the weakening economy had no impact on the organization.

“Even though we have one (opening) and a lot of what we would do in recruitment, we always start with a word of mouth,” explained Larsen. “So as far as I’m concerned, it has had little impact.”

Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America (BB/BS) is in the midst of a serious growth in staff, both volunteer and paid, and has especially seen growth following the events of September 11.

According to Chief Executive Officer Judy Vredenburgh, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit, with 500 affiliates nationwide, is in the process of expanding services to even more children. BB/BS currently operates services in 5,000 communities, she added.

“When you’re in a growth mode you have to be committed to expansion even when things environmentally change, which they certainly did after September 11, no question about that,” said Vredenburgh. The changing societal landscape following the attacks has caused BB/BS to become even more deliberate and strategic in all planning, including hiring, noted Vredenburgh. “But nonetheless we are hiring. We’re being careful. We’re looking at individuals very carefully,” she added.

Despite adding more employees and volunteers BB/BS is not hiring as many as they originally thought, explained Vredenburgh. “That’s not true at every one of our affiliates across the board, but as a general statement it is true,” Vredenburgh said.

According to Christopher P. Bryant, president and CEO of search firm AST/BRYANT in Santa Monica, Calif., the job market has slowed somewhat. AST/BRYANT filled nonprofit jobs in the low 30s in 2001, as compared to its usual 45 to 50 annually.

“I think the economy has affected nonprofits, which in turn has impacted their hiring decisions,” explained Bryant. “I think that there is a lot of concern out there, a lot corporations are laying off, so the corporate support probably is not going to be what it has been in the past years, in the past decade.”

Bryant added that higher education positions are less impacted during a slow economy and hypothesized that the arts community and social benefit organizations would suffer the most during recessionary times.

The California State University system of 23 campuses was greatly impacted by a hiring freezes in an executive order handed down by Gov. Gray Davis in Mid-October.

Although the hiring freeze is specified for state agencies, the Long Beach, Calif.-based university was urged to and did comply, said Colleen Bentley-Adler, director of public affairs at the university.

“The freeze is for the 2001/2002 budget year,” Bentley-Adler said, “which runs through June 30.”

What the executive order means for the California State system is campuses may continue to hire tenuretrack faculty but are not to hire other positions unless they’re essential to running the university. The president of each of the campuses has full hiring authority.

The St. Louis-based National Benevolent Association (NBA) actually hired more people during 2001 than in 2000, appointing 27 people to posts throughout the country. Just 18 were hired in 2000.

Cindy Dougherty, president of NBA, said the association currently has 3,100 full-time and 800 part-time employees and that its hiring strategies really haven’t changed during the nation’s economic tumble or following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“I don’t think we’ve been hit at all by the economy. Based on the economy, I don’t think any of our hiring practices have suffered,” Dougherty said.