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Different World, Same Market: Non-Profit Accounting and Finance Hiring

Organizations in the non-profit sector simply don’t behave in quite the same way as for-profit business. 

This is as true in the sector’s finance and accounting hiring as it is in any other aspect of operations. However, by hiring in a finance and accounting labor environment of near-historic lows in unemployment, non-profits do find themselves responding, and adjusting, to the same market forces faced by everybody else.

Adding Value in a Profit-Free Environment

Sectors in the for-profit world are often differentiated by product type, which over time develop into fairly subtle distinctions between the finance and accounting hiring environment faced in areas such as manufacturing, construction, engineering or business and professional services.  

Non-profit distinguishes itself as a sector with an entirely separate revenue model. The business practices involved in operating a non-profit are different enough from for-profit companies that any value-add approach, such as building a finance and accounting staffing strategy based on extensive knowledge of labor availability, may beg a larger philosophical question: 

How is value calculated in a world where mission is more important than the bottom line?

Aside from the obvious answer of resourcing flexibility — always a concern in a sector where pennies are routinely pinched — there is strong evidence that organizational efficiency also brings indirect benefits to non-profit revenue models. In 2007, a pair of Dutch researchers named René Bekkers and Pamala Wiepking published a detailed review of over 500 empirical studies of philanthropic giving. 

Among their findings: “Financial information is especially influential among committed donors,” and, “Studies of private contributions received by non-profit organizations in Canada and the U.S. find that organizational efficiency are positively related to private donations.”

It seems that even the incremental budgetary value added through industry-informed hiring practices that identify key areas of need, emphasize fit and reduce lag may have a multiplier effect as a marketing tool for development departments in the non-profit sector.

How Non-Profits Are Navigating The Current Market

To find out more about how non-profits and charities have been coping with the low-unemployment environment in finance and accounting hiring, and to see how organizations in this sector might build staffing strategies based on market knowledge, we asked Aston Carter Business Development Manager Connor Faust. Faust draws from a wealth of experience placing candidates in the busy Washington, D.C., non-profit market.

Rigid Needs, Flexible Preferences

The roles and skills prized by non-profits in need of finance and accounting help tend to be fixed, leading hiring managers in this sector to be flexible in ways that for-profit counterparts might not be as open to.

“For any candidate to be viable, understanding the compliance involved in the sector is an absolute must,” says Faust. “That’s the prerequisite at the analyst level, and for accountancy the chief role is grant accounting.” Skills-wise? “Because these finance and accounting professionals will be working for a non-profit, they have to talk to members and stakeholders, so communication skills and culture fit are vital,” he adds. 

With static needs and budgetary concerns that will always constrain available salary, non-profits have to get creative to find qualified finance and accounting talent. How are they doing it? 

“Non-profits are flexible in changing their ask in terms of the candidate’s role, their own organizational structure and even on job titles, because what they care most about is whether certain duties will be fulfilled on a daily basis,” says Faust. “For example, one organization I worked with had difficulty finding a compliance analyst with the specifications they sought, but needed grant experience more than any other quality, so they realized they really needed two grant accountants rather than the single compliance analyst position.” 

Hurry Up And Wait, But Conversations Are Free

The combination of zero-profit fiscal year budgeting and the political necessity of consensus building among stakeholders can lead to some interesting fluctuations in required response times for vendors who service the non-profit sector. While many decisions are run through a lengthy protocol process, others come fast and furious on the heels of an end-of-year budgetary windfall.

As regards finance and accounting hiring, companies in other sectors — particularly real estate — have remained competitive in the current labor pool by speeding up their response times when talent becomes available. Non-profits, with their board-driven governance structure, can’t really do that with regard to any aspect of daily operations. 

On the other hand, for needed projects in the middle- or short-term, such as Topic 606 revenue recognition compliance, the cost savings associated with an early start aren’t always available to organizations that can spend only when chunks of budget suddenly become available.

The resultant elasticity in response time requires a “measure twice, cut once” approach to building a staffing strategy that works. 

“The surest way for non-profits to be efficient in this area is by opening a dialogue with a knowledgeable partner about what’s available in the job market before even initiating the hiring protocol,” says Faust. “That way once you do hire, it’ll be for roles and skills that have the best chance of being fulfilled.” 

“And the best thing about those conversations is they’re free.” 

If your organization could benefit from a free conversation about the current labor market with a finance and accounting staffing specialist, contact Aston Carter now to find out how to match your needs with available talent.

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