• April 17, 2014

In Hard Times, Charities Urged to Do More to Recruit Minority Workers and Volunteers

With 9.7 percent of American workers unemployed—a figure that will probably hit 10 percent “and linger there until sometime next year“—demand for the services charities provide will continue to increase, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, Democrat of Missouri, told an audience here today at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 39th Annual Legislative Conference.

And, said nonprofit leaders speaking at a session, those urgent needs mean it’s more important than ever for organizations to include minorities, including African Americans, among their managers and board members, despite the recruiting challenges the recession brings.

“If you are serving people to lift them up, or you’re an advocate or voice for them, it’s really important that you practice what you preach,” said Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, a civil-rights organization in New York.

The panelists—which also included Willie Iles, White House liaison for the Boy Scouts of America, which maintains headquarters in Irving, Tex.; Irv Katz, head of the National Human Services Assembly, a coalition of social-service groups; and Joyce M. Roché, chief executive of Girls Inc., a national youth group in New York—said that low compensation, neglect of the role of volunteers, and insufficient knowledge of the nonprofit field by job seekers who are minorities are among the factors that hinder greater inclusion.

Mr. Iles urged listeners to seek volunteers who are passionate about a charity’s cause, and give those people roles on boards and other decision-making bodies. He said nonprofit groups need to be more aggressive about seeking out supporters, holding up a copy of the conference’s program as an example.

“They’re all right here,” he said. “I have circled 20 people I want to meet.” He also suggested making contact with civic groups like 100 Black Men of America in seeking board recruits.

Spurring Volunteerism The current administration has supplied resources and created a climate favorable to volunteerism, he noted, with the signing this past spring of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act., presenting a rare opportunity for charities to recruit supporters “If President Obama has set the pillars of the Service Act and we don’t get it, shame on us,” Mr. Iles said.

Low compensation may also turn away some who seek nonprofit work, said panelists, especially those used to the fatter paychecks and lusher resources of the business world. Another potential recruiting obstacle: Nonprofit workers, Mr. Morial said, often need a broader range of skills than their for-profit counterparts. He told of hiring a female employee for the National Urban League who had come from a corporate job, and having her ask him where the organization’s “procurement department” was. He replied, “Look in the mirror.”

Such a requirement to be a “Jack of all trades,” said Mr. Katz, can be “a little degrading at times, or frustrating. But it’s also liberating.”

Focus on a Cause

Job seekers who want to enter the nonprofit world, said Ms. Roché need to get actively involved in causes they are passionate about, to both learn about the field and avoid being typecast by their previous experience. Noting that she moved to Girls Inc., a youth group, after a long career as a marketing executive, she urged listeners to be “intentional” in their career switch. “No one is going to find you in your silo,” she said.

She added, “If you don’t know anything about nonprofit accounting, learn it. Because it isn’t the same as for-profit accounting.”

And, she suggested, those with a passion for doing good may sometimes need to rein in entrepreneurial impulses.

“I often hear young people say, ‘I want to start my own nonprofit,’” noted Ms. Roché. She said she often suggests that such budding charity founders first look for existing groups that perform the kind of work they want to do, and offer their support. “We don’t always need to create our own every time we want to do something good.”

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