Prospective employees are a nonprofits most important audience – even more important than donors. Why? This group of people is genuinely excited about what your organization does. And they want to work for you – to help you succeed. Dismiss or treat them badly at your own peril. Applicants understand they might not be selected for a position, but they do want their time and efforts acknowledged. Here are 2 simple steps that can help –

Respect the Applicant’s Time on the Front End

Set expectations that you respect an applicant’s time up front. Give them information about how long the effort might take and when you plan on making a decision. If you’re not able to respond to each applicant, say that. Doing so shows professionalism, and allows the job seeker to move on after a specific date. Here’s some sample text to use on your website or the job description:

“We anticipate a high number of applicants for this position and we will not be able to respond to each application. We will be contacting first-round applicants the week of [date] to conduct initial phone interviews. We understand that your time is important and we thank everyone for their hard work in submitting an application.”

If the position will be open for an extended time, say that too. If the hiring process will take 6 months, also say that. A little information goes a long way for all involved.

Respect Their Effort

Obviously, not everyone who applies for a job gets the position, and communicating bad news to a number of people can be very awkward. How can this be handled well?

Here is a classy response to a “you’re not hired” situation; it respects the job seekers effort while being empathetic. Responding to applicants with an email might cost your organization 1 hour of time, but what might you get from these people in the long term? I came across this several years ago; edit it as needed for your organization:

Good afternoon.

I greatly appreciate your interest in private lands conservation and the [Name of Organization] in particular. Including yours, we received [# of applications] very strong applications for the [Name of Position]. Unfortunately, our hiring team has not included your application in the next round of consideration.

I apologize for the anonymity of the response; in the past, I have always tried to contact each applicant with this news directly, but the good fortune of having many applicants makes that logistically difficult for me this time around.

Hopefully, the quick turnaround on the outcome is at least some consolation. From experience I know that it is very trying to be left hanging about a position, wondering for a long time about the hiring process.

I hope you will continue to pursue career opportunities that further the protection of clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, and special lands; no shortage of work to be done along those lines.

Thanks again for your time, the effort you put into your application, and your interest in the work of the [Name of Organization].

Best wishes,

[First Name of Executive Director]

This empathetic response leaves the door open for a future relationship by acknowledging the applicant’s time and efforts. It also shows that your organization is run by humans who care about the nonprofit’s mission.

Job seekers want to work for your organization and help your mission succeed – what better group of supporters is there? Don’t undervalue this great audience. Always communicate effectively, if possible at the front end of the hiring process and show empathy.

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