Jewish Development Professionals and the Job Market

Reposted from eJewish Philanthropy – March 27, 2012

An improving U.S. economy and an upturn in charitable giving should expand the market for Jewish fundraising professionals. Is this happening … and what are the projections for the next 18 months?

“Historically, the job market for development positions is the first to see improvement after layoffs occur,” we learned from David Edell, president and cofounder of national firm DRG Executive Search Consultants, where he has been actively engaged for 25 years of search efforts with nonprofit organizations, especially Jewish organizations looking to fill higher executive positions. “We are certainly seeing a hiring rebound, especially during the last 18 months, in three specific areas of the Jewish nonprofit arena.”

“Nonprofits are looking to refill ‘frozen’ positions, they are making certain personnel changes to upgrade staffs, and they are looking to staff some new initiatives that require professional leadership and expertise,” he told us.

He confirmed that the areas that are showing the most activity in the current job market require fundraising experience in major gift donor solicitation stewardship and people comfortable in on-line giving and social media … mirroring where many successful nonprofits are placing emphasis now. “Organizations today are seeking experienced and successful professionals, people who have specific expertise and skills and who are personable and articulate. Jewish agencies are following the same paths as other nonprofit organizations in this regard,” he reiterated.

While the marketplace has once again become reasonably competitive for experienced fundraisers, salary levels have not grown substantially. Current salaries for Jewish (and non-Jewish) development personnel are competitive and are of course higher for “more seasoned and experienced men and women,” even though more people are considering careers in development after having worked in the for-profit world.

Our recent review of development positions showed us a wide range of compensation, ranging from the $45-55,000 level to as high as $250,000 and higher for very seasoned development personnel. These levels have not changed markedly during the last ten years despite competition and levels of experience.

A recent published review of nonprofit salaries by The Forward focused primarily on senior executive compensation at Jewish nonprofits across the U.S., not on development positions specifically. However, because fundraising specialists are in more demand now and as a result of a competitive philanthropic world, Edell projects some upward adjustments of salaries, especially for organizations that are competing to recruit experienced, personable, and strong professionals. “This holds for vice-president positions down to development officers,” he said, but “not especially for lower level, starting positions.”

A wide spectrum of jobs in Jewish nonprofits across the globe is often announced on a popular websiteJewishJobs.com, which was started in 2001. Founder Benjamin M. Brown, of Austin, Texas, had intended to be a college professor and while going for an advanced degree he was looking for a position in the nonprofit Jewish community and there was no jobs web site at the time. Much later, he realized that there are “distinct cycles of ups and downs in hiring” that tend to be more impacted by the calendar than the economy. JewishJobs.com, which initially focused as a clearinghouse for a wide-ranging listing of postings for Hillels, JCC’s, and Jewish Federations, today carries hundreds of job openings at any given time, with “the second best level of the best paying jobs being for development openings,” he reports. Jobs listed on this website range from nonprofits seeking teachers, computer-knowledgeable expertise, researchers, and support personnel at all levels of expertise in the Jewish communal arena, but generally the organizations that turn to this resource seek personnel at levels lower than those who reach out to the executive search firms.

Even during the most severe period of the “Great Recession,” from 2008-2010, there were Jewish nonprofits that were hiring, although the length of time required to fill open positions was longer and more competitive than what we are seeing now, both Edell and Brown agreed. What we witness today, though, places even more pressure on the job seeker, where increasing numbers of candidates are attracted to each position, especially in major cities and for the largest nonprofits.

Our review of published openings currently available illustrates that hospitals and health care are paying the highest salaries for Jewish development personnel among key sectors of the nonprofit arena, with higher education close behind. Other observations about the current – rosier – job market seem consistent with criteria used for more than the last ten or 15 years:

  • nonprofits seek dynamic, curious and engaging people who know how to take initiative and how to cultivate donors;
  • people with a functional knowledge of finance and management are being sought for development positions;
  • career-minded men and women comfortable in the major gift and planned giving arenas are in short supply.

With the job market in flux today, we envision that nonprofits seeking development personnel may need to test different methods of attracting the best and most appropriate development staff, with a greater emphasis on word-of-mouth and networking than ever before. And the networking also holds for job seekers, too, many of whom have felt frozen in current positions where they may not have seen salary increases or promotions.

We talked recently with an experienced nonprofit executive in search of a new job since early January. She has held responsible positions in synagogues and at a national Jewish nonprofit; she wishes to expand her career by focusing on the fundraising profession but she is experiencing some difficulties finding “the right job.” “I have decided to be selective about my next position,” she explained, “and I certainly want to stay within the Jewish community and to use my years of experiences to impact on a dynamic organization.” She has scheduled interviews but during her 12-week job search, no firm offers have come her way . . . as yet. She is hopeful, trying to be flexible and optimistic, but meanwhile is leaving no stone unturned. “Networking is crucial and I am certain that I will ultimately secure a job that captures my skills and expertise!”

So goes the challenging search for jobs … from the employer’s perspective as well as from the view of the job seeker. All-in-all right now it’s probably back to a solid market for the best qualified candidates, though salaries are not escalating and where mid-sized and larger organizations are watching budgets but seeking outstanding personnel.

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