Teach for America (TFA) is the 6th largest employer of students upon their graduation from college, followed by Deloitte (to put it in perspective). Not only do they do quantity – they do quality. 10% or more of the students at most Ivy’s apply to TFA.
As Avi Zenilman wrote in 2006, TFA “turned national service into a status symbol.”
What can we learn from Wendy Kopp that can help us make working in nonprofit management a status symbol and attract the top talent from the top schools? Why are all these kids flocking to TFA (besides the fact that Wall Street is now in trouble)?
Build a Brand
TFA has developed a blue chip brand. It did this by being very selective in its hiring process and by building a presence on the campuses of top schools.
Could we create a umbrella brand for a set of top nonprofits that pool funds to have representation on campuses and collectively recruit and screen students? Commongood Careers is doing this to some degree now, but it would need a broader coalition behind it to achieve this end.
Create a Path
TFA doesn’t ask candidates to dedicate their careers to teaching. In fact, they decline candidates if they say they want to be career teachers. It is two years and out.
This is a tough one for the nonprofit sector as we need people to stay in the sector, and the career paths in the nonprofit sector are often not attractive. The latter is a product of having small nonprofits that are not at scale and therefore can’t offer entry level hires a clear career path. This forces talent to leave when they are ready for promotion. We need role models who are not social entrepreneurs, but nonprofit professionals who have risen in the sector to a place of prominence. Their success is not publicized.