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Teach For America’s recruitment efforts have caught the eye of nonprofits across the country — so much so that some nonprofits’ leaders are working to replicate them.

Last Friday, Kathy Cloninger, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA and David Shern, CEO of Mental Health America, spoke at a day-long event hosted by the Fels Institute of Government. Their focus was improving recruitment efforts and potentially using TFA’s platform as a starting point.

The CEOs represented Leadership 18, a partnership of 24 of the largest health and human service organizations, such as The Salvation Army and United Way of America.

“Leadership 18 reached out to us because they are interested in creating stronger ties with top-tier universities to collaborate on programs and research, but more importantly, to recruit top talent,” Fels Project Manager Catherine Lamb wrote in an e-mail. “The group has watched the success of TFA on campuses like Penn and wonder why they can’t, or haven’t, tap into the same desire for public service.”

Matt Reamy, a former TFA teacher and current senior recruitment director for the program, stressed the importance of personal interaction during the recruitment process.

“What we really do is focus on one-on-one cultivation,” he said. “So really finding people who are really competitive for the program or really competitive for anything and spending time with them one-on-one really explaining and investing them in our mission and what we’re up to.”

According to Reamy, TFA has 65 recruitment directors across the country. The program received 35,000 applications nationally last year and currently employs 4,100 first-year teachers. The national acceptance rate for TFA is in “the high teens,” he said.

“It’s a lot of work,” Reamy said. “We spend a substantial amount of our time in one-on-one meetings talking with people.”

He explained that as a recruitment director at Penn two years ago, he met with “a couple hundred seniors” over the course of the year.

One of the main discussion topics of the day and over the past few months, according to Cloninger, has been “the workforce future for the nonprofit sector.”

“Over half of the CEOs in the country, not just in Leadership 18, but across the non-profit sector will be retiring in the next five years. Seventy percent of the number-two top-management people in the nonprofit sector are retiring out,” she said. “So people entering the sector ... have a lot of opportunity to track up very fast.”

Cloninger stressed that she and her fellow CEOs came to Penn to discuss how to “connect this leadership pipeline to the national” nonprofit sector. She emphasized the importance of the round-table discussions that took place earlier in the day as a way to design a better approach to on-campus recruiting.

And Shern not only echoed Cloninger’s comments, but also reminded those present that nonprofit work is both demanding and rewarding.

“Working in the nonprofit sector is darn hard work,” he said. “The kinds of skills you will develop there are very similar to the kinds of skills you will develop working for a private, for-profit type of environment.”

Both Shern and Cloninger left the audience with a specific message.

“We’d like to see people moving probably in both directions ultimately,” Shern said, “but the attitude that you will somehow get all of your wisdom working in the private sector and then sort of bring that philanthropically to the public sector we think is not the right way to think about this issue.”

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