Shellie Speer-Burnett, BDI

3 Questions To Help Your Nonprofit Make the Right Hire

Hiring can be stressful. But with the right questions, it doesn’t have to be.

You’re a nonprofit. You probably have a very lean budget, and as a result, a small staff. Your staff has always made it work. But now, your donations have increased… or you’re seeing more and more clients… or there’s a new opportunity for outreach in your community.

You feel you may need to hire to meet that need. And that’s STRESSFUL.   

I’ve met so many Executive Directors in this position who turn to me and say, “Help!” They don’t know where to start to make the right hire. As you know, it’s just one of many difficult decisions that leaders have to make.

In their minds, the easiest hire is always the candidate with the most experience. That’s where I stop them in their tracks. Easiest doesn’t equal best. In fact, I tell them that often, the best person for the role may have no experience at all. 

Yes, you read that right. Let me explain!

There are 3 questions to ask to help your nonprofit make the right hire: 

  1. What’s the budget? 
  2. Where are the gaps?
  3. Full-time, part-time or volunteer?
  1. What’s the budget? 

For my entire career, I’ve worked with Rescue Missions – and as you’d expect, they rarely have roomy budgets when it comes to hiring. But I believe that’s actually a positive. It forces nonprofits to look beyond experience. So here’s the one thing I believe is most important in hiring: helping your nonprofit make the right hire means finding the right kind of person. 

Who is the right kind of person? Passion is important, but as many nonprofit managers have found, passion doesn’t always translate to the job. Sometimes, passion overwhelms people’s ability to execute the other parts of their work – for instance, a major gifts officer may love the stories of changed lives, but needs to know how to translate those stories to the organization’s major donors to leverage large gifts. 

No matter what size hiring budget you have, look for a hire whose passion to help others is coupled with a willingness to learn and a solid work ethic.  

  1. Where are the gaps? 

When you find there’s a real unfulfilled need that seems to require new staff, figure out which gap most affects the stability of your entire organization. 

Several years ago, I completed a development audit of one of BDI’s client partners. (You can find out more about assessing your nonprofit’s performance in this article.) One issue that I consulted on was the hiring of a new development director. We started with their budget and in the end, determined that the biggest gap in their current development program could be filled by a part-time church relations manager – and that it would work better with their budget than a full-time development director for this particular organization. 

That Mission will need a development director at some point, but that position wasn’t the right hire to fill the gap at this moment. A church relations manager was! 

  1. Full-time, part-time or volunteer? 

The answer to this may in part be determined by the first two questions. When your staff’s existing bandwidth is stretched, it’s natural to think about hiring full-time. But full-time isn’t always the way to go. A seasonal influx of donations or clients, for instance, may only require short-term help vs. a permanent position. 

Depending on the nature of the gap in your organization, you may even find that your volunteers may be able to fill the gap. Utilizing volunteers is a great way to test how critical it is to have that role filled regularly. Volunteers are a valuable resource. They’ve come to you because of their passion to help others. Once in a while, their experience volunteering at your organization is the first step to a brand new career path. 

It’s also worth considering former clients who once benefited from your services! These are people who have a unique understanding and perspective about your organization. They are often extremely passionate about your services and eager to find new ways to give back to help others as they were helped. 

In my experience, many of the best hires have started out as volunteers or former clients at a Mission. As your organization’s budget grows, a volunteer or former client may jump at the opportunity to make a career out of the passion and talents they discovered at the Mission by joining your staff full-time. And since you have previous experience with these people, you’ll have a good idea of their work ethic and how well they work with your existing staff.

Here’s your big takeaway: The best hire isn’t necessarily the candidate with the most experience.

First, figure out your budget and what kinds of roles fit within it. Then, consider the gaps that are most critical to your nonprofit’s stability and the roles that fill those needs. Finally, consider short-term contractors or even your volunteers or former clients for positions where you can test the role’s impact and the hire’s fit within your organization. 

When you ask and answer the 3 questions above, you’ll simplify the process to help your nonprofit make the right hire… and make it a cause for celebration! 

Are you looking for more advice about how to empower your nonprofit with the best team possible? BDI would love to help! Email me to start a conversation about how BDI can partner with your organization or if you have other questions about how to help your nonprofit make the right hire. I’m excited to talk with you!

Check out our last Quick Shot – “A Recipe for Nonprofit Websites”

  • Shellie Speer

    Shellie Speer-Burnett, Senior Vice President, BDI Academy

    With over 30 years of partnership in Rescue Missions and nonprofit organizations, Shellie Speer-Burnett brings her expertise, counsel and philanthropic-centered passion to assist in furthering the work of BDI’s Rescue Mission clients. For 22 years of her career, she served as the Founder and President/CEO of her own agency, ENEX Group, which helped her clients capture hearts and donor loyalty in their communities.

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