Nonprofit Staffing: 6 Things to Consider Before Hiring


Guest post by Bob Happy of Averill Solutions

As your nonprofit grows, there’s a lot to get excited about. You finally have the funding and the support to launch that big initiative, get that corporate sponsorship, and host that blowout fundraising event.

But with great programs comes great time commitment, especially from your staff. To keep your team from burning out while your organization does more than ever before, you need to bring on some new staff members to spread out the work.

Hiring for nonprofit work can be difficult, especially for growing organizations without much experience.

In this post, we’ll review some of the most important factors to consider before hiring your newest staff member:

The kind of contract you will offer.
The specific knowledge the position requires.
The soft skills a candidate should possess.
How you will optimize your job posting.
How you will structure your application process.
Where you will look for candidates.

These considerations will help you identify exactly what you’re looking for in a candidate and how to find the perfect fit.

Ready to bring on the newest member of your amazing team? Read on!

1. The kind of contract you will offer.

Before you can get into any other details, you need to have an idea of how much time you expect from your new hire. You’ve got a few options to choose from, and they depend on the need you’re trying to fill:

  • Full-time: You need around 40 hours of work per week, and you expect priority with your hire’s time.
  • Part-time: You need less than 30 hours per week, and you don’t expect your hire to always give priority to your nonprofit.
  • Contract: You need the same task performed sporadically, and you don’t need someone to commit to just your organization.
  • Consultant: You have a need for a highly specific skill that no one on your current team has.
  • Volunteer: You have a short- or long-term need for low- to medium-skill jobs that don’t require much training or retention.

A key consideration when deciding what kind of contract you will offer is budget. Even if you would love to bring on a fully committed full-time team member, if you don’t have the resources to offer a competitive salary and benefits, you might need to consider a part-time or contract position instead.

It's also important to think prospectively when hiring. It might be more cost-effective to retain a consultant to accomplish the work required. And if you're planning on tackling a capital campaign plan that requires a large specialized team, consider the options for staffing and how the team could be maximized using employees and consultants.

The contract you are prepared to offer isn’t just useful for your own planning. You need to be upfront with your candidates about the time commitment you will expect from them for the compensation they will receive.

2. The specific knowledge the position requires.

Now that you have a grasp of what your basic needs and budget are, it’s time to get specific.

Depending on which responsibilities you’re wanting a new hire to take on, you’ll need to consider some requisite skills in some of the following areas, specific to nonprofits:

    • Technology: Nonprofits use a wide variety of specialized technology, from CRMs and fundraising software to communication software.

Industry: The nonprofit industry operates much differently than the for-profit industry, especially when it comes to outreach.

Community: Each nonprofit serves a specific community, and knowledge of or passion for that community can give candidates a leg up.

Strategy: Fundraising, communications, event planning, and other specialized skill sets are central to nonprofit operations.

To enumerate this list of specific knowledge a candidate needs, your greatest resource is your existing team. Send out a written survey and/or align a focus group with staff members who would be working closely with the new hire to gather their thoughts.

Also reach out to other nonprofits similar to yours or search job postings on nonprofit job boards to round out your picture of a qualified candidate, especially if you’re creating a new position.

If your list is getting a little too long, remember that while some of these skills and knowledge areas come from professional experience or formal education, many highly specific skills can be taught on the job.

Aside from basic competency in the technology and strategies your nonprofit deals with on a regular basis, the ability to learn quickly and problem-solve is often more important than existing knowledge — which brings us to our next key consideration!

3. The soft skills a candidate should possess.

Nonprofit work is highly personal. So much of fundraising relies on storytelling, teamwork, and quickly finding connections between donors and your mission.

Of course, every position within a nonprofit requires different sets of skills. A grant writing specialist doesn’t need the same level of comfort with public speaking as a development director, but they probably need a higher attention to detail in written communication.

That said, there are a few soft skills that apply to many different areas of nonprofit work:

  • Communication skills
  • Learning agility
  • Empathy
  • Teamwork
  • Problem-solving
  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • Organizational skills
  • Attention to detail

Note that these skills are vague. Help out your organization and your candidates by being more specific.

For example, instead of asking for a candidate who can work well under pressure, ask for someone with experience working to a deadline. Including details like this one gives your candidates an idea of what to emphasize in their application materials, making your screening process easier.

Don’t be so specific and inflexible, though, that you disquality or deter qualified candidates from applying. It’s impossible to know exactly how a new personality will fit in with the rest of your team until they actually begin working, though you can bring candidates in to meet your team as part of your application process (read more about that in section 5!).

4. How you will optimize your job posting.

You know what you want, so the next step is to find it! To ensure the candidates that apply aren’t wasting your or their time, you need a job posting that conveys exactly what you’re looking for.

First, you need to get a handle on the format. For that, check out DonorSearch’s executive director job description writing tips and template, adjusting for the position you want to hire for.

When writing your job posting, it’s important to convey:

  • Time commitment you expect.
  • Compensation, including benefits, you’re offering.
  • Requisite skills, hard and soft.
  • Your nonprofit culture.
  • Clear instructions to apply.

If you see “years of experience” and “education level” missing, don’t think we forgot them! A surefire way to discourage qualified candidates is by limiting applicants via arbitrary metrics.

Professionals learn and grow at different rates, so why discount an ambitious, quick learner who’s only been working with nonprofits for 5 years if they have the skills that a 20-year nonprofit veteran still hasn’t developed?

5. How you will structure your application process.

Getting a pool of candidates isn’t the hard part — filtering through them is.

Your application process should be as rigorous as it can be given your timeline and respect for your candidates’ time, including some combination of these elements:

  • Application letter or form, including references and a cover letter.
  • Phone, video, or in-person interview with hiring team.
  • In-person interview with or candidate presentation to your full team.
  • Technology or other knowledge-based tests.

You will need more complex application processes the further up in your organization you plan to hire for.

Though all of these application steps are important — and their relevance will vary depending on the position you’re looking to fill — the usefulness of in-person interviews can’t be overstated. If you have to set a candidate up with a plane ticket and a hotel room, it’s often worth it.

It’s worth pointing out that hiring a consultant or bringing on a volunteer are significantly different processes than full- or part-time hiring.

Typically, consultants are hired to help with projects like feasibility studies or new software implementation, in the case of nonprofit technology consulting. Nonprofits send queries explaining their specific needs to multiple consulting firms, who then submit proposals, give presentations, and send portfolios for consideration.

Volunteers, on the other end of the spectrum, typically don’t require an intense application processes. If they’re interested enough to fill out your forms and attend a training session for no pay, then you can probably rely on them!

6. Where you will look for candidates.

This job posting isn’t doing any good sitting on your computer. You need to get it out there so your candidates can apply!

You can find candidates:

  • By submitting your job posting to a nonprofit job board or publication.
  • Through references from your own team members.
  • In partnership with an executive search firm.
  • With the research of a search committee.
  • Within your own organization through internal promotion.

While you could host your job posting on a general job board, you’re much more likely to attract candidates specifically interested in the charitable sector by focusing on nonprofit-specific spaces.

If you decide to put together a search committee, make sure that you have a variety of interests represented. Only listening to the opinions of your most senior or veteran staff won’t give your hiring team a realistic idea of what working in your organization on the ground is like.

Include at least one team member who will be working directly with the new hire, either reporting to the position, collaborating often, or supervising them. Other people to include are HR representatives, development professionals, and team members with experience at other nonprofits.

If you’re looking for a new staff member, your nonprofit must be doing well! Enjoy your success, and find the perfect staff member to continue your work by considering these six factors before beginning the hiring process.


Get the latest trends and topics delivered to your inbox!

Subscribe to FrontStream's Blog


Share this article