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Employing the right people is absolutely essential for running a successful nonprofit organization. Here are four questions to ask yourself to improve hiring at your organization.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy just released a survey that suggests that "too much pressure . . . coupled with too little pay . . . is driving away fundraisers." They present these findings as alarming and surprising—which we find surprising, insofar as development turnover is not a new phenomenon. Seven years ago the very same magazine published an article entitled "The Cost of High Turnover in Fundraising Jobs."

High turnover is not new or surprising—though it remains alarming. 

Attracting and retaining good employees is of the utmost importance for any company, and whether you are for-profit or a nonprofit, that doesn't change. Talent counts more than anything else for your organization's success. Bad employees cost time and money, even as they harm the company culture at the same time.

And, with all this pressure, hiring is one of the most frustrating and uncertain processes. Thousands of recruitment outlets and interview methodologies—not to mention personality, behavioral, and intelligence assessments—complicate what you may think should be a low-cost and straightforward endeavor. The biggest mistake nonprofit leaders make is to think that their nonprofit’s mission alone should and will attract talent. In today’s market, that’s not likely.

To start your hiring process off on the right foot, you need to ask a few essential questions to cut through the noise, simplify the process, and position yourself to identify and attract top nonprofit talent.


What makes your organization attractive to the best talent in the market?

Hone in on your strengths—why is this a desirable place to work—and be transparent about your needs in order to attract ambitious applicants eager to add value to your organization. Talented and intelligent people are drawn to organizations with a clear identity and clear goals. Share both with them and how they would fit in. Invite talented applicants to do something great and meaningful with, not for, you.


Are the job responsibilities and salary realistic?

Doing something great is not enough. Top nonprofit talent gravitates to opportunities that will expand their skills and experiences. Job descriptions that lack clarity and focus will dispel, rather than attract, talent. The best applicants prefer clarity around a job’s responsibilities so that they can consider whether or not it suits their interests and abilities. Salaries must be realistic, too. If the going rate for a position is $100,000, and you offer $70,000, you will not recruit the best talent.

Think about what underperforming employees cost your organization—in both revenue and opportunity—and make a point to recruit and retain the best talent by compensating them with appropriate salaries.


How will you get to know your applicants?

Interviews, resumes, and references are simply the beginning. Spend quality time with promising candidates. Watch for consistency and patterns in your exchanges. Get a sense of who the person is, both professionally and personally.

More to the point, don’t improvise your interviews. It is often tempting to see if there is "conversational chemistry" by winging interviews; however, having the same questions allows for consistency, mitigates bias, and fosters deeper insight. You need to be able to distinguish between an applicant’s ability to interview well and their being competent and motivated to bring value—consistent interview helps with that.

Identify and then prioritize the values you want your candidate to have. Talent isn't merely experience or skill set. The ideal candidate brings talent, experience, and relevant skills. But the best talent available to your organization might be someone with less professional experience or who will need to obtain a new skill set. What makes them the best is that they have talent: the ability to succeed through their intellectual savviness, work ethic, resourcefulness, and humility to be self-aware and to learn and do whatever it takes to support and expand the mission.


What will drive your decision-making?

This is essential: be candidate-centric, not process-centric. Let the market and the opportunity drive your decision-making. It’s tempting to think there is someone better around the corner. There may or may not be, but good businesses spring at good opportunities: when you find someone who fits the mission and has the talent, make an offer. Waiting to hire strong applicants frequently results in a lost opportunity. Top talent loses interest 7 to 14 days after the interview.

If you have identified your needs and your desires for the position, when you find someone who fulfills them, make an offer. Do not wait for a unicorn candidate. This does not mean settle for a weak applicant, however. This means recognizing the right opportunity to hire when it comes along, without being afraid to close the search.


These four questions are not a panacea, but they will help you set realistic expectations and they will help guide the process. Once a candidate is hired and onboarded, employee retention is a further matter—and just as important for running a successful organization.

The first aspect of retaining employees, however, is making sure that their expectations match reality. If you hire them to do one thing, and ask them to do something else, they're likely to be dissatisfied. That's why getting the job description right in the first place is of utmost importance.

It’s my goal to help purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, attract and retain top talent, and achieve greater influence. Please let me know if and how I can be of help to you—especially with hiring. Feel free to shoot me an email at nrizkallah@americanphilanthropic.com, or check out our consulting services online at AmericanPhilanthropic.com and our events throughout the year.

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