Thread Director Stela Patron shares how to fill your open development role with the right match by designing and executing a thoughtful and intentional hiring process
The first time I was ever in a position to hire for a development coordinator to support me, I was working 10+ hours a day, 6 days a week. I was overworked, underpaid, and desperate for help. While a large pile of resumes was quick to appear, the candidates were enthusiastic but inexperienced, with only peripheral experience with nonprofits and even less exposure to fundraising. If I was just looking for help, they were just looking for a job. To make matters worse, even though this position was to be my direct report, I wasn’t the “final say” in the selection process; I still needed our executive director’s blessing before making a hire.
When you’re working with a lean budget and you FINALLY have the funding/approval to hire development support, it is incredibly tempting to just get “somebody” in the role. You are eager to free yourself up for more strategic development work by adding to your team, and there are many willing applicants. But like everything else in life, the hiring process is tremendously improved by one over-riding principle: patience.
To set yourself up for success, we suggest spending just a little extra time with each critical step of the hiring process as discussed below. We promise you’ll be better off in the long run!
Be thoughtful about your job description, and make sure you’re hiring at the right level for your organization – A job description isn’t just a list of work responsibilities. It’s a first impression, a statement of your organization’s culture and values, and a glimpse into your nonprofit’s priorities. With that in mind, spend the time required to make the job description accurate and attractive. Be mindful to align your needs for the role, experience requirements, and salary band with each other and with the marketplace. Make sure your description is a balance of: (a) building excitement about the work of your organization, (b) an accurate description of the duties this role needs to accomplish on a day-to-day basis, as well as the qualities/traits you truly seek in an ideal candidate, and (c) a realistic reflection of your organization’s culture.
Be strategic about posting channels – Your organization’s website and network are the most obvious (and free!) places to start. And while there are other free posting channels you should consider, low-investment, high-return channels (such as Idealist.com) are also worth the cost. Advertisement in more costly channels, such as LinkedIn, can be a strategic decision, but we have also found that organizations can attract high-level talent for well under $1,000 overall. Consider the size of your overall hiring budget to determine the best options for your organization and the role.
Always include a screening round via phone – We all have horror stories of those candidates who look fantastic on paper but through a quick phone screen reveal that they haven’t done their research or don’t truly have the skills they advertised so well on their application materials. So much about a candidate can be revealed on a brief, basic phone screen that I am frankly shocked when I hear from an organization that the “phone interview” is nothing more than a verification of a candidate’s interest and availability to arrange an on-site interview. The time investment of conducting a thoughtful screening, followed by an analysis of each candidate, will save the time of scheduling and conducting interviews that ultimately would be a waste of time.
Have at least two in-person interviews, with one involving other members of the team – After ensuring a candidate meets the minimum skill and experience it is really all about fit. The chemistry between the new hire and her team, both supervisor and any direct reports, is the most important, but always pay attention to the overall fit with the full staff as well. Particularly with development roles, which require the ability to collaborate with everyone in the organization in a collegial way, take the time to ensure the greater team feels enthusiastic about the candidate. Too often, we’ve seen the hiring process focus on the executive director and leadership team, and then come to find that while the candidate was an excellent development professional, she did not mesh with the rest of the staff. Unfortunately, that’s a sure way to lose great talent… one way or the other.
Consider a practical exercise, no matter the level of the position – Regardless of whether you are hiring for a coordinator or a director, we always recommend a promising candidate be given some sort of practical exercise during the hiring process. Beyond giving candidates a more detailed sample of the type of work they’ll perform, a practical exercise serves as another check that a candidate isn’t just impressive on paper or a great interviewer, but that he can really “walk the walk.”
Don’t get discouraged! (i.e., If at first you don’t succeed, post and post again!) – Probably the most discouraging experience in the hiring process is when you put the time and care necessary into the job description and interview process, but you still can’t find that right fit. This is when the panic and sense of urgency to just fill the role can really set in. You’ll find that you’re convincing yourself that a candidate is “good enough.” This may be the biggest mistake we see organizations make. Be patient and if you aren’t finding the right candidate for you, post again. The extra time and effort are always worth it in the long run.
Don’t forget that on-boarding is a piece of hiring! – Finally, you found a candidate you’re excited about, made an offer, and it was accepted! After celebrating, turn your attention to crafting a great on-boarding experience. On-boarding often gets overlooked and lost in hiring, but a candidate’s first few weeks on the job absolutely set the tone for her tenure. Take the time to map out at least the first two weeks of work, including meetings with the whole staff, regular check-ins with leadership, training, and “get your head about you” time. You want your new hire not to feel like she is drinking from a firehose, but you also want her to feel like she can jump in and feel useful immediately on projects of consequence. Without a plan, there’s no way to ensure that she won’t experience either of those extremes.
Hiring is an exciting, stressful, and at times, overwhelming process since so much rides on the outcome. But taking the time and having the patience to see a thoughtful process through is certainly worth the thrill of welcoming that great new addition to your team!