Recruiting and retaining a nonprofit “dream team”
Posted on: June 26, 2018 at 9:45 am

By Alexis De Sela

As your organization’s leader, it’s incumbent on you to select the most qualified staff with the right fit based on your organization’s needs and culture to build your nonprofit “dream team.”  Consider these steps as you undertake your next search.

What do employees value?

In any successful workplace, the positive interaction between employees and their leader is essential.  We’ve learned that in their relationship with supervisors, most employees value:

  • Trust
  • Positive feedback
  • Two-way communication
  • Clear expectations
  • Providing information
  • Goal-setting
  • Input into decisions

At the crux of this relationship, open and honest message is the key.  Helping employees thrive in your nonprofit workplace through your clear, unambiguous messaging is an important launch pad to success.

In addition, our experience in both the nonprofit and for profit world has shown that in their daily work, the majority of employees value:

  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Doing challenging work
  • Recognition for good work
  • Making use of their abilities
  • Pay
  • Feeling of achievement
  • Feeling of personal worth
  • Sense of competence
  • Doing meaningful work
  • Promotion and advancement

It begins with recruitment

As with any successful undertaking, hiring your very best team starts before you talk to anyone.  First you need to understand your organization’s unique culture and examine it honestly.  In other words, before you can fill any empty “seats on the bus” you must consider your nonprofit’s strategic needs and then work diligently to identify applicants with skills to address those specific needs.

As you begin to interview candidates for your open position, consider these important points:

  • Assessing a candidate’s skills takes approximately 10% of the interview.
  • Figuring out the fit with your culture takes 90%.
  • Yes/no questions are not productive. Ask questions that allow the candidates to describe how they have handled specific challenges.  “Give me an example of a time when…”
  • Ask culture questions: “How do people you have supervised or managed describe you?”
  • Know which questions you CANNOT ask.
  • Ensure that key leaders have an opportunity to meet candidates and have buy-in.

Once you’ve found your dreaml candidate, it’s important to make the offer in writing.  The offer letter should be clear and include salary and benefits information (vacation, sick leave, computer use, etc.)  A clear, unambiguous offer letter is an important first step in communicating your expectations and your goals for the successful candidate. 

Successful onboarding

Now that your dream candidate is now an employee, your work as his/her boss is not over.  We have found that too many bosses fail their employees by not continuing to demonstrate that employee success is essential.  These important steps will help ensure that your great new employee gets off to a great start and remains at your workplace as long as you both remain satisfied.

  • Job descriptions must be updated and accurate, outlining clear goals.  Start your new employee with a clear outline with a 90-day plan.
  • Schedule performance evaluations throughout those first three months and use the first 90 days as a tool to assess compatibility.
  • Align the new employee’s goals with your nonprofit’s strategic plan.  Be sure they’re realistic and ongoing, and then meet with the employee to achieve mutual agreement on those goals. If you don’t set goals or they are unrealistic, disengagement will begin quickly.
  • Ensure a smooth handoff. Allow new employees to learn and feel comfortable in their new environment

Ongoing engagement

We all understand that not everyone will stay with your organization forever, so how can you foster mutual growth while your “dream team” employees are with you?  Here are some strategies to making that happen:

  • Relationship with supervisor is key, so be available to your team.
  • Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your staff members.
  • As the Executive Director, meet with your board chair twice a month at a minimum. Ensure that your Chief Development Officer meets with you at least once a week so that critical issues get shared.
  • Remember the Golden Rule:  Praise in public and address issues in private.
  • Give staff the tools they need to be successful.
  • Over communicate.
  • Provide flexibility when possible. Sometimes working remotely can be a win-win situation.
  • Conduct a brief Performance Appraisal at the six-month mark and a comprehensive Performance Appraisal at one year.
  • Keep track of staff activity AS IT HAPPENS.  Encourage your employees to send you their successes/challenges for their files.
  • Allow employees to complete self-evaluations:  Ask them to evaluate you as a supervisor first.  Ask them, “Have I given you the tools you need to be effective?” and then have them do a self-evaluation.  “What have been your challenges?”

Recruiting, hiring, onboarding and ongoing employee engagement is a challenging assignment for employers, whether you’re an experienced Executive Director or a brand new CEO.  But, with careful consideration of the issues we’ve outlined, you’re on the way to building a nonprofit team of your dreams.