Hiring Nonprofit Leadership in a Pandemic World

by Jim Vella

CEO & Founder, Vella Strategic Philanthropy Group
Published On: February 23, 2022Categories: Insights, Strategic Guidance

Like many businesses, nonprofits continue to face workplace challenges as we enter the third year of a global pandemic. With remote work arrangements still largely in place, nonprofits have had to get creative, devising new ways to communicate their mission, fundraise, foster teamwork and recruit employees.

No doubt, the pandemic has changed how we work. But it’s also changed how many of us feel about work.

In 2021, a record 38 million+ Americans quit their jobs, giving birth to the phrase The Great Resignation. And the trend continues in 2022.  Many seek a more flexible schedule with the ability to split work hours between office and home – no more punching the clock to make a dime. Others simply want to find their calling, looking for opportunities to take on meaningful, fulfilling work. For them, it’s not just a job and a paycheck.

Whatever the reasons, the pandemic has caused many of us to reassess the role of work in our lives, changing the rules of the game. So how does this impact nonprofit hiring practices, particularly for leadership positions? It’s time to take a fresh look and refine your process so you can build for long-term success. As you look to recruit – and retain – strong leaders, here are some tips to guide you:

Adapt to the New Normal

The pandemic changed the world, and many of these changes are here to stay. Has your organization adapted to meet these challenges, and just as important, have you? By mastering this new environment, your organization can build a more sustainable culture, finding success and peace along the way. Before you start the hiring process, take time to listen and understand what high-quality candidates value and expect, and develop a plan to meet those expectations.

Look to Your Existing Team First

Do you have a current employee who can step up to the next level – someone with demonstrated leadership skills and a proven passion for your mission? Regardless of the size of your staff, developing and promoting internal candidates can boost loyalty and motivate employees who see opportunities for growth.

Tell a Compelling Story

Your mission drives your organization, so it makes sense to align your hiring process with your vision and goals. That means weaving your story through every step in the process – from formulating the job description, to interviewing candidates, to making the offer. You’re more likely to attract and engage high-quality talent if your hiring team shares authentic excitement for achieving the mission and candidates feel inspired to really make a difference.

Look for Passion and Balanced Leadership Skills

Strong candidates share a passion for your organization’s cause – not just a general interest in helping people. Ideally, they can point to specific examples either in a professional or volunteer capacity. They also exhibit a good balance of leadership skills. Today’s best leaders aren’t just great communicators, they thrive in a tech-savvy environment, using digital marketing, livestreaming and other technologies to communicate virtually. At the same time, they possess critical soft skills – authenticity, humility, empathy. Emotional intelligence helps them build trust and respect across the team, especially when employees are working remotely or in hybrid work arrangements.

Network to Expand the Reach of Your Search

Don’t sit back and wait for candidates to apply to your job posting. Use your professional networks to reach out to potential candidates – even those who may not be actively looking for a new job. Nonprofit professionals are often a great source of referrals for qualified candidates. Also, board members, volunteers and current employees can spread the word on LinkedIn and other social media platforms – not just about the specific job opening, but about your organization’s culture and achievements.

Make an Offer Your Candidate Will Truly Value

Remember, we’re living in a new normal. Nonprofits don’t always have the budgets to offer big salaries, but you can enhance your offer with valued benefits.  Do your research to make sure you’re offering a competitive salary range for the level/title of the position. In addition, understand the benefits today’s employment candidates really value: flexibility to work remotely, development opportunities, technology training, childcare and more.

If you do your homework, you’re more likely to hire a strong leader who will contribute to your organization’s success and give you peace of mind.

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