As of early 2020, the nonprofit employment sector is reported to be the third largest in the nation, following manufacturing and retail. Job statistics will no doubt remain unsteady in the next few years, as unfolding events put these employers at risk. Beyond catastrophic demands placed on them for services, a lot of nonprofits also had to deal with financial losses caused by the pandemic. The result is that you are likely dealing with the ramifications caused the Great Resignation, not to mention facing financial challenges in hiring right-fit people for your organization. One important way to attract more qualified candidates — and retain them — is to hire managers who support and sustain their teams.
Recognize Your Challenges
Have you done all you can to assure that every manager in your organization has the temperament and training to effectively run a department without alienating staff? The challenges you face can be daunting. You may be forced to offer lower compensation for longer work hours. Additionally, slow progress toward your mission’s goals can weaken your employees’ resolve to stay. So, while burnout might be a problem, your bigger challenge might be finding enough qualified candidates who are inspired by your mission.
Specific skills can be taught in most cases, or an inventive employee might come up with smart ideas to improve your processes. Also, consider work and life experience, because in an often-gritty world, your organization could draw strength from people who have life lessons to share. Contract workers can transition into excellent full-time employees. The one common denominator they must all have is passion. Be sure to ask for their story. Find out what happened that brought them to your office and you might be impressed by what you hear.
Manage Your Talent
You want the right person for the job. You can also find the right job for the person. Either way, you should consider the following guidelines to boost your success over the long haul:
- Think Future. If you’ve thought about where you want your nonprofit to be in 5 years, you need to give equal time to what workforce you’ll require. You can’t grow your own expanding workforce. Eventually, there will be specific skills that require significant training, so now is the time to strategize what you will need in the future and how you will attract, hire and retain that talent. Include soft skills, such as drive, trainability and emotional intelligence to build a smart, driven, adaptable team.
- Take a Second Look. While building a candidate pipeline from external sources is good for your organization, you should also give current staff members a fair chance to move up in the organization. Help diverse team members rise into management roles. You’ll benefit with leaders who know about the culture. And you’ll also build employee engagement when others see upward mobility happening.
- Follow the Numbers. Always design a job with clear performance goals, so that the person in that role can be evaluated easily by others.
- Orchestrate Your Teams. Like a symphony conductor, you need to put together teams that work well in a collective setting with more productive results.
As individuals, companies, industries and nations work to rebuild after upheaval, workers need a paycheck, of course. But along with that, they need a strong sense of purpose and opportunity. When they feel that, your staff members will engage, perform, commit to staying and seeing your nonprofit through challenges that lie ahead. The only way to ensure that dedication and loyalty in workers is to provide them with leadership that supports their efforts, trusts them to perform and guides them toward future successes.
Make sure your managers:
- Motivate each team member with a compelling mission and vision. Beyond your organization’s mission and vision, how about each team? If your nonprofit provides housing for homeless people, does your marketing team have a mission and vision of their own to share the message?
- Assert themselves to overcome adversity and resistance. How does a manager help team members with their problems? What energy does a great manager put forth to support each team member’s success?
- Create clear accountability. Does everyone understand what’s expected and what they must do to succeed? Is there honest follow-through? Or is there favoritism? Does the manager encourage a team spirit that supports everyone pulling together for the success of every project?
- Build relationships based on trust, dialogue and transparency. Do the managers encourage pay equity and transparency? Do they have the ability to communicate and trust their team members?
- Make decisions based on productivity, not politics. Do your managers choose people and projects that work or are they unable to control office politics on their team? Can they protect team members from organizational politics and lead everyone to the greater good?
Additionally, here are five core qualities that every management candidate should possess. Whether you’re promoting from within or seeking someone new, make sure to look for someone who:
- Listens. You want a leader who takes the time to hear about issues and come up with solutions.
- Mentors. Most managers possess a veritable wealth of experience and expertise, but it’s critical to find someone who is eager and capable of sharing it with staff.
- Empowers. Find a manager who offers workers the power to make their own decisions. This builds engagement and employee development.
- Leads by Example. Smart, honest, big-hearted, hardworking and open-minded leaders will inspire their team to behave the same way.
- Has Their Back. When workers feel respected and protected by their manager, they’ll be more interested in working harder and smarter to achieve team goals.
Take the opportunity to review your leadership development options and implement what you need to develop managers who have these qualities and can prioritize this kind of conduct. Strong, appropriate leadership is an urgent need, and equipping future leaders with these critical skills will help to assure your nonprofit meets the demands of the future.
Acing the Interview
Success in an interview is often talked about from the perspective of a candidate. But the truth is, the interviewer should design a session that illuminates qualities of the candidate, teases out relevant details and helps the team make a decision.
Prepare questions that can bring out specifics. Instead of “yes/no” questions, ask about issues and strategies a candidate might devise to help her teamwork through them. To learn, for example, if a potential manager would have their backs, you might ask what that person would do if a team member admitted making a mistake. What would they do? Would they take away the project and finish it on time? Would they work through the mistake together with the employee to fix it? Listen for their answers to understand how they might succeed or fail with respect to the traits listed above.
Once all blind interviews have been conducted, allow yourself to cautiously acknowledge general first impressions on finally meeting a new candidate. Does that person make eye contact? Greet others with a smile?
Lose Your Implicit Bias
You want to trust your “gut feeling” about a candidate, but the truth is that you must do so with caution. Implicit bias happens when you allow stereotypes and preformed attitudes to affect your actions on a subconscious level. It can make you misread your emotional responses to a person you don’t know. We are all hardwired to prefer people who are similar in some ways, so it’s important to pay attention at every step in the process and take action to remove implicit bias, as much as possible.
Take steps to control it by asking yourself these questions as you work through your hiring process:
- Is your job description limiting your responses? The words you use reflect your employer brand messaging, so choose them carefully. A word like “driven” could alienate potential female candidates who might see it as too masculine.
- Do you speak with people before you see them? One small step toward fair initial impressions would be to conduct a phone interview first. Listen intently to the content of their answers; Anything else, such as tone, pitch, accents, even regional articulation, should be unimportant.
- Have I assigned a writing task? Prior to an in-person interview, ask a candidate to write a 500-word essay presenting ideas to respond to a strategic issue. Then, you can weigh their responses without the bias of visual or vocal stereotypes.
If, after you’ve gone through a thorough vetting and interviewing process, removing as much implicit bias as possible, you still feel some nagging doubts about a person, then try to understand why you feel that way. Ask other team members for their input and find out if they have the same reaction. And try not to rush the process. At some point, you will have to make a decision. Make it your best possible effort.
Ultimate Interview Tips
Escape the trap of the traditional interview by using a little imagination. Consider these three principles to gain a clearer picture of the person you’re interviewing:
- Creativity Counts. Challenge your candidates with unusual questions and allow them to show you who they really are. Ask questions like: What is your natural strength? What qualities of your parents do you like the most? The reasons they give for their answers can tell you a lot about their level of self-awareness, their ability to fit a role and their ability to evolve beyond their current skills.
- Up for a Challenge? Design a situation that elicits their managerial behaviors. Have them guide a team to make a quick project and watch what happens. Can they provide steps for a committee to draw an unnamed object (such as a tree)? How’s their attitude?
- Go Team! Make the manager’s potential team part of the hiring team. Will they trust this person, understand instructions and feel confident in their ability to make progress on projects together? Will they be able to learn from this person? Let them express concerns.
Beyond the Interview
These days, it’s easy enough to check any candidate’s social media profiles as well as their references. If you can arrange extra reference checks in addition to those provided by the candidate, you’ll probably learn more. Be sure to ask about their behavior under stress as well as how that person worked with others. And remember, what that person has accomplished, what goals they’ve reached and challenges they’ve overcome, really do matter more.
This is an excerpt from UST’s eBook, “Workforce Management Tactics that Strengthen Nonprofit Brands” in collaboration with Beth Black, Writer and Editor.