Hire Right, Right Now

Todd Owens, NonprofiTalent

 Nonprofit organizations need talented and passionate individuals to advance their missions. Since 2004, I have been fortunate to be able to focus my work on assisting volunteer Boards of Directors to make perhaps their most important decision—that of hiring their next leader. This work is dynamic, challenging, and rewarding. Over the last nine years, I’ve learned a tremendous amount, which can be shared with nonprofit executives and hiring managers to help them identify, recruit and grow the leadership ranks of their organizations. Among the most important are:


  1. Passion rules. Passion drives the nonprofit sector. It motivates donors, attracts board members, and inspires us all. However, many hiring managers continue to post three-sentence “want ads” and expect to land a high-quality candidate. Thankfully the Internet has done away with classified ad-format help wanted ads, and word count isn’t a factor with most websites. Craft a position profile that captivates, engages, and inspires someone with the work they’d be doing, AND the impact they’d be having on those you serve. This will bring you better candidates. Once you hone it to its passionate best, template the introductory text, and use it for every opening in your organization.
  2. Define the outcomes. Many organizations still post an internal “job description” as the recruitment tool to attract quality candidates. While it might be important for me to know that I have to sit at my desk and be able to lift 20 pounds above my head, this isn’t going to excite me about the job. A more effective approach is to help me understand what I will be expected to accomplish, and the behaviors I’ll need to demonstrate (competencies) to be successful in the role. An exciting, outcome-defined and compelling position profile will secure much better candidates than the “job description” the HR manager handed to you.
  3. Leverage social media. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and more are utilized by executive recruiters to create awareness about openings. These are all free and easy to use. Join as many as 50 targeted groups in LinkedIn, and share your opportunities widely. Make connections, and let them tell their networks about your exciting opportunity.
  4. Niche is where it’s at. Most nonprofits have a limited budget for recruitment, if one at all. The large job boards are expensive and cluttered with people who are not interested in or qualified for your jobs. Niche sites such as Idealist, NonprofiTalent and ExecSearches will help stretch your budget, but don’t stop there. College and university alumni and career offices need to provide leads to their alumni to demonstrate their value as education costs increase. Build a list of contacts at local colleges and universities, and ask them to post your openings. Additionally, leadership programs such as Coro, Public Allies, City Year, Echoing Green, Teach for America and others provide a wealth of prospective talent during and especially after their service learning experience.
  5. Begin branding yourself as an employer of choice. Unfortunately, it has become common practice to limit communication with job applicants during the recruitment process. Most applicants submit their resumes into a portal that may as well be a resume black hole. Or, if they submit their resume via email, they never receive as much as a simple email confirmation. Even small organizations can develop simple email confirmations, which can be easily personalized and delivered to someone’s inbox. Even if they are not hired, a minimum of two touch points (one when their materials are received and one when the position is filled) with a candidate will make them feel valued and respected, and make your organization look good. Remember people generally tell one or two people if they had a positive experience, and they tell the world if they’ve had a negative one (think restaurants…).


Following these simple steps will help your organization hire smarter. Please email me and share your experiences, or let me know if you have any questions. I’d enjoy hearing from you and helping if I can.


Todd Owens ([email protected]) has been a consultant to social innovation and nonprofit organizations since 2000 and is the co-founder of Nonprofit Talent (www.nonprofittalent.com). A former Coro Fellow in Public Affairs and nonprofit veteran of the Seneca Zoo Society and Carnegie Science Center, he brings a passion for helping others to his work every day. Connect with him on LinkedIn – www.linkedin.com/in/linktoddowens/


  • Bev Herbert

    Todd, I like your suggestions and agree that organizations who use them in the recruiting and hiring process will leave a very positive impression on interested applicants. Thanks for sharing your insight.