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5 Traits to Look for in a Nonprofit New Hire

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Published October 20, 2015 Reading Time: 4 minutes

The success of your organization hinges on your employees. These are the people who will increase your organization’s funds, build relationships with donors, and keep your operations running smoothly. While you have to look for people with the right skills and experience, there are a few overarching traits that can help you identify the right fit for your team. Here are five key characteristics to look for when making a nonprofit new hire.

1. Passion for the Cause

A potential hire may not have tons of experience for a nonprofit role, but what they lack in practice, they can make up for in passion. Many nonprofit professionals are driven by their desire to make a difference. It fuels the time and energy they invest in their tasks and on your mission. In many cases, passion inspires excellence.

One way to gauge someone’s interest in your cause is to ask them about their future aspirations.

  • What are their career goals for the next five years?
  • Are you interested in future endeavors within the same or related field?

Ideally, you want someone who can grow with your organization. This is especially true for younger organizations. Not only do you want to hire someone who’s invested in your cause, but you should also look for someone whose passion can help shape your nonprofit culture and the systems you’re going to use.

2. Excellent Communication Skills

Regardless of the nonprofit role you’re looking to fill, communication skills are a must, especially if you’re hiring for a development or other front-facing position. These people will be responsible for building relationships with constituents, so they need to have the oral and written skills that will rally people around your mission. They need to be able to sell your mission, both in person and in writing.

Excellent communication skills are important even for roles that don’t directly deal with constituents. To start, every staffer is a representative for your brand, so each person should be able to articulate your mission effectively whether they’re speaking to a donor or their next-door neighbor. And if they’ll be working with your accounting or web design departments, they should be able to present and explain their points clearly to the rest of the organization.

Ask the interviewee an open-ended question to see how they interacted with customers or donors in the past. Something like, “Can you tell me about how you engaged with customers in your last role?” can give you an idea of how they deal with constituents or provide customer service. You might even role-play a scenario where you are a potential donor, and they must give you an off-the-cuff elevator pitch about your mission.

3. Humility

To the ideal candidate, no task is too big or too small. In a field where employees are often asked to wear a number of hats, you want to hire people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and offer an extra pair of hands.

Set your radar on those who will have the confidence to speak to a large crowd, but the humility to pack boxes in the backroom. These are the people that end up rising to the top because they are a) indispensable and b) have the largest range of skills, which is invaluable at a nonprofit that doesn’t have the funds to hire another person.

When interviewing your candidate, mention the different tasks that would be expected from the position, including the less glamorous ones. Check their response to gauge whether they would be open and willing to lend a hand wherever necessary.

4. Self-Motivation and Resourcefulness

While everyone will need initial guidance, look for candidates who are self-motivated to get things done. Team members who take initiative can help drive and support your organization’s success. For instance, if you were hiring a development professional, would this person have the skills and know-how to make things happen through their own networks? Would they attend networking events or join groups to meet potential donors or partners? Would they be resourceful enough to think of solutions and put them into action?

Ask the candidate to share about how they handled projects and assignments in their last position. You can also ask, “Can you tell me about a time when an assignment was difficult for you, and how did you resolve the issue?”

5. Flexibility

Flexibility might be a harder trait to distinguish in an interview, but it’s a prime trait for any nonprofit staffer to have. Nonprofits often have to pivot their plans, whether it’s because funding gets cut, an unexpected event occurs, or your focus changes to respond to a current event. This can force team members to drop what they’ve been working on and switch gears.

How would your candidate deal with readjusting expectations? Is this something that would dishearten them and throw them off? If so, working at a social impact organization might not be a good fit. The ability to adapt your plans and projects to unexpected situations is key to moving your mission forward.

Employees should also be able to keep up with the new ways donors want to engage with organizations. Effective nonprofit professionals are open to rolling with the times and innovating new strategies to reach supporters.

Bonus: Eternal Optimism

When your candidate shows signs of these traits, the cherry on top is classic optimism. There will be times when donors won’t give, a campaign ends just shy of its goal, or your organization has to shift its strategy unexpectedly. A staffer who can keep their chin up and a sense of humor during these times can do wonders for team morale.

Your staff is the engine behind your social impact organization. A dedicated, all-star team will help drive your mission and success to new heights. When making your next hire, look to these traits to ensure your candidate is the right fit for your team.

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