Tag Archives: Hiring

The Key to Every Hiring Decision… A Cultural Fit

By David A. Mersky

We live in a world where technical skills, industry knowledge, and relevant experience are no longer enough to define the perfect hire. These matter, of course. But they are not as important as how well a new employee fits within your organization’s culture and shares its core values.

Do candidates manifest the attitudes and behaviors that will enhance your ability to achieve your mission and vision? Particularly when seeking frontline fundraisers, do they have the interpersonal skills and love of people – board members, donors, prospective funders, etc. – to enable them to succeed?

Moreover, you want people who are open to new ideas. This is what your organization requires to compete for attention and funding in what has become an increasingly complex environment.

It may be that you will hire people who are very different from you – in background, temperament, abilities. But if they share your organization’s core values, they can become strong members of your team. 

A New Workplace Environment

Cultural fit has always mattered. But today’s post-pandemic world has upped the ante. Many people now refuse opportunities unless given a fully remote option; some are reluctant to take a chance on making a career move; others want to work less (or not at all). 

Taken together, this has made identifying, recruiting, engaging, and retaining quality people more difficult. In that context, if you make a mistake in hiring, it’s going to be more expensive and take more time to fix. That’s why it is essential at the outset to find prospective employees who will be a strong fit for your organization’s culture and values, and who possess the interpersonal skills necessary to succeed.

Find the Perfect Match

It used to be said that if you hired a brilliant person, that was all you needed to do because they would figure out the rest. But the genius who does not share your organization’s core values and have the interpersonal skills will never be a strong member of your team and will quickly become isolated and ineffective.

It really is about finding a values match. You need to find people who participate eagerly in formulating a vision, who thrive in a learning environment, and who create alignment with their colleagues and the ethos of your organization.

Great organizations treat these kinds of employees as the treasures they are because they understand their value, both internally to their colleagues as well as externally with all your stakeholders.

So, what can you do to identify and hire those who will integrate smoothly into your organization?

#1. Always be looking.

Not only when you have an opening. As you do your networking, meeting new people and strengthening existing relationships, be mindful of those who may be a good fit – whether or not they are looking for a new job or you have one to offer. This is “unconstrained recruiting;” the person you meet today may become your most valued employee six months or a year from now.

#2 Favor potential over experience.

Don’t be so risk-averse that you need to find someone who has done exactly what you think the job requires. After all, the job may very well change and what you thought was relevant experience may no longer be.Hire instead those with an insatiable curiosity and a demonstrated capacity to learn.

#3. Seek a specific kind of intelligence. 

Perfect SAT scores and a 4.0 GPA don’t necessarily add up to the kind of wisdom that will help them succeed in your organization. They must be pragmatically inclined, linguistically agile (both orally and in writing), and able to respond with great facility when challenged.

#4. Avoid the lone ranger. 

Collaboration is a necessity. You want people who will readily share information, solve problems cooperatively, and who are emotionally and socially committed to the success of the enterprise as a whole.

Cultural Fit Comes First

There are no guarantees when bringing a new person on board. But if you follow these four principles, you are more likely to ensure a strong and lasting match. 

And you, as the manager or leader, will build a team that will enable your organization to be nimble, facile, and above all, successful.

Why You Can’t Hire Staff

Are you not able to hire staff because you can’t…

Why You Can’t Hire Staff

Find the right candidate? 

Searching for the ideal employee is like selling a house — you don’t need hundreds of people to come through, you just need the right person to walk in and get interested.

Are you attracting the right people? Do you really know (and does everyone agree) what you are looking for? Are you paralyzed by a previous hire that didn’t work out? 

In this competitive market, months can go by without a hire. Which means you are spending more time and resources than you expected. 

Solutions include changing your process, getting better buy-in from those involved, or hiring an Executive Search firm to clarify process and help determine who would be successful in your organization.

Afford to take on a full-time employee? 

Would you consider a part-time employee, an interim staff member, or a consultant? Temporary staffing can help increase funding so you can afford to staff up permanently. 

Get your favorite candidates to accept the job offer? 

If this happens, think about if it is based on:

  • The reputation of your nonprofit’s workplace environment.

    Given a choice, employees are not going to choose the job where everyone is overworked, there are micro-managers, and no one stays for more than a year. In other words, the high rate of nonprofit turnover is not only happening because there is more money at another organization. It’s also because employees want to like showing up at work every day while still having a life.
  • Your compensation package.

    With the trend/requirements to list salary ranges, saying that you can’t afford the current rate will eliminate many people whom you might like. You can list something like one recent Netflix posting for $90,000-$900,000. Or you can consider other ways to compensate employees, like bonus vacation time or paid education stipends.
  • Your nonprofit’s cause doesn’t make enough of a difference.

    Sure, your cause matters to a job candidate, but not as much as you may think. An employee can help increase cancer research, enhance education, or improve youth programming at many different organizations (not just yours). And that is true of most markets. Especially if you include jobs that are 100% remote.

Join us next month when we tackle Part 2 of this topic, with a focus on preventing employee burnout. In the meantime, if you have ideas for what I should include, please email me and let me know!

Does Your Organization Have an Emergency Leadership Transition Management Plan?

Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.Dby David A. Mersky

Emergency leadership transition management has been on my mind ever since the tragic, untimely death last month of Rabbi Aaron D. Panken, Ph.D., z”l, may his memory be for a blessing, the 12th  president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.  As soon as shiva—the seven days of mourning—had passed the leadership of the College-Institute named Rabbi David Ellenson, Ph.D., its Chancellor Emeritus as the Interim President.  Dr. Ellenson had served the College-Institute as its 11th president from 2001 – 2013.  There is no one who knows the institution, its faculty, administration, leaders, donors, funders and students better than he.  He could bear the sad burden of enabling the College-Institute to carry on under extremely trying circumstances.

But, how many organizations, when confronted with any unexpected, unsettling change in leadership, can have such an elegant a solution and the ability to turn to a trusted, valued former leader?  What would happen to your organization if a key employee could no longer serve?

I believe that every organization should have an emergency transition plan in place.

An effective plan provides clarity on who will do what in the event of the God forbid.  The essential elements of such a plan are key to an orderly transition.  There are three things that must be in place to manage any succession plan, especially an unexpected one. And, by creating such a plan and having it ready to be executed, you may avoid additional anxiety in a time of great stress. In the case of the need to replace an organization’s leader, it is vital that:

  1. the board understands the job of the chief professional of the organization. The most basic component is a current written job description that clearly spells out the responsibilities of the position and the person who occupies it.
  2. the board and CEO/ED communicate regularly and transparently about mutual expectations. As a principal develops and asserts leadership, the organization simultaneously undergoes changes in institutional strategy, staff and environmental conditions. Good governance is the result of a constructive, interdependent partnership based upon a shared vision of their respective roles and responsibilities.
  3. there is a constructive process for self-assessment and evaluation of the CEO, the board, and its individual members. These annual processes should be well-defined, based upon mutually agreed upon expectations and clear, measurable objectives. And, while an annual, written review is at minimum what should be expected, a structured program of feedback at regular intervals is better still.

In sum, here is a checklist of key elements of a leadership transition plan to have in place long before it would be necessary:

  1. An up-to-date job description for the position
  2. Clear, written annual performance expectations
  3. Measurable benchmarks for the performance of the organization and each of its divisions
  4. Regular check-ins to determine that the organization is proceeding in the right direction and that the staff person has the appropriate qualities for the tasks at hand
  5. An emergency leadership transition management plan
  6. A process for hiring a new key employee
  7. Maintaining the unity of the leadership—professional and volunteer—and assuring focus on the future.

As in the case of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the sadness of the death of a beloved CEO is incomparable.  We reach out to all our friends and colleagues at the College-Institute with our heartfelt hope that time and memory will provide them with the healing and blessing they so richly merit.

For the rest of us, should we ever be confronted with an unexpected transition of leadership, our stress and anxiety will be alleviated and the future well-being of the enterprise and those who depend upon it will be assured through thoughtful succession planning now.

Afraid of Choosing the Wrong Executive Search Candidate? You Should Be.

Hiring the wrong executive search candidate?Hiring a new executive director or other senior position? Most nonprofits assume it will be some work, but within their board/staff’s skills.  They believe they just have to follow some basics steps:

  1. create a job description
  2. post it on the major sites
  3. screen the candidates
  4. interview the best
  5. hire your dream choice.

Then, Bob’s your uncle (read: you’re all set). Of course, if it were that easy, there would be no need for executive recruiters like Mersky, Jaffe & Associates.

There are many honed skills in the executive search process, but one in particular is much harder to avoid if you are hiring someone to work with your staff and board. The problem is that we, as human beings, are unintentionally biased, thanks to a phenomenon called homophily. Homophily, literally makes us genetically predisposed to hire the wrong candidate. Of course, they seem like the perfect candidate at the time.

Homophily explained

Homophily is defined as our tendency to surround ourselves with people who are like us. The phrase, “birds of a feather flock together,” is no coincidence.  We look towards those who look, act and react in the same way as we do. And that explains some of the historical lack of diversity at both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.  White males were the majority of the workforce in America for centuries. They then, in turn, have hired other white males. They may have interviewed and truly valued the skills of women and people of color, but they unconsciously thought the white candidates were better.

Your Reality

Unless your nonprofit has unlimited resources, hiring someone who is similar to current staff is wasteful. Those comparable skills may provide (unconsciously) confidence in the decision to the board member or staff doing the hiring.  But, that doesn’t make the person the best hire. It simply makes that candidate the one that feels as if they would fit the best.

The best candidate will almost always be the candidate with completely different, yet complementary skills.  Hooray for diversity!

So how do you ensure you don’t hire the wrong executive search candidate? Hire Mersky, Jaffe & Associates. Or, take an assessment of your staff’s current skill sets and determine what really needs to be the priority in the new hire.  The more conscious you are about the reason a person is appealing to you, the less likely you will unconsciously hire the wrong person. And, hopefully reduce costly turnover at your nonprofit.

If you would like to help you with a staff assessment or with an executive search, click here

Learn more about our Executive Search practice by clicking here

Interview Questions Explained by A Nonprofit Executive Search Firm

As a nonprofit executive search firm, we work with many executive directors and board members to find the ideal candidate for their organizations.  We guide them on how to create a process designed to attract the best candidates, review potential candidates, understand best practices for interviews and engagement of applicants, compare and analyze results of contact with prospective employees, negotiate an offer that benefits the nonprofit and the candidate, and develop procedures to on-board new executive leadership.  In each case, we adopt a unique approach driven by the characteristics of the organization and the community it serves.

Mersky, Jaffe & Associates has been providing executive search services for more than twenty-five years, which is why we found the article in Inc., “The 1 Question Every Job Interviewer Should Ask to Hire the Perfect Candidate,” a great aid in our process.  It circulated around the office thanks to my colleague, Larry Sternberg.

Conversation during the interview process is an ideal way to get to know the person who could be a member of your team for years to come. 

Jeff Haden wisely recommends that interviewers move beyond the standard questions, looking for a specific answer.  That is akin to a candidate who tailors a resume to hit the high points of a job description, knowing that the ‘bot scanning the site will give it high marks. Both get results but not necessarily the quality you are looking for.  Instead, you want to find someone with appropriate skills who will fit in with your culture and  environment.

But, the only way to know if someone will fit is to engage them beyond the standard cookie cutter questions. 

When I was first interviewing for jobs (many moons ago), there were questions that were asked to test your critical thinking skills and determine how you would figure something out if you didn’t know the answer.  These seemingly absurd inquiries ranged a bit but included, “how would you find a needle in a haystack?” and “how many gas stations are there in the United States.” I understood why they were asking these types of questions, even if, as a 22-year-old I was completely scared that I would be stumped on the spot.

The Inc. question about how you will impact the bottom line may stop you in your tracks if you are a candidate who is not really interested in that specific nonprofit but simply a nonprofit job. But, if you have done your due diligence and understand the organization, you should be able to talk to the screener at the executive search firm, the interviewer, and your future colleagues about what you bring to the table.  And that will help everyone understand whether this i s a good fit.

To learn more about our Executive Search offerings, click here.

Analyzing your Nonprofit Before Your Next Hire

Organizational and Development AssessmentIn this column, I have previously talked about organizational and development assessments as a tool to understand your development skills or prior to a capital campaign, but recently we have employed this type of assessment at the beginning of an executive search.

Why? We use this tool when organizations know they have to replace a key member of their staff but they are unsure of the direction. Should they look for someone with the same skills? Would they be better off altering responsibilities and hiring someone with skills that are not yet represented on the staff? What would happen if they promoted someone from within and offered training? If they hired someone from within, how would the rest of the organization be reorganized in order to succeed?

By analyzing your nonprofit before you make a new hire, you can craft the ideal list of desired skills, help candidates understand the strengths they could use to the organization’s and their own best advantage were they to get the job, and focus current staff to bring their skills and experience in a more effective manor.

Transitions can be hard on a nonprofit. Whether you are concerned about relationships that may be lost with the change, solicitations that might not occur because the nonprofit is focused on hiring a new staff member, or shifted focus of the board, an organizational and development assessment can help us help you stay on track. We help organizations like yours form the best team in the most efficient way.

Turnover remains high at nonprofits, consider how you can be remain effective as things change. Because they always do.

Changes in Nonprofit Executive Search

Executive Search infographic 10-14Recently, I have been helping find a candidate for one of our nonprofit executive search clients. It has been fifteen years since I last searched for a job. The job search process has become dramatically different – for both sides of the search.

Where people used to post jobs:

  • Want Ads
  • Company Websites
  • Job Websites (Monster, etc…)
  • Employee incentives
  • Alumni organizations/sites
  • Recruiters

Where people currently look for jobs:

  • Want Ads
  • Company Websites
  • Job Websites (Monster, etc…)
  • Trade Websites
  • Friends/Colleagues
  • Alumni organizations/sites
  • Recruiters
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Trade or Targeted Group Sites
  • Job Boards

The difference between the two lists is not simply the length. The first requires more effort on the part of the prospective employee, the second requires more effort by the hiring employer.

Employers now have to understand how best to use social media, job boards, alumni sites, their own websites, and their personal and corporate social networks in addition to knowing how to write an engaging, compelling job description, how to manage Zoom interviews, understand what questions can and should be asked during such interviews to best qualify candidates as well as how to handle reference checks.

Of course, there are trade offs. You have to decide what would you rather spend – time or money. Most people feel their workload has increased in recent years. Adding an executive search to anyone’s responsibilities (especially at a small or mid-sized nonprofit) only increases the pressure. Volunteers are also as busy as ever and may not be willing to dedicate the necessary time and energy. 

What does this mean to you? If you have read this far you are either

  • working on a job search or
  • suspect you will have to work on a job search soon

If you decide you don’t want to go through the learning curve while losing money or do not have the bandwidth to manage the search yourself – give us a call at 800.361.8689 or email us today.

5 Essential Topics for Interviews at Nonprofits

Nonprofit Executive Search Tips

As many of you know, we conduct executive searches for nonprofit organizations. Our goal is to find candidates who will help the agency achieve its goals and excel for years to come. If a candidate does not work out within the first year, we offer to find the nonprofit a more suitable candidate. This doesn’t happen often, and there is a reason for that. We also prepare the interviewees to ensure they understand the position that they are taking on.

Here are 5 essential topics for interviews at nonprofits.

  1. Staffing – from structure to support, personalities to personal development, make sure you understand the parameters.
  2. Board – considerations include size, relationship with staff, expectations, and history. The more you know, the easier it is to succeed.
  3. Job Description – What percentage of the description was based on the previous person’s job? Are there added responsibilities? If so, was anything reassigned? Looking at the roles piece by piece – are there in depth questions you should ask about previous successes or failures?
  4. Goals –The industry average for tenure for a development professional may be eighteen months, but hopefully your plan is to last longer than that. Are there realistic goals for the first year while you are learning the donors and organization?
  5. Donors/Donations – understanding the current statistics as well as the predictions based on your expertise will help you know if you can do well at the job at hand.

In other words, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions, use that time to learn whether this is the right position for you. Each and every hire should be mutually beneficial to the employee and the nonprofit.

And, for those of you who are on the other side of the table, interviewing a prospective candidate, you need to be prepared to answer these questions with transparency and authority.

Please email David if you have an open position in which you would like to have Mersky, Jaffe & Associates’ expertise.

Click here to learn about the current opportunities at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates.


Could A 55-year Old Development Professional Save Your Nonprofit?

Are you biased against hiring older employees? More and more reports have been surfacing about disadvantages in the workplace – many unintended by employers. But what if the answer to the problem at nonprofits is not only in creating awareness, but in creating long-term vision.

From substance abuse to workplace harassment, awareness does solve a certain percentage of the problem. In fact, in an article in the New York Times last week, “Discriminate Against the Old? Even the Old Do It,” I was surprised to realize almost all of us are at least subconsciously prejudiced against a very valuable pool of prospective employees.

It got me thinking about the value of someone 55 and older (often the age at which ageism kicks in). Their invaluable experience is often overlooked due to their higher salaries. I would counter that in an industry in which the eighteen-month turnover rate affects the success of so many organizations – which will cost the organization more – the lack of consistency with donors or the annual salary of a mature, well-versed, experienced sixty-year old?

I used to hear that it wasn’t worth it to hire someone older because the time they learn the ropes they are ready for retirement. I would counter that a 60-year old might be the person to stay for a longer period of time. They are less interested in looking for the next great opportunity and more interested in finding the right fit to work until retirement. And in today’s economy that is often close to 70. Few thirty-year old development professionals will stay in their current position for five to ten years.

One more reason
And here is one more reason to hire an older development professional. It is a good habit to look at the long-term effect of your decisions. Kids who are given immediate satisfaction are considered spoiled. The parents who give into them are criticized as shortsighted. Why is it different with a nonprofit board?

A board that is only concerned with the current fiscal year and is not looking three to five years into the future will have to be concerned with the current fiscal year each and every year. It takes wise investments in employees, in infrastructure, in programming, and in planning to create long term success. And older employees should fit into that strategy with ease.

Donor Acquisition – Ways To Acquire New Donors, Staff Turnover and Resources

100 Donors in 90 Days Action GuidesIn week 10 of 100 Donors in 90 Days, Ken Burnett shares his expertise in Donor Acquisition. His early days included helping innovate Greenpeace’s now standard use of young people encouraging other people to give in public places. Since then, he has written books and helped many organizations understand the importance, the cost effectiveness and the range of ways to acquire new donors. While the lengthy seventeen page accompanying Action Guide offers many concrete ways for organizations to find many more than 100 donors, this piece will focus in on two of his ideas that are not specific to donor retention but can have a huge effect on the success of a nonprofit.

Time Paradox

“Fundraisers tend not to stay in posts long enough to make a difference. Laying a long-term fundraising strategy takes several years and it is almost impossible if the people who are charged with putting that strategy into place don’t stay in post longer than what is the current average, which is less than eighteen months in North America right now.”

What struck me about this idea, is ironically why turnover is so high in so many organizations.

Consider the standard situation. A nonprofit hires a development professional who comes in making assurances that he/she can help the organization find stability, increase annual appeal revenue, create an endowment or something similar. They have a proven track record and great references. It takes a bit of time to understand the ins and outs of the organization and meet the major donors and the board. Finally, a plan is in place and the real work starts.

Before you know, it’s been a year and it’s review time! Of course, the results are not yet as everyone hoped. The Development person feels under-appreciated for all the hard work, planning, volunteer recruiting, etc. and starts to look for a new job. Within the next six months he/she finds something else and is off to the next place hoping to be in a better situation. The next person hired comes in, takes a few months to figure out the lay of the land and alter the plan to their strengths and the cycle continues.

How can this problematic structure change? If an interviewee were honest and said it would take two or more years to gain financial stability and many more resources than are currently available—staff, software, CEO and Board members time for the ideal development agenda—then, the organization would probably hire someone else who had a short-term idea to raise more funds.

Maybe new director level hires should have a three-year contract with benchmarks to show progress and to prove the path is right path for that organization. Maybe there has to be more transparency in the successes and failures of a plan.

That leads to the second highlight of Ken Burnett’s piece that you should know about.

Ken’s aforementioned Action Guide includes a page of resources that he thinks are valuable for those who want to focus on Donor Acquisition. But there is one that he also mentions in his talk named, Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (SOFII). It is a place for fundraisers to share their ideas and learn from each other. For more information visit www.sofii.org.

And please, let me know what valuable information you find! Idea exchanges are invaluable to anyone who wants to continue to grow and learn.

To read other pieces in the series on my learnings from 100 Donors in 90 Days, click here

To purchase your own copy of 100 Donors in 90 Days, click here.