After a while of running a nonprofit as a volunteer board, you will eventually get to the point where running the organization as volunteers is not viable. There is too much admin, too many inquiries, and just too much work to do.

How can your awesome band of board members keep up with the work? They have full-time jobs on top of all the volunteer work they do.

It is time to hire your first paid staff! Yay!

BUT WAIT! There’s a right way and a wrong way to hire staff. The wrong way involves slapping a few tasks you need doing in a newspaper advertisement or online and hoping for the best.

The right way is calculated, involved and measured. The difference between these two approaches means the difference between losing that paid staff a month into them being trained and someone who is dedicated to the mission of the nonprofit.

To be clear: I will only briefly go over the legal requirements for hiring staff 1) because hiring rules are different around the world and I don’t know them all and 2) this how-to is more about the process of creating a clear and attractive position for someone to apply for.

Review Your Mission, Goals and Objectives

I can hear you through the Interwebs asking “Why? I’m trying to hire someone, not overhaul the nonprofit!”

This is an important first step because it helps you frame everything you do from here on out.

The other thing to consider is that hiring a new person means you are bringing someone who may not understand the mission, goals and objectives of the organization in. If you are not clear about how this new position relates to what you do, how you do it and what your values are, that could lead to issues.

So keep all of this in mind with every step from here on out. I would even recommend keeping a print out of your mission, goals and objectives with you during every step, even if you are hiring for a janitor position. Your attention and dedication to the mission should show in everything that you do.



Let’s do more thinking and get it all the hard work out of the way in the beginning!

You probably have some ideas of what this employee needs to do, so now you should go online and look up those positions as if you were applying for that job. As you are doing your research, keep your eyes open for the following:

  • Typical past experience required
  • Hourly wage/salary/benefits
  • Number of hours per week
  • If applicants typically need a degree of some sort
  • Any preferred qualities (certifications, past experience, areas of expertise)

Try to find between 5 and 10 job postings for positions that are as similar as possible to what you are trying to find. I also suggest saving the job descriptions so you can look back at them. This will save you some extra time when you are writing your own description. Highlight the similarities you find between all of the job descriptions for later reference.

Make sure you spend some quality time researching compensation for the work. While it would be amazing if the person you end up hiring is completely dedicated to your mission and would be happy to work for the warm and fuzzy feeling they get from making a difference, chances are that that won’t be enough.

As such, compensation will be a major point you need to get right. Look at what other organizations are offering for that position, what the national averages are, and even ask people in the industry what they would work for.

Finally, remember that this is an important position to fill for you. You are unable to grow the organization if you are at the point where you need to hire someone. It is worth spending money to hire someone if you are able to serve your beneficiaries better.


Outline the Position

Now you can start thinking about the position as it pertains to your organization. What do you need the employee to do generally? How does this position compliment the things that you as a board are still able to do? Are they taking on something completely different from what you have done up to this point? Think about what kinds of goals they need to meet, as they relate to the goals and objectives of the organization.

From here, write down what kinds of skills this person would need to have. Do they need experience batching and scheduling social media? Do they need to have an understanding of the grant writing process? What level of experience do they need?

You are creating a description of the perfect candidate. Then, as you move ahead, you can determine where you need to compromise, such as years of experience, hourly rate or salary, etc.

As we talked about in a previous post, you need to follow the mindset that you want the best person for this job, not the cheapest person you can find. Looking for a cheap person will most likely get you someone who will leave as soon as they find a better paying job. Finding someone dedicated to the mission (see! Mission is important) will result in an employee who is more likely to stick with you.


Draft the Position

Okay! You have put in the work really thinking about what this person will need to do, have made sure that their position is tied to measurable objectives as they pertain to the nonprofit, and have created an outline.

Now you need to actually draft the position. Pull out everything that you have done so far, including your mission, goals and objectives! It’s time to write the description!

A job description typically follows this framework:

  • Brief description of the nonprofit (about two sentences) usually including some of the wording used in your mission statement
  • A brief description of the kind of person you are looking for
  • Who the applicant reports to within the nonprofit
  • Bulleted descriptions of the responsibilities of the position
  • Bulleted descriptions of the qualities you are looking for in the applicant
  • Number of work hours per week
  • Salary and benefit options
  • Qualifications (education, tech requirements, etc.)
  • When the position closes and interviews begin
  • A contact person to follow up with if the applicant has questions

Again, make sure you are checking the other job descriptions you looked at. They are great for giving you ideas on how to word descriptions. Just make sure that you are incorporating the nonprofits personal values and mission into the descriptions and the job as a whole.

Once you have a description, make sure you check it for spelling errors and to see that it all makes sense. Show it to people who have nothing to do with the nonprofit and see if they think it is clear. Take their feedback and make changes.

During this step, you should also be making sure you are getting all of your legal ducks in a row and you are not breaking any laws or requirements. This is really important but, like I said before, it varies from place to place. If you don’t know what the legal requirements are for your country, you should work with a consultant or human resources professional to make sure everything is above board.


Spread the Word

Once you have done a good job of writing the description, making sure it is legal and its the way you want it, you have to let the world know about it! Post it where you will likely get a good response from qualified candidates.

For example, if you were looking to hire someone with 15 years experience in the fundraising field, you would probably not advertise that position on a college campus. Alternatively, if you were looking for an intern for 5 hours per week, a college campus would be an awesome place to advertise the position.

Use multiple forms of getting the word out like fliers, online job boards, and word of mouth. The more people you can get the description in front of, the better chance it has to get in front of the most qualified candidate.



Obviously, the next step is to interview the candidates. This is getting to be a long post so I will let you guys Google search other blog posts and YouTube videos about this. There are loads of great resources out there when it comes to interviewing.

The only addition I would make is that you make sure that, in addition to having the job description with you in the interview, you also have your trusty mission, goals and objectives.

That way you can keep notes about if you think the applicant has character traits that you believe match your mission. Those are obviously good things to track, as a greater connection with your mission means a better chance of that applicant being dedicated and treating it more than “just another job.”


Onboard (Indoctrinate) Them

Woo! You just hired your first employee! Congratulations! Look at how far you have come!

Before they start working, you should make sure that you spend some time teaching them not just how to work, but why the work is important. Understanding this means they get how their job metrics translate to real-world improvements in beneficiaries lives.

Surround them with the culture of the organization and make sure they know its values. Take them to classes that you run for seniors. Let them run a project with at-risk youth. Show them how the work they will be doing translates into impact. It is inspiring and, when they are having a frustrating day, they will be able to draw on that experience to reignite their drive and keep working.


Remember This Is Just The Basics!

This was just a 101 version of how to hire your first staff. This is a long process that I was only able to skim the surface of in this blog post. In the next few months, I will be releasing a new course in NPO.lib that will go into each of these steps in much greater detail and will include templates and resources that you can use to make sure you hire your first staff person the right way.

In the meantime, let me know what you think! Are there any steps I missed? What do you think the hardest part is about hiring a new staff person? Leave your answer in the comments below!

Build Your Donor List, No Matter Where You Are In The Process

Brandon Reed

Founder at Reed Community Consulting and NPO.lib

Brandon helps people help other people. He has over 10 years experience working with small and medium-sized nonprofits in two countries in many different sectors. He has worked at all levels of organization from entry-level service delivery up to the executive director and board president. This experience affords him insight for whole level management of an organization, which he transfers to his clients. In his free time, he likes to play volleyball and spend time gardening with his wife and dog.

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