Hiring Trainers for My Community-Based Nonprofit

A few weeks ago, we wrote about ACCEL, the organization managing the Connect Your Community project in Appalachian Ohio. In this guest blog post, Jason Schroeder explains his hiring process for the project. He argues that when hiring public computing trainers, the primary criterion should be community-mindedness, not technical expertise. - Elliot Harmon

One of the more difficult tasks for grant-funded nonprofits is hiring. Before I came to ACCEL, I worked in the retail industry, and hiring was one of my responsibilities. In that position, I was hiring sales people, focused on driving our bottom line results while reducing costs and losses. The big secret is that those same traits work very well in the nonprofit world. We need to focus on getting results (so we can get more grants), reduce our costs (to stretch those grant dollars), and not be wasteful or careless with our funds.

You can't train someone to have a great personality.As I was preparing to hire supervisors for my Connect Your Community campaign, I went back to the lessons I learned when hiring store managers. My new supervisors needed to fit a number of criteria, but the most important one to me was not technical ability. I also didn't focus on previous grant work. What I did focus on was the individual's sphere of influence in the community. Is the candidate a face that people know? Does the candidate have a history of positive results in the community? How many people does the candidate know? Will the candidate be able to utilize their strengths to build and lead a team?

It is also important to call out the search for what I call "the intangibles." This collection of attributes can be difficult to verbalize, but it boils down to your gut reaction to a person. Are they approachable? Are they interesting? Do you WANT to have this person on your team? In today's hiring climate, you can afford to be a bit picky — there are more un- or under-employed candidates with an outstanding collection of "the intangibles" than ever before. Don't be afraid to hire the best people you can find.

Once I had my supervisors hired, I worked with them to hire their teams using my approach — focus on community experience and the intangibles now. We can always teach them the computer skills after we hire them, but you can't take an unapproachable, unfriendly person and expect to change them. You can't train someone to have a great personality.

In my approach, you have to go into hiring knowing that you will need to train your new hire on the technical side of their position. You can't hire them based on community experience, and be frustrated that they can't use a computer. You have to take ownership of their training and development in order to reap the benefits of your candidate.

Jason Schroeder
Appalachian Center for Collaborative and Engaged Learning (ACCEL)