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Mixed blessing: hiring new staff to implement grant projects

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Grants and hiring go hand-in-hand because our ambitions and our current capacity rarely line up precisely. One of the main points of grant programs is they let nonprofits and libraries stretch, build capacity, and accomplish goals beyond their ordinary means. Yet therein lies a conundrum: if a grant project is beyond your current capacity, and you tackle it anyway, you're committing yourself and your colleagues to the difficult work of hiring new staff.

We spoke to Mark Malaspina at Computers for Youth (CFY) recently, as part of our project to learn from current BTOP grantees and share resources and experiences on our site. CFY is a partner on two successful BTOP grant applications this year. When we asked Mark about the challenges he faced as a result of CFY's good fortune, he said,

Our biggest focus area is just making sure that we have all of the full-time and part-time staff on board to implement the program."

Libraries and nonprofits share a similar dilemma in regards to hiring: both experience unexpected fluctuations in their funding. These sudden downswings are never welcome, butthe upswings carry burdens of their own. When the good news comes in that a particular project or service just received funding, do you have the resources and expertise required to recruit new staff?

Anyone who's worked at more than one job knows what a huge difference our co-workers make in our success or lack thereof. A talented, energetic new hire can introduce new ideas and perspectives while lightening the workload on existing staff via their energy, focus and dedication. On the other hand, poorly chosen employees can burden an organization with poor judgment or demoralizing dead weight.

In some cases, if you plan ahead and the funder is sympathetic, you can include money in the funding proposal itself to cover the cost of hiring a consultant. If you have a fully-staffed Human Resources department, they may be willing to coordinate the recruiting process. Otherwise, if you're responsible for some or all of the hiring process, the resources below will get you started. We can't describe all the steps and potential obstacles in the space of a single blog post, so instead I'll point to some other resources that might be useful.

Books on hiring

Recruiting is a complex, multi-step process, and no single article can cover all the necessary information. Therefore, if you feel lost or overwhelmed, a book that describes the whole process can be a worthwhile investment. The following are all well-reviewed on Amazon, but I haven't read them myself. Do you have good resources? Please share in them in the comments.

Consultants

There are consultants willing to help with almost any task, and recruiting is no exception.

  • For help with finding the right consultant, look at the articles in the Consultants section of TechSoup's learning center.
  • The Foundation Center also has an annotated list of resources to help nonprofits in their consultant search.
  • Guide to Choosing a Consultant from the Association of Consultants to Nonprofits also has some good advice.

Hiring tips and advice

The articles below have good generic advice on ways structure the hiring process and avoid common mistakes.

Writing job descriptions

Writing the job description is probably the most important and most difficult step in the hiring process. These two articles offer guidance on this critical task.

Nonprofit Job Sites

There are several sites that specialize in aggregating and indexing nonprofit jobs. Therefore, job hunters with a passion for social justice visit these sites early and often during their searches.

  • Idealist: Idealist is a first stop for most nonprofit job hunters. They don't charge employers for posting on the site. However, Idealist is a nonprofit itself, so consider making a donation if you use their services.
  • Opportunity Knocks
  • Commongood Careers: Commongood posts nonprofit job descriptions, but they're also a job search consulting firm, offering nonprofits advice on how to structure  their recruiting effort.

Classifieds

Even in the digital era, many talented job hunters still start their search in the classified section of their local newspaper. They know where they want to live, so they zero in on a local job resource. Most local and regional newspapers have an online form for submitting and paying for a classified ad that will appear in both the print and online versions of the paper.  

Starting with its launch in 1995, Craigslist has slowly become the dominant force in online classified advertising, replacing newspapers and other traditional media. People advertising goods and services don't have to pay to place an ad on Craigslist, and those seeking services go where the ads are. Each large city and most small or mid-sized cities have its own section on Craigslist. Within each regional section, jobs in the nonprofit sector have their own subsection. For example, this page lists current nonprofit job openings in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Job Search Web Sites

Some of the sites below charge a fee for each position description. However, the size of the sites and the advanced search tools they offer make them attractive to job hunters, so it might be worth the fees if you're having trouble spreading the word about your new openings.

There's no way to soft pedal the hard work of hiring someone. Writing the job description is often a tedious communal process requiring approval from committees and individual co-workers. Publicizing the new opening is a stressful and potentially expensive waiting game. Will anyone respond? And when they do, you have to read a dozen poorly-written, poorly-targeted resumes for every one resume submitted by a qualified, careful, and professional candidate. Planning the steps in advance and deciding which tools and services you'll use can save you a lot of wasted time and unnecessary aggravation.

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