Tag Archives: Hiring

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.

Awareness
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.

Resources
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.

4 Ways to Retain Fundraising and Development Staff and Reduce Turnover

Regular readers of my articles know that I am a firm believer that reducing turnover and focusing on how to retain fundraising and development staff is one of the best investments your nonprofit can make. The amount of money and time lost during a lame duck employee’s remaining tenure, interviewing for a replacement, as well as ramp up time and on-boarding for a new team member is outrageous (and, rarely, if ever, quantified). Now consider that the average time a development professional stays in a position continues to drop and is now much less than two years. As long as you like the employee, consider these four ways to help improve the possibility of retaining your fundraising and development staff.

  1. Know what your employees are saying to their friends. I am not recommending eavesdropping, spying or stalking them on social media. But try to have a regularly scheduled check-in about what they like or don’t like in their jobs. If that seems too open-ended for you, in addition to regular supervisory meetings, start by engaging with an employee 3 months after they are hired. Whatever concerns that came up in the interview (lack of board leadership, long commute, etc.) can be specifically addressed to determine if they are better or worse than suspected. Try to find out if there were unexpected hurdles that emerged and determine if there are things that you can address before they are one of the factors that encourages him to leave for a new job. And keep in mind that his replacement may come and go for the same reasons so it is worth breaking the cycle sooner rather than later.
  2. Staff training – We’ve said it before and we will say it again – encouraging continual learning is telling the employee that you want them to grow and that you are invested in their success. It also helps you get a better employee without turnover issues. A few days without a development director while she attends a conference is nothing compared to a few months without any development director when she decides she has learned all she can from your institution. Would $3,000 a year toward graduate school help retain your employee for another 3 or 4 years? That seems like a worthwhile investment in the long-run.
  3. How is this employee treated (or more importantly, how does he or she think they are treated)? Your organization probably has a standard by which you respect your employees and offer basic levels of consideration. But it takes closer examination to determine whether the board member that checks in three times a week is helping get things done or causing the employee to work late to make up for lost time on the phone. Is there a culture that encourages the employee to feel involved or to feel like a one-person ship with too much responsibility and not enough camaraderie? It seems that everyone is overworked these days, a little extra special treatment can make up for a lot as well as enhance team-building and productivity.
  4. Consider whether you are asking too much. One person cannot do everything and if an employee cannot succeed they will eventually feel that there is very little point in trying. If there is too much work and not enough hands, consider other ways to help them feel good about their accomplishments. Help prioritize with the understanding that some things may not get done and that is okay. Consider ways to outsource pieces. Train loyal volunteers to help do aspects of the job that are vital yet time-consuming and/or time sensitive but don’t require too much experience.

If you would like to talk about more ways in which Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help you retain your staff – email David A. Mersky by clicking here.

A New Year – A New Chance to Make Staff Happy

 Make Staff HappyLooking back at the past year of articles, we have focused on many of the human resources that nonprofits rely on to thrive.  We have suggested ways that boards can improve themselves, offered ideas for staff self-improvement and encouraged volunteer acknowledgement and growth opportunities.  In the New Year, it is time to focus on making your staff happy.   Yes, happy staff people will outperform unhappy ones, but almost as important is that happy staff members remain at their positions.  And, employee turnover is the single highest cost any organization experiences. Here are 5 things you can do to improve staff retention.

  1. Get the staff, board and essential volunteer leadership together on a regular basis.  Why?  Because pizza and beer at the office or an informal cocktail party at a board member’s home will increase morale and improve group dynamics.  If there is only a work connection among the staff – it is easy to leave without looking back.
  2. Consider the major issues for each employee and see what you can do to improve their individual situation.   Does the Executive Director have a long commute?  Could you give him/her a Bluetooth car system as a bonus?  Is there a staff person whose spouse is caring for a sick parent? Consider offering an extra vacation week for this year with an explanation that you understand they are in a unique situation.
  3. Why wait for an employee to ask for professional development?  Create a funded that employees may uses to enhance their skills and knowledge.  I have heard many times that an employee was staying with an organization  for the graduate degree they were able to earn at night.  Consider what is more expensive – paying for a few classes a year or paying for an executive search firm, a new employee’s higher salary and the loss of momentum and continuity if you have to hire a new director of development every year and a half.
  4. Provide flexibility whenever possible.  Not all employees can work from home, but would an executive director’s life improve dramatically if she shifted her schedule to 1am-8pm or 8am-4pm?  What about suggesting that he takes the weekly West Coast conference calls from home?  Or institute comp time for employees who are taking on a lot of off-hour meetings.  They may not be able to take all of the time off, but here and there they will be able to indulge in a guilt-free mental health day.
  5. Use a review as a way to encourage improvement in areas that are lacking.  If you feel he/she could be more successful with certain skills find a way for them to learn in a class, seminar, workshop, etc.  Offer to pay for the fees, but also offer the time necessary to attain real improvement.

Don’t forget that little efforts go a long way.  And each month and year you can retain an employee is beneficial for everyone involved.