nonprofit hiring managers

A mentee of mine reached out to me the other day for advice about a role she was applying for in the near future. She shared the job description with me, and friends…friends…that job description was 2.5 pages long, and it had everything in it except solving world peace.

I am not sure if this organization expected her to raise money or create a new theory of relativity, but it was clear this role was not for the faint of heart. On top of that — the compensation wasn’t listed but they wanted her salary history. <insert face of shock> 


Then, I had another conversation. I talked with a fantastic Chief Executive who shared an ambitious (and frankly unrealistic) job description for a VP of Development role. I heard the compensation terms and rolled my eyes pretty hard to the right. Then, we proceeded to have a frank discussion about compensation and what types of candidates she’d be likely to see because of what she was willing and able to pay (hint: it was below market for her area). 

What is up with my fellow nonprofit hiring managers? 

I am convinced that we write these job descriptions in the middle of the night under duress while 19 tabs are open on our computers. We are stressed and overwhelmed with the weight of everything on our plates and need relief. We need THAT “someone” who can simply “get stuff done”! Yet, we write job descriptions for three people instead of one. Want to identify the fastest way to lower morale and burn-out your team?? Create a job description designed for multiple roles, while only desiring to hire one person. Don’t fret, I tackle the issue of how to write a job description here, but I want to focus on something that makes us uncomfortable and yet it must be dealt with…compensation. 

Why would we continue to post job descriptions that could take three people to carry out AND not compensate them? 

There is a very strange and almost perverse acceptance of low wages among nonprofit professionals. It’s as if people have accepted that nonprofit professionals should take a vow of poverty; and, in many cases, live at or just above the modest means of the people they serve. Yes, humility is good to have, but being underpaid is not the path to humility. 

Well, fellow managers — professionals are tired of our foolishness. They are exhausted by seeing exciting titles, only to read the description and realize the title of Vice President is really doing the work of a senior associate, manager, and director. The position lacks focus and clear priorities. The salary is at best laughable; and, at worst, insulting. We can’t seem to find the team members we want because; frankly, we keep looking to fill roles that scream “overworked and underpaid,” but we are proud to say “we don’t work a typical 9-5 (and have no plan to compensate you for that).” 

I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes to the right, but it’s okay. Here’s the data to help your disbelief. Job vacancies are pushing 4-6 months for coordinator and associate roles. Manager and Director positions remain vacant for over 6 months. VP and C-Suite roles? 9 months to a year or more. There are a lot of reasons why this is, but I’m betting my paycheck that a paycheck  is one of them. This is so prevalent that peer-led job boards on LinkedIn and Facebook are starting to require the salary be posted alongside the description. For example, NTEN recently released a statement recently that they would no longer list any job postings without a salary being listed and whose hourly wage was below $15 an hour. 

Now you might be thinking “Kishshana, if all folks care about is money why are they working for a nonprofit?” 

Good question! Let me ask you a question. 

How would you like it if you worked all week (and I mean really put your pedal to the metal) and received a paycheck half of your expected pay with a line that said “passion quotient” for the other half? Would you be excited about that? My guess is N – O. You want to be fairly compensated for your work. Nonprofit professionals aren’t just working because it feels good; they have families to feed and full lives to live just like their corporate peers. 

Dear nonprofit hiring managers, here are three ways you’ll know if you’re on the right track; paying your people and attracting the right talent to your organization. 

  1. You understand your market – I am amazed at the number of clients I work with who say things like, “ I know the market” and yet have never done a compensation study or even a smaller comparative study of similar organizations with comparable staffing structures and budget sizes. What are other organizations with more recognizable brands doing? And looking at other organizations is one part of it. Have you talked with other professionals who do this work? What are they saying excites them and entices them to stay? What would have them seek opportunities elsewhere? Do you know your organization’s reputation? If your institution has a revolving door, you’re going to have to do more to attract the type of talent who wants to take a risk on you (yes…YOU)!
  2. You’ve checked your expectations at the door! If your purse strings are tight, this is where I see managers get upset time and time again. You KNOW how much your budget is for a particular role and sometimes it’s fixed. Instead of pretending that you don’t know, be upfront about it and calibrate the role for what you can afford. If what is in your budget is a senior associate role then that’s the role you should scope. It might take another year or two for you to do everything you’d like to accomplish but if you do this well you can create a role that can grow with the team member you hire AND compensate them for it. 
  3. Your benefits have benefits– Make sure your non-cash compensation is worth more than monopoly money — when the rubber meets the road; money ain’t everything. These days (depending on where you live in the world) your future team members care about benefits like comprehensive health care, retirement savings (and matching), health and wellness programs, unlimited paid time off, flex time and the ability to work from home to name a few. A big one we overlook: A HEALTHY CULTURE! This is all caps for a reason. It’s a huge benefit to your team members — and to your bottom line — for your organization to be healthy and to have a culture that is inclusive, people centered, curious and open to growth/change. Having benefits that aren’t paying lip service to your number one asset — your people — is a critical component of any compensation package. 

You don’t have to scrape the barrel (or rob a bank) to recruit talented professionals but you DO have to make sure you demonstrate that you value their experience, talent and potential. You might not be able to solve your problem of being overwhelmed (and your 19 tabs open in the middle of the night) with paying your people better, well, or what the role is worth, but it’s a start!

Nonprofit Sustainability

Kishshana Palmer, CFRE
Kishshana Palmer, is a uni-mom, trainer, educator, and professional speaker. She is the founder of Kishshana & Co. and author/blogger for “Secret Lives of Leaders”. When she is not starring in the Life of My Preteen (okay it’s not a real show, but it could be), she is dropping knowledge about leadership and life. Kishshana is the epitome of your classic 90's Queens homegirl and quintessential corner office executive. She is your daily dose of Claire Huxtable with a side of Blanche Devereaux