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  • Pat Libby

Getting to YES with a new hire

A few weeks ago, I had something happen to me for the first time in all the years I’ve spent hiring people and leading searches for nonprofits.

The candidate who was offered the job turned it down.

You might be thinking, “You’re kidding me. That’s never happened to you Pat?”

Yup, it was my maiden voyage of hiring failure. And frankly, it was my fault. I was jilted at the altar because I made assumptions. I didn’t do a good enough job making sure the candidate REALLY wanted the job with his whole head and heart.

It was a rookie mistake.

Having ongoing and honest conversations with candidates about their needs as well as the needs of your nonprofit is key to getting to yes.

Take these steps to get a candidate to yes when you engage in a search.

1. Develop a job announcement that begins with a brief overview of your nonprofit – its history, mission, budget size, staff, and board. Of course, it should also summarize the position and outline its major areas of responsibility.


When you list the job’s qualifications, please don’t include educational requirements unless they’re absolutely required. Otherwise, you could miss out on a Bill Gates-type of candidate (i.e., a brilliant person without a college degree). The salary range should be clearly stated as well as the application deadline. This is required for California organizations with 15 or more employees but regardless, it’s an important practice because it lets people know the parameters of what they can expect.

2. Send an email response to all of your applicants letting them know your timeline for beginning interviews. This is a courteous way of not leaving people hanging (and good for your nonprofit’s image).

3. Design a multi-step process that allows candidates to interact with senior and junior members of the organization in meaningful ways. This should include an opportunity for finalists to meet with the folks they would be supervising, other members of the staff leadership team, and the Board (if it’s a senior position).


The hiring process should be clearly outlined, delineated on a timeline, and provided to all first-round candidates. Speaking of timelines, don’t drag out the process! It takes the air out of the balloon of even your most passionate candidates.

4. Verify the identity of the candidates you want to interview through online searches. It’s not that uncommon to come across people who falsely claim to serve on a board or have a different job title than what they list on their resume. If everything checks out, you can find out more about candidates by talking to your mutual LinkedIn connections.      

5. Before you begin the interview process verify the salary range meets the expectations of each of your candidates. Remember, in certain locales such as California, it is illegal to ask someone what they are currently earning.


At this juncture, you’ll also want to take the time to tell them what’s REALLY going on within the organization. What is the history of this position? What are the sticky things the organization and this position need to unglue? What’s the culture like? What are the workplace expectations in terms of hours, in-office vs. remote?


When you’re honest with candidates they tend to be more forthcoming themselves, revealing things like their desire to be fully remote when that’s not at all what you need or want. One recent candidate, who would have been transitioning from a fully remote job to a fully in-person job, recently complained to her would-be supervisor about how long it took her to do her hair and make-up for the interview! 


For finalists, you’ll want to share important internal documents that aren’t publicly available (after they sign an NDA…) to give them a better sense of what is going on under the tent.

6. Do careful reference checks.

7. Finally, to avoid the mistake I made, have ongoing conversations with the finalists about what they are thinking and feeling about the opportunity. That way you should be able to address any uncertainty they have or, at least, be made aware if they’re not fully committed to this new venture. If someone isn’t excited about working for your nonprofit, it’s not the right fit for them or your organization.

There are plenty of talented people out there. To land the right person for your opening, be honest about what you have to offer and be sure to gauge their enthusiasm for your mission and work.




Pat Libby is a change management consultant working principally with nonprofit corporations. She is author of The Empowered Citizens Guide: 10 Steps to Passing a Law that Matters to You, Oxford University Press, The Lobbying Strategy Handbook, second edition, Oxford University Press, and Cases in Nonprofit Management, SAGE. She has served as an academic, senior executive, board member, and consultant to innumerable nonprofit organizations and foundations for more than three decades.

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