What I Learned About Hiring Talent as a Non-profit Executive

by / ⠀Startup Advice / October 31, 2012

Having spent nearly a decade in the non-profit sector, I typically preach about the value of applying private sector values to non-profit governance. After all, non-profit organizations can greatly benefit from a lean corporate structure, streamlined operations and competition for resources. The most successful non-profits—United Way, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity—apply private sector values to their governance.

There’s one area, however, where I believe for-profit entities can learn from the voluntary sector, and that’s in hiring and retaining talent.

As executive director of a non-profit with a 2.5-person staff, but a $300,000 community impact, I learned the value of recruiting and retaining the best, most committed volunteers in New Orleans and from across the nation. And, understanding how important they were to the organization’s mission of improving quality of life conditions for residents of the city’s historic 7th Ward, I treated them like gold—and instructed my staff to do so, too. So, whether our volunteers were picking up trash in empty lots, hanging sheetrock or painting a mural, our volunteers knew they were not only a part of the team, but were the most important part.

Now, as president of Orleans Cleaning Services, an estate, commercial and residential cleaning company, I’ve learned that hiring and recruiting talent is one of the most important decisions an executive can make. Good talent can not only impact delivery and quality, but can sometimes make the difference between profit and loss for smaller companies.

Here are three important tips for hiring and recruiting good talent that I learned as a non-profit executive:

  1. Seek applicants who have share your professional values

Adaptability. Teamwork. Confidentiality. Respect. Values are important in the workplace—and even more important for executives who, ultimately, are responsible for creating organizational culture. If integrity and accountability are important values for a young chief executive, they should seek out employees whose experiences reflect their commitments to those values. If a chief executive takes great pride in thinking outside of the box, he or she should hire talent who don’t mind doing things in an unconventional way. If an executive is a stickler for timeliness, don’t hire anyone with a history of

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For me, ability to see ‘big picture,’ especially when funding was low, demands were high and the work seemed unyielding, was the most important value my staff could have at the 7th Ward Center. Today, I still look to hire big picture thinkers, whether they’re managing accounts or providing direct service to customers.

  1. Remove the emotion from the hiring process.

When I hired my first housekeeper as president of Orleans Cleaning Services, I was only a few weeks removed from having been let go from a cushy job in corporate America. Feeling aggrieved, I was vulnerable and allowed my feelings of empathy for an applicant with a spotty work history and a tale of woe to cloud my judgment and cause me to pass over better-qualified prospective employees. The result? Poor work attendance, an awful attitude and a no-call, no-show which nearly cost the company a large contract.

Once she was terminated, I had to begin the process of replacing her. This time, I did so far removed from the emotion of my own experiences, and with clear-eyed objectivity. Ultimately, it made the hiring process easier and connected me with someone who was a stronger candidate for the job.

  1. Treat employees as partners, not subordinates.

There is no feeling worse than being terrified of or hating your boss. It causes stress, leads to feelings of job insecurity and usually causes high turn-over rates for companies. Employees who dislike their supervisors tend to be apathetic about their work environment and detached from what they do. Sadly, many executives falsely believe that the best way to light a fire under an employee is to threaten their employment, distance themselves from workers or act coolly toward their staff.

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Studies, however, prove otherwise. According to a survey by New York’s Conference Board, employees who feel valued and appreciated tend to be more productive, are less stressed and have better employment stability than those who perform under duress. Also, by keeping employees engaged and involved in decision-making, chief executives can gain important buy-in for projects, initiatives and company changes.

Finally, treating employees as partners is just good business sense. While executives are often responsible for a number of essential duties that make a company successful, it is ultimately the unsung heroes of a company—mid-level staff and day-to-day workers—who actually carry out an executive’s vision.

Hiring, recruiting and retaining talent can be daunting—especially for young executives who don’t have a lot of experience with cultivating human resources. Young execs who master the art of hiring can ultimately save themselves a lot of valuable time and resources by hiring right the first time—and can learn a thing or two from the volunteer-centered culture of the non-profit industry.

Sam Cook, III is president of Orleans Cleaning Services, an estate, commercial and residential cleaning company located in New Orleans. He is the former executive director of the 7th Ward Neighborhood Center. He was named one of the “Top 40 Under 40” leaders in New Orleans by The Gambit Magazine and a “10 Under 30” businessman of Creole descent by iamCreole Magazine. He has one son, Lance.

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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