THRIVERS is taking a short break during the summer and we're looking forward to releasing more episodes soon!

EP 15: Rethinking How to Attract and Hire Good People with Alli Horst & Andy Magel

February 9, 2023

Show Notes

Are you feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of attracting and retaining top talent?

You’re not alone.

A recent survey by Nonprofit HR’s found that 42% of responding nonprofit leaders expected their employee turnover rates to increase in the coming year, with 80% of respondents saying that their organizations did not have a talent retention strategy in place.

As a nonprofit leader, the importance of having a strong talent acquisition strategy cannot be overstated, especially in a sector where employee turnover can be high and the costs of losing an employee can range from 25% to 200% of their salary.

The truth is that good people are hard to find, hard to hire, and hard to retain.

It’s time to consider the next normal for attracting and hiring good people. 

In this episode, Tucker and Sarah are joined by Alli Horst – Director of Operations at Core Ventures and Andy Magel – Executive Director at Mile High Workshop, to discuss how nonprofit leaders can ditch the scarcity mindset around talent, begin to feel less isolated in the hiring process, and turn hiring into a hopeful place of potential. By being proactive, open-handed, and curious throughout the hiring process, nonprofit leaders can be prepared for a diverse range of people across spectrums of both life and work experience.

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Tucker: Welcome to THRIVERS, non-profit leadership for the Next Normal. I’m your host, Tucker Wannamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT. Our mission is to solve non-profit leader burnout. Burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we want to connect you with impactful, mission-driven leaders and ideas so that you can learn to thrive in today’s non-profit landscape.
I’m joined today, as usual, by my co-host, Sarah Fanslau, our Chief of Impact at THRIVE IMPACT. Sarah, what a delight to be with you again today.

Sarah: So excited to be here again!

Tucker: Well Sarah, today’s topic is a tough one. It’s one that’s causing straight-up incredible pain for non-profits right now, and that is recruiting, staffing, and hiring.
And I’m so grateful to have some guests, but before I introduce them, what does it feel like? What are some stats or data? I love that you’re our data person. You have so many stats and data always readily available. What is the data saying out there around what does the space look like for nonprofits right now?
Sarah: Yeah, so there’s a bunch of data out there around this. Nonprofit HR’s 2021 Nonprofit Talent Retention Practices Survey found that 42% of responding nonprofits expected employee turnover rates to increase in the coming year and 80% had no strategy in place for talent retention. So, you think about it, people are expecting turnover and they don’t have a strategy in place to replace talent that gets lost, and then it’s actually really costly to replace talent.
According to a book, Keeping The People Who Keep You In Business, that came out in 2000, the cost of losing an employee can range from 25% to 200% of that person’s salary. And so, it’s really expensive, right? Let alone being able to deliver against your objectives. It’s really, really expensive for organizations. So, I think the highlight is that this is a pretty painful area for nonprofits and one that we need to figure out how to do something about in order to help leaders.

Tucker: Big time. Well, that’s what I’m grateful to have here today as guests on the THRIVERS podcast. We have Alli Horst, she is the director at Core Ventures, a Colorado-based recruiting firm that really prioritizes culture fit for candidates and client organizations. I love, and I’ve met your husband too, Chris Horst. He has been deep in the nonprofit world and in fact, written some books on this. So, you and your husband are both deep in this space and have been in it for a long time and you have four kids, like we do. How fun is that?
Alli Horst: So fun!
Tucker: Yeah. And so, I heard you speak, that was like a month ago or maybe two months ago, whenever it was. And I just really appreciated your concise and poignant points around… As you were sharing, I was like, this is the next normal of nonprofit leadership, because that’s the title of our podcast, right? So Alli, I’m really grateful to have you to be able to share some of what you’ve been learning as you’ve been doing a lot of recruiting and hiring with organizations.
And then Andy Magel, he’s the director of Mile High Workshop. You’ve been a long-time influencer here in Denver around social entrepreneurship and social enterprises. You direct the Mile High Workshop, which creates employment opportunities and provides job training for members of our community seeking to rebuild from addictions, homelessness, and incarceration. And Andy, I love that you are a leader that is deep in the trenches of a community. You’re a small community-based social enterprise that’s really making some headway. And you’ve had some of these tensions and pains as well along the way. So Andy, I’m really grateful for you to be a part of this today.
Andy Magel: Yeah, thanks Tucker that might be the first time anybody’s ever called me an influencer before! I don’t have a big social media presence, but I’ve been doing the social enterprise thing for a little while and I’m happy to be here.
Tucker: Well, let’s hop right into it. Alli, I’ll kick it off with you. What are the pains we just talked about? This is a painful topic. What are the pains? We’re coming out of a pandemic, we’re in this weird post-pandemic world, the great resignation slash reassessment slash whatever we want to call it. A lot of people are in, it’s a weird space. And what are the pains that you’re noticing that nonprofit leaders are experiencing regarding recruiting, hiring, and attracting?
Alli: Yeah, you just listed off a great summary of all of the variables, and we’ve always had the main variable at the center of every hiring process: humans, right? Like, we’re hiring humans who have so much going on behind the scenes—whether it’s family dynamics, housing, economics, their thoughts about future career aspirations.
So there’s this human thing, and then we all have felt it, society as a whole has had all these things overturned that we’ve just assumed were going to be constants. I think in this moment, the list of variables and dynamics going into this hiring process is greater than ever, and people are feeling like this is the moment for big change. Whether it’s staff on the team who have that itch to try something new, or people in the hiring process who feel like they can ask for a little bit more than we did 10 years ago, there’s just a lot of dynamics introduced into what was already a complex process.

Tucker: Yeah, I’m hearing, like, there’s a phrase that’s been making its way in the nonprofit world: the VUCA world. We’re in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.
Alli: Yep, that’s it.
Tucker: And all these factors are playing and amplifying it, creating exponential VUCA, if you will, right now.
Sarah: And opportunity, though. I love, Alli, that you hit on this piece: this is a time when people said there was a past and then there was COVID, and things changed. All of a sudden, workers have a voice that they didn’t have even a few years ago, and they’re right to say, ‘I’m not sure the old contract works for me anymore. I’m looking for something more.’ Have you seen that as well in your work?

Alli: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of room to get a little more creative with what this could look like, whether it’s nonprofits and candidates saying, “What if we did this three-quarters time?” or “What if my work schedule looked like this?” I’ve seen people like Andy respond nimbly to that, saying, “Yeah, if this is the right person, let’s adapt this role to work for these hours, so that you can do this project that you want to every Friday, or pick up kids after school every day.” It does seem like there’s more creativity because we all had to get really creative during COVID. So I think it’s all on the table. Let’s see what this position could look like in a non-traditional format.
Tucker: Andy, what have you been seeing from a pain perspective as the director of a nonprofit that focuses on workforce as well? So you have two different angles, of sorts, at this. What are you noticing are some of the pains or issues that nonprofit leaders are really experiencing right now around this?
Andy: Yeah, we definitely live in the employment world and I think we see it. The positive side for our mission is that when people in our program are leaving to go get a job, there are people in the community that are hungry for them in ways they haven’t been before. But the other side of the coin for us is when we are trying to hire. It’s definitely a more complex process. It used to be that hiring for me was like, I’m going to put it on my personal Facebook and my social media account, and I’ll get a friend of a friend who’s going to apply, and it’s just going to be great.
And now it’s much more difficult. Partnering with Alli and her team at Core has helped ease the burden. It’s just become this much bigger process and much more time-consuming and difficult thing than it used to be, and just because I think people are reevaluating their lives and trying to figure it out.
Tucker: Well, and just out of curiosity, before we go into what does the next normal look like, and Alli, you kind of hit on this a little bit, but I’m just curious around our mission, which is to solve nonprofit leader burnout. When I say that mission to people who don’t have familiarity with nonprofits, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, that’s such an issue.” They don’t even have any context, right? They’re not in the nonprofit world; they maybe know a friend, and that’s about it. But, are there issues specific to the nonprofit space that you’re noticing? And just out of curiosity, this is a hypothesis that I’m curious about: around some of the beliefs around like, “Do nonprofit leaders just get burned out?” Right? Well, I don’t necessarily want to get burned out, right? So, I’m curious if there’s something from your vantage point or perspective around one of these pains being around the belief around what it means to work at a nonprofit in the first place. So, just curious, your thoughts on that.
Andy: Yeah, I mean, I think there’s definitely a shifting movement there. The traditional belief, I think, has been that if you work at a nonprofit, it means that you’re basically a volunteer; you might get paid, but it’s not going to be very much. You may not get any benefits of any kind, and you’re not going to get any time off, and all these sorts of things. And so I think the nonprofit discount type situation is something we have to navigate in the hiring process.
There’s a real truth that if someone is coming from the tech industry and they’re looking at the nonprofit world, there’s going to be a dip in salary, and we can’t be competitive on that front. And so I think there are a lot of factors that are different for us in the nonprofit world because we’re usually running pretty lean. Our budgets are a little smaller, and if you’re a small nonprofit like we are, you don’t have an HR department, right? So you’re trying to navigate all this stuff.

So yeah, it can definitely be a challenge, and I think it contributes to the notion of just not wanting to jump into that and get eaten up, you know? But I think there’s a movement towards a new reality in the nonprofit world. That doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself to do good work in the world, and I think we do everything we can to make sure that when we’re hiring people, we’re really clear about expectations and setting them up for success. If you have good people, you want to keep them; that’s the worst possible thing for us to lose someone to something like burnout.
Tucker: Yeah. So, what does this next normal look like for attracting and hiring good people? What are things that you’ve learned over the last year or so that you’re like, this is the space that we all need to be thinking in, learning into being in, when it comes to really doing this? Alli, I’ll start with you.
Alli: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of room to start experimenting with what it looks like to pursue people. The traditional model of hiring and recruiting was—I mean, Andy, you had even taken a little bit farther—posting on a job board and sitting back passively to see who comes. That has changed to organizations having to go after people and put the opportunity in their laps, saying, “Hey, what do you think about this? Let’s start this conversation.” So whether that’s using online tools like LinkedIn or by sending it out to donors.
As a donor who loves the organization, they are all about finding a friend or family member who could contribute. That’s an easy win. So, it’s about thinking about how to pursue people and how to ask fans of the organization to pursue people on their behalf.
We’ve worked with Dream Centers in the Springs, who have a connected board and all sorts of people in the community. They won’t hesitate to ask, “Let’s see who’s out there,” and make connections through people who are already supporting them. This is a new way to support us.
Andy: Yeah, and I think too, like to Alli’s point earlier, we’ve had to be creative and flexible about how we hire, and I think your point about picking kids up from school is a good one. We had a leadership position open and we had a candidate that we really liked, but she had kids in school and was the one who picked them up.
So we had to make a decision as an organization. Should we hire this person with the knowledge that she won’t be here after 3 o’clock, or is that a deal breaker for us? In our minds, she’s awesome, and we definitely want her on our team, so can we live without her for an hour every day in the afternoon? We probably can, and she just started this month, and we’re really excited about her.
Tucker: Oh, I love that Andy.
Sarah: Yeah, setting up expectations at the start, right? What people need and negotiating that before they get in the door, right? So that everyone’s on the same page about what it takes for this person to show up fully as a whole human in their workplace. And that’s, for me, one of the things I’ve really seen a switch around. Before, I was like, there’s a work human and somehow a personal human, and they’re disconnected, and we all knew that was a false narrative yet, but we bought into it. COVID just went and broke that in half, I think, for a lot of people. And now we’re in a world where it’s, we’re all whole humans. What does it mean to show up as that at work? And how do we navigate that?
Alli: And Sarah, I love the thought of, like, Andy is showing, we are all about the whole human here. And think about what that does for retention, not just for that individual but for other people on the team who, when they’re starting to have some sort of life crisis or life change, it’s not an either-or. It’s like, hey, we could actually have a conversation here and get creative.
Sarah: Yeah. Opening that door and keeping it open for us to live into how life changes. Because it changes, right? That’s what being human is about. Yeah, I love that.
Andy: When we were making this hire, I told her, I said, look, do not come back to me with a no. As you think about this, please come back to me with like, under what circumstances would this job fit your life?

Sarah: I love that.

Andy: That what I want to hear from you. And then we will decide together if that works for both of us, you know?
Tucker: Ooh, I like that.
Alli: That’s so good. We’ve known about salary negotiations for a long time and like, let’s make this a conversation. But having those pieces on the negotiation table and being upfront of like, we can both flex here. I love that.
Tucker: Well, it’s like there’s going back to the pain around being competitive, Andy, as you were saying, for somebody coming into the tech space, they potentially may not be able to be competitive from a salary perspective. But it seems like there’s other forms of currency, if you will, like quality of life and culture. And Andy, I appreciate what you’re sharing around opening up the aperture for co-creation around the other forms of currency involved in a job. My ability to learn and grow, there’s a lot of things that come into this. Alli, I appreciate perhaps the old way was just a salary and benefits negotiation, and now it’s a whole employment, whole human type of approach, like opening up the aperture to how you work.
We just did an interview with a delightful executive director and director of operations of a great organization called EMA (Every Mother’s Advocate), who works with mothers, and we were asking them about how they live into their values because they’re mothers too. And that was an important factor around living into the values that they bring out into the world in a whole human way, and how important that was for them and their work. Alli, I wanna ask you a question. You mentioned something to me a while ago about being prepared for people across the spectrum, like knowing what’s coming your way. Basically, you were kind of hitting on the idea that people who are coming at us aren’t going to be a cookie cutter, they have this experience and this experience that led in this linear path. And tell us a little bit more about that next normal of what this reality is that we’re dealing with in terms of the types of job applicants that are coming at some of these situations.
Alli: Yeah, that coming out of COVID, we started seeing candidates who would have really untraditional resumes for what they were applying for, right? This was, there was nothing linear about this career path, and it really required leaders to get crystal clear on what the components of this job that are absolutely essential, and what are those characteristics or various ways that someone could demonstrate success that would translate into this. Right? Like, how could someone from banking come into a role at a workshop or in a healthcare clinic, what would that transition look like and what does this person need to show in the hiring process to make us think they could be successful? Yeah, so we’ve seen, I think, the best process.
You feel like throughout the hiring process, there’s this expanded imagination happening on both parties, right? The candidate is saying, “Yeah, actually I could plug in here and I could use this skillset that I’ve developed in this new way.” And on the employer side, we see nonprofits making the best hires when they have this larger imagination about what these roles are and who their team is.
Sarah: What are—one of the things that I find most challenging about the interview process is like—what are the practical steps? We all have the talking one where I ask you a bunch of questions, but like getting to the… Can people do the things? Are they a match for skills and competencies?
I’d love for you to share with us how you’re seeing nonprofits do that right now so that they can be more imaginative about who they’re putting in the chair.
Alli: Right. Yeah, we’re trying to experiment with this with each partner. Like, okay, what is this? What projects can we pull out? We have a number of partners who are really strategic with having candidates come to events. Right? Because a huge part of this is can you interact with the spectrum of people involved that are stakeholders in the organization, right? Whether it’s a board member, a donor, a program member, team member, all of those dynamics. Can they kind of navigate all of that? So I do think there’s just a lot of room for some casual interaction.
I’m an education background, so I’m like, man, let’s get them in there and explain an area of expertise. And can they present? This is the changes I’d make, or this is how I’d implement this. Let’s get some practical projects in there as part of it. Yeah, Andy, what have you guys done?
Andy: Yeah, I mean, all of those things. We are a single site location, and so a lot of times, I like to take people for a tour and observe how they interact with folks who are in the program. Our mission is to help people who are returning from incarceration, addiction, and homelessness, and so maybe they haven’t navigated life with these people before. You can tell pretty quickly how comfortable they are in this environment and whether it’s an okay space where they could reasonably be successful.
Alli: We’re always fans of, like, inserting little details follow-through. I’m gonna ask you to follow up on something in our phone call. Oh yeah, can you send me the name of that book? And, like, just those kind of things. Can you send me the restaurant? Just, can we, can we follow through on those little things? If it’s the type of role, each role has its different areas of expertise, but just some of those little things. If someone is saying, ‘Hey, tenacity and follow-through is my middle name,’ Like, let’s see it.
Sarah:. Oh, I love that.
Tucker: What kind of questions, to go deeper into this, like, so you’ve let’s say you’ve done the attracting and the finding. You went out and found at least candidates. But yeah, when you’re in that space of, to Sarah’s point and Alli, what you’re talking about. Regardless of what their background is, really understanding what’s going on: is this a right fit or not? When the rubber’s starting to meet the road, what kind of questions do you ask or have you explored that have worked to unearth a value connection, right? Do they fit in? Will they fit into our culture? Do they have the right skills that we need? Like, what are some of the questions that you’ve asked or engaged in to help unearth some of these things?

Alli: Tucker, I don’t. This is less of a type of question. More just, I am a big believer in repeating a question about three times, right? You get, you ask the question, whatever that question is, your greatest strength or the most difficult thing you’ve experienced at work, how you’ve overcome it. You hear the story that they’ve prepared, and you’re like, “Okay, and tell me about another time.” And maybe that one’s a little looser. And then I’m gonna ask it the third time. And that third story is usually the one they did not anticipate sharing. And you’re like, “Oh, we’re shooting from the hip now.” And I’m getting the good stuff.
Sarah: I’m gonna do that every time, now that’s the best.
Alli: Just keep going, and they’re like, “Oh they’re still asking this.”
Tucker: Yeah. How about another one?
Alli: Please don’t use that tactic in this right now.
Tucker: Yeah. Alli tells why…

Andy: That is why we partner with Alli. That is exactly why we like working with Alli and Core.

Tucker: I love that.
Sarah: Andy, what about you from your perspective, what are like the core few questions you ask everyone and is essential to why you bring someone in the door?
Andy: Yeah, I mean, I think we are always looking for examples. My tendency without guidance is like, ‘Are you good at this? Do you like this?’ And so, I think being a better interviewer, we’ve learned from Alli and her team just to ask for more tangible examples. So we’re always asking, asking that.

But I think the thing that’s most important for us, especially as the world is slightly different, like Alli was mentioning, is that somebody may not have an example that totally fits, because it came from something totally different. So what we’re really looking for is just values alignment: are you in the mission? Maybe you’ve never worked at a nonprofit before, but tell me about ways that you serve your community, that you engage with the people around you. How are you demonstrating the values that are going to make you successful here in your day-to-day life, even if you’ve never been in the doors of a nonprofit before?
Tucker: I love that. Like digging in to see. Yeah. It’s fit, right? If… yeah, because I’m guessing if they have a skills fit but not a culture fit, that’s a problem, right? That’s a huge, huge problem. Yeah. That’s a bigger problem than frankly the other way around. Maybe they don’t quite have a skills fit, but if they have a deep culture fit, that’s a better situation than the other way around.
Andy: Hundred percent. Yeah. We’ll take that every single day.
Alli: Yeah, and I’ve seen Andy really adapt the role for that of saying, okay, we can shoot high and roll some other things into this and we’ll keep this job, but now it has a few more responsibilities that we didn’t anticipate at the beginning, or we can get someone that’s a culture fit. That we’re gonna have to train. And I mean, he just brought someone on the team that’s starting in a different role, probably going elsewhere, but he’s using it as a training kind of opportunity to get the right person in the right seat eventually.
Andy: Yeah, he applied for one job. We loved him. We’re like, “This is not the right fit for you but we have other things you might be able to work your way into. What do you think?” And he was just like, “Hey, I’m into the mission and I want to work with you guys. I’m down for the ride.” So he’s learning and the thing he’s doing now, which is more client-facing, will serve him dramatically. He’s going to move into the development space and the fundraising side, so it’s not a waste of time. He’s helping us now and gathering an insane amount of information and proximity to the mission that will serve him huge down the line.

Sarah: I love that. I read an article recently that talked about people thinking about hiring differently. Before, it was just like, “Either you’re on the team or not,” and now it’s “Are you on the A-team or on the farm team?” Right? Thinking about recruiting this bench that you may engage in a different way. Maybe it’s a volunteer, maybe it’s a board member, whatever, until there’s a right fit on the A-team for that person. I love that analogy because so often we do just think about one person, one role, when I think we can think much more expansively about leveraging talent.
Alli: And I think that expansive view speaks well to candidates, right? That’s another thing as we’re thinking of like, what can we offer candidates beyond just a huge salary? The idea that an employer is seeing you individually, viewing your career path in a nimble way, right? We can flex, not just the schedule, but we can flex the direction and I can see you outside of the bounds of this one job description. Those are all things that they can’t get at a huge corporation that might have a higher salary.
Tucker: The other thing I was thinking about with this was, Do you always hire people as W2 employees or to the point around flexibility? Like I’ve noticed this with sometimes with nonprofits that we have to hire them and then they’re a W2 employee and then all the things that go along with that, versus are there some other options like part-time contractor or whatever? That’s the other curiosity I have. And as we’re thinking about the different ways like the A-team and the farm team, like the different ways that we can bring people in and get to know them, what are some of those things that you’re noticing people are able to do nowadays that they just weren’t doing before because they weren’t thinking about it or weren’t doing it before?
Andy: We did that exact thing this year. We brought on two people as 1099 contractors because we had needs that didn’t necessarily equal a job, but they had to get done. And we had these people kind of in our ecosystem who were in a place in their life where that was exactly what they wanted, and it’s been fantastic. And one of them is actually going to transition into a full-time employee next year because it’s just been a really great fit. She’s kind of expanded her role to the point where it’s like, “Oh, we need you, and this is now a job.” And the other person is still happily in the contractor seat, and it’s been a great solution to our needs but definitely outside that kind of traditional box.
Tucker: And they’re still on the team, right? Like they’re still…
Andy: Oh, a hundred percent.
Tucker: Sometimes people think employee means team, and contractor means like these people from time to time. But no, there’s more.
Andy: They’ll be at the Christmas party. For sure.
Tucker: Yeah, exactly.

Alli: They’re the definition of team member.
Tucker: Yeah.Yeah.
Andy: Yes.
Alli: I was going to say that I’m always a fan of this contractor option. And a huge part of it is because when I started my role at Core Ventures, our owner approached me and I was like, “This is not the right moment for this.” I have four kids, and it was a season of just a lot of dynamics. And he’s like, “Well, what can you give me?” This is similar to what Andy did. “What could you say yes to?” And I was like, “Five hours a week.” Which is nothing, I mean, it’s nothing. And he was like, “Great, let’s do it.” And then, years later, here we are, and it’s been a wonderful thing and I’m so glad I got it in the door. So, that contractor option can get the right people in and be able to say yes when I really wanted to say yes. I just didn’t know what I had at that moment.
Sarah: Yeah, I love that. I mean, I think there’s two edges to that sword. One is that it’s almost like gig work in the nonprofit sector, right? If the person is looking for flexibility and it’s a timing fit for them and a skills fit and for the organization, great. I think the other side is, as we’re thinking about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, some folks take those jobs because they have to and they want the benefits and they want the full-time and they can’t find it.

And so, In my last organization, we’re always navigating the part-time employee, the full-time, and the contractor and really making sure that we were not taking advantage of folks, right?

BecauseI think that’s the other thing, the other way to see that is like, oh, we don’t have to pay benefits, right? So it’s better for the organization and, just an important dynamic I think, to call out because we’re all mission driven people, right? Which means we care about humans and their life and need to have our policies and practices live, I think in accordance.
Alli: absolutely.
Tucker: Well, and thank you for bringing this up. That was my next question: what is the next normal around diversity, equity, and inclusion when it comes to attracting and the hiring process? We can’t exactly put out there, “I want this exact type of person,” in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, or anything like that. Like, we can’t say that. How do you incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies into your attracting and hiring?
Alli: I mean, man, this is the question that we’re all wrestling with and just trying to be creative. I think you start from a place of self-awareness. Look at your organization and look at your candidate pools. Who is even interested in this role? Let’s start there. Is it because of where you’re casting your net? Are we being strategic with where we’re pursuing people and what networks we’re putting this out to? And then if you are being strategic there and it’s still not reflected in your candidate pool, let’s look at job descriptions. There’s a lot of research about language and job descriptions that people of color or women find intimidating or find a fence with that white men might not feel the same way.
They might say, “Oh, I meet…” You know the statistics about like they can meet 50% of the qualifications and feel great, and a woman’s gonna look at that and say, “Oh, I don’t meet all of them. I can’t apply for this.” Like that just statistically is how it goes. So, let’s make it really crystal clear again with those what are the absolutes on a job description and make sure our language is inclusive. And then you start looking at your hiring process. Who are we favoring in the hiring process? There’s a technique that a lot of people use where candidates rate themselves from one to 10. How would their last employer say they were on a scale from one to 10, or things like that. How would they rate themselves? And not everyone is using the same scale.
And so, we need to get comfortable with a nine from this demographic being very different than a seven from this or could mean actually the same thing as a seven from this demographic. Um, so I think starting there and working through and then looking at your team. Who is telling their friends to come? Let’s explore why that is.
Andy: Yeah, I mean, I would piggyback on that just as far as your team. I mean, for us, a way to create a diverse team has been to hire internally and to promote internally and to take the folks that we have who are here. And we’ve had several people who’ve gone through the program who are running the organization now, and it’s like, so their voice, they come from a very wide array of backgrounds and their voices are very central to what we’re doing every day and how we’re moving the organization forward.
Tucker: I appreciate what you’re sharing. Job description, language, being clear about the absolutes and then, it’s kind of going back to Andy, even what you were sharing earlier around, how do you, even from a job description perspective, put it out there in a way that says, that’s invitational to let’s co-create this together? Or of sorts, maybe it’s asking questions or I’m curious, what kind of specific things have you done or have you seen that has worked? Around this so that we don’t, by nature, by the very words we put up there. And you gave a good example of that, of having too many absolutes that come across as absolutes but aren’t actually absolutes as an example. And then people are like, “Oh, I don’t fit in so therefore I’m just gonna not even apply”’ What are some ways that you’ve seen invitational oriented type of job descriptions that have allowed for a diverse pool, if you will, to come in?

Andy: Yeah, I mean, I think Alli probably has a great view on this for us. Just in our experience, it’s we’ve tried to use language on job descriptions that is much more about what you know and what you can do than what your accolades may be, or whatever, like prestigious college you may or may not have gone to and those types of things. It’s more about, who are you and what can you do and are you gonna jump in? And I think Alli talked about kind of like the discrimination. There’s like this, the bar is like, you say, ‘We will not discriminate against you,’ because that’s the law. But what we’ve tried to do is say, ‘Hey, we actively want a diverse group of voices at the table.’ So like, you are strongly encouraged to play, if you’re a person of color, a woman, or anyone. Like, we want you, not just we’re not gonna discriminate against you, but we want you. And that’s on our job descriptions.
Tucker: So putting it out there. Come on in. For real.
Andy: Yeah, please, please raise your hand, you know? Because we want you on our team.

Alli: Our team is all about the human touch when we’re pursuing candidates, right? So this is us reaching out to people and inviting them. I mean, this pairs well with Andy’s language, but this is a place because of how our model is. We have the time. This is what we do during the day as we are pursuing people. And so I think we get to start conversations from a place of, “Hey, we think you might be great at this, so let’s talk about it and see if it feels like a fit for them and if feels like a fit for you, we want a win for everyone.” So we get to start from kind of this, warmth and invitation versus just emailing people a job description.
Tucker: That’s great.
Sarah: Yeah it’s strength based. I also love Andy, It’s like the policy used to be like, we won’t discriminate. And now it’s the positive opposite of that, which is that like, we can’t do this work without the voices. So not only are we going to of course live to the letter of the law, but we are intentionally going far beyond that to say, you’re integral here and come on in.
Andy: Yeah. It’s almost like rather than having the boxes like, “Are you proficient at this, this, and this?” It’s more the starting point is like, “Are you attracted to the work we’re doing? Are you a quality person? Let’s talk.” Maybe there’s a fit. You know?
Alli: And there’s a great humility in that. You’re saying, “Hey do you want to buy into this thing that we’re doing?” Not, “Pitch us on why you’re the right person.” But you’re starting from a point of, this is our mission. Are you motivated and captivated by it?
Tucker: Yeah, I like that. I mean, we’ve added these questions at the very beginning of our job descriptions, so the questions by nature are a little more invitational as a whole. So even just at the very beginning of a job description, asking them almost reflective questions of themselves by the very job description in the first place. We’ve loved that for our work in terms of our job descriptions, it’s worked really well.
Sarah: It’s almost like a dating profile, right? Are you this type of person? Do you love this? Are you into that? Right?
Andy: That’s pretty much the dance. Yeah.

Tucker: So I want to ask two last questions, spend a little more time on the ‘made possible’ or ‘next normal’ part. Like, what does this really look like? Because I think that’s the rubber meeting the road. I briefly want to check in on the ‘made possible’ question and then hit the brass tacks with real specifics. We’ve already given some specifics, but what are the two things that every nonprofit leader needs to be thinking about in order to take this to the next normal for their work? As we’ve talked about, opening up the aperture and recognizing that the candidate pools will be diverse, going out of our way to find and attract in some of these next normal components. If you lean into them as Alli and Andy have been doing, what’s made possible for you as a nonprofit leader, as someone in this work? What’s made possible when you lean into this big VUCA world around staffing?
Alli: I think, I mean, as I reflect on Andy over this last year and partnering with him on a number of searches, I think I would just go to the lessening of isolation, right? Hiring, when you’re doing it, is this isolating process. And so I think that’s our favorite part of getting to work with nonprofits is this partnership and like we are in the trenches with you, right?
When we’re doing hiring in a different way, It’s an engaging community building thing, right? You’re pulling in stakeholders, you’re working together. Whether you have a partner in the hiring process or a team, I feel like Andy, I mean, has his whole team involved in this process. So it goes from this isolating thing to man, it’s really vision setting. It’s confirming of who we are as an organization. It’s culture building. I think that’s a part of what’s made possible. What else, Andy?
Andy: Yeah, I mean, I think where my mind goes on that is the strengthening of your mission. The ultimate goal of all of this is that you end up with people who are on board for the cause and they are down for the ride. Your culture improves, the delivery of your mission improves, and the whole thing perpetuates to a greater degree than it might have previously if you were thinking more narrowly. You might have missed out on people who would’ve loved to jump in and be huge assets to what you’re doing, you know?
And so I think what that looks like in our world today is that we have people on board who we probably never would’ve found, who never would’ve seen our post on whatever platform and thought, “Oh, I’m that person,” but they’re now here and they’re awesome, and our whole community is better off because of it.
Tucker: I love that. I appreciate both of your answers here around it helps us to get out of isolation, becomes a hopeful and a place of potential, not this drudgery and this exhaustion. And then Andy, going down these types of paths, you start to get more of the different and the right types of people, right, that are aligned with your mission, that are aligned with your values and that you’re holding it a little bit more loosely. And that allows you flexibility too, it sounds like as well, that it doesn’t have to be so black and white, but it can be a little more flexible and we can grow and learn together in a sense.

Andy: Totally.

Tucker: I love that. All right. Oh, go ahead Sarah.
Sarah: I was just going to say, I love this piece around it being community building and an opportunity for co-creation with staff. Right, Andy? The fact that you invite staff to participate in this, I did the same at my last organization. We would have a panel of five or six staff members for one of the sets of interviews, and it was dynamic, it was interaction, but it was also staff voice who literally got to say, “Yeah, I’d love for this person to be part of a team,” or “You know what, I’m not so sure, and here’s why.”
And then when that person gets brought in, instead of being “Hey, here’s a face full of strangers,” it’s “Hey, here are folks you’ve already talked to and started to build a relationship with.” So it’s also, I think you’re both right, an opportunity to grow culture and deepen ownership across the organization.
Tucker: It reminds me—but I’ll bring this in as my practical step—but it reminds me, Sarah, of that story that Slade from Food to Power—great organization down in Colorado Springs—used as a practical step. But let me ask you first, what are two things, two practical steps that a nonprofit leader can take? If they forget everything that we talked about, but these two things, what are the things you’re like, these are the things that you gotta do to really make this work well for you? What would you say?

Andy: My two things, I think if you’re gonna do something really simple and you want something super accessible, like update your job descriptions. Super easy, practical thing. Hire Alli and Core Ventures.
Alli: Thank you, Andy. Thank you.
Andy: Just it’s an easy email to send and just, yeah, think outside the box you know?
Alli: Yeah. I would say invite people, right? Just reach out to a couple people and say, would you be interested in this? And could we start a conversation about this role? And then take from Andy’s example and think about what else you have to negotiate with.What can flex? And how can you start that dialogue of saying, let’s not come to a no at the end of this. Let’s both know what we could give or flex on.
Tucker: I love that. And that story that I was just sharing, so this is from a phenomenal nonprofit leader down in Colorado Springs named Slade. Slade Custer. He’s the director of development, I believe, for Food to Power. And they said that they have this practice inside to co-create. Where—Sarah, similar to your story—where we had five people come in and interview candidates after the candidate goes, they do, what is it? They’re like, almost like rock, paper, scissors, but it’s like Food to Power.
And then everybody can do everything from a one to a five. And if anybody has below a three, then that opens up the conversation of like, what’s underneath that? And so let’s explore. So they open it up to where, you have sort of like, and it’s not a veto, but it’s like I have some concerns and I wanna voice it.
And so it’s like food to power three or something like that. And I thought it was just a brilliant way of co-creating, allowing people to bring in their voices around the staffing. So a fun way of co-creating your staffing process or your hiring process.
Andy: We do like a written version of that, but that sounds so much cooler. So, we’ll come up with our own version of that.
Tucker: Yeah, there you go. There you go. Slade, if you’re out there listening to this, thanks for that awesome example. Hopefully I did it justice. Well, Alli, Andy, thank you both for your time, for your wisdom, your expertise, and I think really too for giving nonprofit leaders out there.
There’s burnout right now, and some, if not a lot, of it is coming from the space of overwork and not enough time. This means it gets to staffing and resources, and how do you do this, especially with old ways of thinking? That’s why we’re trying to hit this next normal.
I really appreciate you both bringing in some of your insights and wisdom around what you’ve been learning, literally in the trenches every day, doing this type of work. It’s really helping many people who are listening to this not feel alone. The isolation we know is one of the biggest issues around burnout.
So, thank you for helping solve nonprofit leader burnout by being on here today. For all of you who are listening, we’ll have more information. And Alli, I know that people can come and work with you, and you have a whole model just for small community-based nonprofits, those who sound similar to you, Andy, who don’t have a fully-formed HR department, like you maybe have an HR person part-time.
You’re really in that one to six million annual budget size of nonprofits, which I learned recently that 97% of nonprofits are under $5 million in revenue. So, in the country we’re in, we’re in good company there. Anyway, but we’ll put a little bit more information about a really cool model that you have in our show notes, as well as to learn more about Andy and maybe your LinkedIn profiles, if you’re okay with that. And people can connect with you if they have any other questions.

Alli: Absolutely, yeah. Thanks Tucker. Thanks, Sarah.
Tucker: Awesome.
Andy: Thank you guys.
Tucker: All right. Have a wonderful day everybody. Bye.