On hiring: job descriptions, hiring plans and how to let go

Employees are the lifeblood of an organization and depend on their leaders.  In the for-profit world, some hiring decisions are easier because an employee’s value can be measured in dollars and cents.  In the nonprofit world the metrics used by managers to evaluate employee value are ambiguous.  

Looking at employees through a more humanistic lens blurs the lines of an employee’s  impact on the organization. Strong nonprofits depend on strong managers to be able to make the difficult decisions that make their organizations effective.

Sometimes letting go is what’s best for the organization.

When dealing with difficult employees many managers go through mental gymnastics, considering whether to put this individual on an improvement plan, offer them early retirement, or lay them off. Particularly in the world of nonprofits, we encounter many organizations who consider a new hire as one might a marriage- lifetime commitments, for better or worse.  

Employees who under perform and who are not invested in your mission are going to create a stagnant, unmotivated work environment for the rest of the team. When you insert a person who does the bare minimum,  it has a negative effect on the attitude of their colleagues. The good news is, most employees want to be productive. Senior staff can positively impact organizational culture by keeping only employees that benefit the organization.

Job descriptions shouldn’t be mix and match.

An issue we regularly observe in the nonprofit sector is an employee hired to fill a specific role being given tasks outside of their area of expertise. Organizations may be strapped for cash or hesitant to spend more on overhead but meshing two dissimilar positions into one does not do your organization or your employee justice.

This “killing two birds with one stone,” technique drains the employee’s time. Instead of focusing on the position they were hired to fill, they spend more time learning about tasks for which they have no prior knowledge. Instead of having two efficiently areas efficiently managed by dedicated experts, you end up with either; two sub-par areas, one area that suffers at the expense of another, or two areas that are devastatingly lackluster. We see this with social media and digital strategy all the time.

Occasionally, a variety of tasks can be a good opportunity for a highly motivated employee who wants to learn, but there needs to be a senior staff member present and accessible within each area of expertise to share knowledge, provide training and maintain oversight.

There’s a better way!

Rather than waste time giving opportunities to employees who are the wrong fit or finagling grab-bag job description, nonprofits need to channel that energy into succession planning and/or developing a hiring plan. These tools will allow our sector to attract even more long-term talent who can set expectations for new hires and foster a culture of success.

If a donor gave you $100,000 dedicated to staffing, do you know what position you’d fill? A hiring plan is a necessity for all organizations, as it allows you to review the current division of responsibilities and determine what areas of expertise you are missing. Figuring out what your next hire would be is not a decision that should be made on the spot. 

Having a hiring plan also means being more acutely aware of what falls into each of your current staff’s roles and helps ensure you are not delegating additional responsibilities to staff members that do not fit their positions/capacity. Hiring plans help your hire the correct person and keep staff happy!

In addition, succession planning ensures your organization’s sustainability for the future by keeping good employees happy and giving them opportunities for growth. This saves you money and time of having to go through a hiring and transition process. It also lets employees know they can plan a career with you, allowing employees to align with internal promotions rather than opportunities at other nonprofits or for-profit companies.

Hey Unicorns, Voldemort(s) want to drink your blood

Nonprofit employees have the great fortune of working in a relatively selfless industry.  Our mission, usually both personal and organizational, is to help people. Our perspective is that all individuals out there share this mindset. The problem comes when nonprofit professionals encounter businesses who do not share these motives and whose mission is to profit.

How do you figure out which services and organizations are trying to empower your nonprofit and which see you primarily as dollar signs?

Ask hard questions

Vendors who come to you and pitch new ways to fundraise for “only $x per month!” may not have your best interests at heart. Be objective in determining how they found you and whether their services are mutually beneficial. Ask what you can expect as return on investment,  ask what size organization they’ve seen use their services most successfully. Sometimes success in fundraising attracts parasites who are trying to take advantage of an increased budget.  Fundraising web pages that take additional percentage beyond credit card fees, people offering unachievable returns on investment, mail houses that are not up on latest nonprofit trends all should be weeded out.

Don’t sign long-term contracts unless you know details

Don’t commit to anything long term unless you feel confident that you will not want to get out of the contract.  We have plenty of experience with clients who make a split-second decision to sign a two year contract with a vendor before realizing two months in that they are stuck.

Know how to identify scams

There are many for-profit organizations that pop up to pitch specific services. This was a big problem with office supply scams in the early 2000s and it continues today. We’ve seen this with third party vendors who send a frantic statement about your GoDaddy subscriptions expiring and request money to make sure your domain is secure for another year (they make a huge premium on this). Other companies do this with Google Adwords accounts. Even if the business is legitimate, they may still be trying to take advantage of you.

The key here is to replace panic with research. If you have reservations about a vendor you might be working with, use the web. Search people, companies and reviews or use the Better Business Bureau and similar websites to vet organizations.

Find experts you can trust

Talk to people- experts in the field, individuals with shared experiences at other organizations- who have done all of this before and can help you make decisions. They might have some insider knowledge or familiarity with these businesses. This advice is applicable in regards to making purchases as well. the Federal Trade Commission advises, “Buy from people you know and trust. Authorized employees should be skeptical of “cold” or unsolicited calls and feel comfortable saying “no” to high-pressured sales tactics.”

Awareness is the key to avoiding scams and bad ROIs. Hopefully these magical tips help make parasitic companies disappear faster than you can say evanesco.

Millennial email etiquette








If this does NOT give you mild to severe anxiety, we’re guessing you’re not a Millennial.

Growing up in the age where conversations occur more frequently in written form than face-to-face has left most Millennials with an exceptionally honed ability to discern tone from text. We have the tendency to read into e.v.er.y.t.h.i.n.g. In fact, we may find hidden meanings where our Gen X counterparts see nothing at all.

This can spell danger in the workplace world of email. This is not a rant against all millennials- the world knows we’ve seen enough of those and the list of things we’ve “killed” (bar soap, napkins and beer most notably) stretches on longer than the time it takes you to count up all your student debt. This is a practical guide of the misconceptions and mistakes made with Electronic Communication Etiquette.

Reading into email tone

While we have great ability at conveying written emotion, we may also have the tendency to overemphasize (think an excess of exclamation points). The same goes for reading incoming emails. Is my client mad at me? Is this donor being passive-aggressive? Cue up a montage of anything you may have done to offend the third party. Ninety percent of the time, it’s neither. Your Gen X coworkers, colleagues and mentors may not find anything wrong with a one-sentence email ending in a period (not even a sign off to be found). Where you see snarky, they see efficient. The takeaway is don’t dwell on tone.

Know thine audience

Sometimes, minimalism is needed to convey formality. On other occasions, colleagues might appreciate those extra exclamations, the occasional smiley face or perhaps a sunshine emoji on a dark winter day. If there exists any doubt, err on the side of formality. Not all emails need to address a Dear and end Sincerely, but starting with Hello (name), instead of hiya! can ensure a proper level of respect both ways. After all, we’ve worked hard to get this far into the professional realm, haven’t we?

Timing isn’t always everything

In the texting world of constant back-and-forth, it is easy to feel that email also merits immediate response. Who hasn’t fallen victim to the dreaded waiting game? This is where millennials- and some Gen X’ers- need to remain calm. Just because an email is on the top of your “to-do” list doesn’t necessarily mean the same for the addressed. Circumstances and priorities differ and most often patience is key.

Whether this serves as a refresher or brings fresh perspective to your correspondence, perhaps they will guide your next email interaction. You may now go forth confidently with this wisdom knowing that the rest of we millennials are also silently screaming as we deprive ourselves of e(mail)motion.

Resolutions to stick to in 2018

Finally, a resolution post that isn’t about cutting out cheese, hitting up the gym or staying hydrated. Here are resolutions or as our optimistic staff like to say, opportunities for growth, that will improve your nonprofit life in 2018!

Trust your team

If there’s one thing nonprofit leaders know, it’s that it can be easy to micromanage. More than a few of us have fallen victim to the “if you want something done right do it yourself” mantra, but if you have faith in your hiring process then you must also have faith in the capability of individuals who come out of it. Your task is not to insert yourself into coworker’s role and hijack their projects, it’s to make sure that your team is equipped and supported to reach their full potential. The added benefit of this new attitude is that focusing less on the work of others mean more time to focus on your own workload.

Cut “That’s how we’ve always done it” from your repertoire

New year, new you, am I right? If you want organizational growth, it’s only natural that you’ll also have to face organizational change. Skip the excuse and become more open to testing out new tactics, especially those backed by best practices.

Let go of your fear of the ask

This applies more heavily to those on the development side. Make 2018 the year you stop wondering if you’ve missed opportunity and start creating it instead. Let go of the hesitation when asking new donors to contribute to your organization and asking returning donors to increase their gift. This is a great goal to prove your efficacy and increase your organization’s fundraising dollars.

Proactively face your fundraising goals

Take a good hard look at retention rates, number of major gifts, and dig into other relevant statistics. Based on these numbers, set realistic goals for organizational growth and come up with an action plan that allows you to achieve them in 2018.

Upgrade to a database

The reliance of smaller nonprofits on Excel is a trend that should have died in the 90’s but continues in 2018. If you’re still working on Excel, an achievable goal is to switch to a dedicated donor database. A database allows you to pull metrics at a touch of the button so you can properly track your results to see if you’re meeting the rest of the 2018 goals!

What are your nonprofit opportunities for growth in 2018?

Giving tips for #GivingTuesday

1. Cover all your bases

The first question to ask yourself is whether you have all the digital content you need to launch a success #GivingTuesday campaign (see our previous blog post for suggestions on that front). Here’s a quick checklist that we’ve found helpful when launching campaigns for our clients:

  • Is your donation platform active?
  • Do you have a social media strategy to push your campaign?
  • Will your campaign be accompanied by one, two, three email blasts?
  • Who will be responsible for any edits, posts or updates on #GivingTuesday?
  • Are your paid advertisements scheduled?

It’s the last call for prepping your full suite of digital materials, so in the spirit of the holidays, check your list twice.

2. Do a trial run instead of damage control

Don’t be the Black-Friday-McDonald’s twitter. Before you leave the office today, go through all of your materials to make sure links are working, spelling and grammar are checked, and your photo content is visible.

McDonalds Tweet

3. Stay online!

It’s not enough to sit back and sip a spiced latte while scheduled posts roll out. Monitor your org’s social media platforms closely during the day so you can actively engage with donors before and after they make donations.

You can proactively seek out new followers and donors with targeted tweets, and should be ready to engage any users who directly mention your org in a tweet or post!

4. Use a custom hashtag

It’s not too late to ask your own audience to show their support using a custom-created hashtag. Hashtags not only make your campaign easier to monitor, but they also create social media buzz about your organization. Choose a  unique keyword/phrase to avoid overlapping with other organizations, but keep it simple enough for followers to remember.  

#GivingTuesday Best Practices

For many professionals, autumn days hold the promise of sweater weather, Butterball turkey, and holiday prep. For those of us in the nonprofit sector, our stress levels mark a more hectic time; the giving season.

Between sending your fall newsletter, planning your annual appeal, and continuing to provide services to your populations, it’s enough to make your head spin, Exorcist-style.

Insert #GivingTuesday. It’s hard to resist an opportunity to insert your nonprofit’s pitch during this feel-good season of giving. The question at hand is whether participating in #GivingTuesday come at the expense of your end of year appeal.

Although not a question we can definitively answer (we’ll keep collecting data and get back to you on this one), we’ve been scoping the interwebs and compiling best practices to maximize end of year giving without cannibalizing your annual appeal.

Here’s the list of tips and tricks we’ve pulled together:

Two approaches to ensure you don’t detract from your annual appeal

Approach #1

Use #GivingTuesday to launch only the online component on your end of year appeal. This strategy gets online donors to donate directly to your end of year appeal. The benefit is you’re investing more time in your end of year fundraiser as opposed to spending time and brainpower crafting an additional campaign. The downside is that donors who were going to give to the appeal anyways will probably only give this one time, not again in December.

Approach #2

Make #GivingTuesday a separate campaign with a finite goal that appeals only to online audience.  This strategy (suggested by our friends at Bloomerang) focuses on a single, tangible and urgent goal unrelated to your end of year appeal. The benefit is that you can tell a compelling story, and perhaps capture the same online donors twice within a month span (once for #GivingTuesday and again for your annual appeal, which will be a completely separate campaign). The downside is you end up with restricted funds and this campaign could still have a potential negative impacts on end of year donations.

Things to focus on while crafting a #GivingTuesday game plan

Aim for social media interaction and engagement

#GivingTuesday is an online event whose focus can be larger than donations. Use this high-traffic time to draw in your new social media audience and online subscribers to your email list. Make sure your social media platforms and website are optimized to draw in new users. This is a better strategy to find long-term donors; by getting them invested in the organization in order to share your stories and then make your ask.

Reach out to a new audience

Try a peer-to-peer strategy to get engagement! Even if you aren’t soliciting donations, ask your followers to share your organization with their friends or run a social media contest to gain a larger online presence.

Try something different

This suggestion from Causevox to use #GivingTuesday as “ a chance to break out of the same ol’ thing,” makes a lot of sense. Why not use a one day #GivingTuesday to spice up your social media tactics? Test out new messaging or try a new social media feature you’ve been hesitant to test.

Need help launching an innovative #GivingTuesday campaign? Email us at kate@dsaboston.com.  

When life gives you lemons, maximize them!

Flashback to the start of my career in 1990: there is no internet, no email, no VOIP, no online giving to speak of.  Printing is done off of film. You have a home phone number. These are the ancient days before the invention of avocado toast, in an era when newspapers are still relevant.  

As changes in technology, culture and society that swept through the 90s and continued on to the 2000s, businesses were quick to adapt. They did so because it helped them make money; the same money that nonprofits need, too. Yet, here we are in 2017 and nonprofits continue to lag behind in their technological strategies and updates.

Last month, my daughter and her friends ran a lemonade stand to benefit the victims of Hurricane Harvey and decided to give the money to the Houston Food Bank. As I rerouted to their homepage to make our $250 donation, I noticed something strange… their webpage had not prepared in any way for an influx of hurricane relief donations.  

Upon closer inspection (and I mean much closer), I noticed Hurricane Harvey is mentioned both for volunteers and victims below the fold of the page near the bottom, a realm to which only 22% of users scroll. The most topical information was hidden where barely anyone could see it. My automatically generated acknowledgement made no mention the hurricane or thanking me for donating to hurricane relief.

Above all things in fundraising, nonprofits need to focus their energy on maximizing donations. Donations are your income, how you connect with your donors and what allow you to continue to serve and expand your communities.

When a national campaign brings donors (proverbial lemons) your way, take the small steps to make a big impact in the way of donations (you guessed it, lemonade!). Easy implementations like a hurricane-relief-specific donate button can pay off big time. Simple updates to your website, thank you letters, and messaging are also invaluable pieces of a fundraising campaign.

I am sure that Houston Food Bank had a lot on their plate and I do not discredit the amazing work they have done and continue to do in the wake of Harvey. My disappointment is derived from the fact that better systems could have generated more income to support relief efforts. It is especially surprising for an organization on that scale, whose 2015 990 says they brought in $61 million dollars.

Nonprofits need to build in the capacity and foresight to adapt their fundraising strategies, materials and messaging when opportunities present themselves. It is an investment that quite literally pays off in the short term, and most definitely pays off long-term. DSA can help you maximize your nonprofit’s donations this year; email us at ted@dsaboston.com to find out how.

Paint donors a pretty picture

Sifting through mediocre, lackluster photos got you down? Unsurprisingly, posting those photos has that same effect on your audience.

Visual content doesn’t just serve to complement text; readers spend more time looking at relevant photos than looking at the text on the page. That means that, no matter how touching or informative your narrative may be, related photos are the key to heightened impact.  

Our storytelling capabilities alone won’t cut it in the age of social media and digital marketing. Hiring a professional photographer or training your staff to seek out and collect high-quality content is equally as important as the narrative you share. This isn’t just in written content, but also in verbal presentations since people retain 55% more information if a relevant image is paired with the story you are telling. There’s a reason the cliche “a picture is worth a thousand words” hasn’t been laid to rest, and it’s because photos convey a story and insert donors into the narrative in a way that words can’t.

Photographers are worth the investment:

  • Specialized Photography
    • You can find a professionals whose specialities align with your organization. This means you’ll be able to preview their portfolio of similar-style shoots and know what style of photos you’ll be getting.
  • Knowing what works
    • Most take a LOT of photos but most will refine and filter out photos, selecting only the best of the bunch. Now all the photos you have to work with are usable. No more scrolling through dull duplicates!
  • Processing Photos
    • Photos might not always be perfect when the shutter clicks, but a photographer’s software savvy can banish the blemish, or soften the background so your photos more acutely convey your messaging.
  • Innovative Ideas to Offer
    • Whether it’s a technique or ideas for content, a professional can offer up effective innovations that they have been previously exposed to through training or other clients.

Hesitant to hire a professional photographer? Here are helpful hints to step up your content.

  • Take a diversity of photos
    • This will vary based on the issues/circumstances you are working in, but try to switch up backgrounds, and take photos from different perspectives and of different subjects to help keep your content fresh.
  • Take more pictures than you think you’ll need
    • How often do you take a picture and one of the subjects is blinking at that exact moment? If I had a nickel… Take a ton of pictures; the short time it takes to sort through them later is nothing compared to the disappointment of being one second off from having that perfect shot
  • Use a digital camera
    • Your smartphone is an amazingly powerful device that serves many purposes, but print-ready high-res content is not its main function. Digital cameras offer more.  

Photography is an important tool in conveying the message of your organization and deserves as much of your attention and time as the words you write.

Want to up your photography game? Email ted@dsaboston.com and find out how we can help.

It’s a technological twister, SEOhmy!

Pixels, impressions, interactions, CPC, SEOh my!   

In the whirlwind of information and connection that results from living in the age of the internet, your donors are not JUST in Kansas anymore (even if they are, indeed, in Kansas). The web and social media platforms have made it easier to reach donors, but have also necessitated a shift in nonprofit communication strategies.

The terms that we used to open up this post should be common language at your organization, despite the fact that ten years ago many of them didn’t  exist. Change comes quickly in the social media world, and organizations need to prioritize digital market research to stay on top of trends and discover how best to appeal to your audience “screen to face”. Even if you are an organization that relies on donors who give regularly upon receiving their annual newsletter or appeal, hard mailings aren’t going to cut it for the future generations.  Appeals need to be bolstered by high quality digital content targeted towards your specific donors.

Consider how much information you take in a day. It is possible (and can sometimes be easy) to do too much in the way of social media campaigns. The key is to make very engaging, memorable content that people actually want to see, not necessarily because they love your organization but because it is funny, trendy, or intriguing. If you can consistently draw in donors in this manner, you build the relationship.

Bridging the Generational Divide

Okay, so maybe you understand the value of social media in your role within the organization. But what about the executive director, who may happen to be a bit older?

First off, you’re not alone. One of our clients kicked off construction of a new building, so naturally a Hammer-time-themed meme made its way onto our content calendar. Upon reviewing posts for the week, the client asked us to “take that Hammer guy off.”

A “stop, hammer time” pun isn’t for everyone and maybe it won’t resonate with the 60+ crowd. But this misses the larger point: trendy, topical and fun content may not resonate with you personally, but it is an effective means of engaging with a future generation who may eventually become your major donors.

It is critical to advocate for the effective use of social media, and we have found the best way to do this is by demonstrating what content engages the largest number of people (get on those facebook/twitter results & google analytics, people!) If you can show your manager/ED/etc. the proven success of fun content, they stand a better chance of understanding that a social media feed shouldn’t be a listing of organization events or donation requests and definitely should not be longer than two sentences.

As anyone curating their content post by post on Instagram to develop a following will tell you, social media is an investment. The payoff is not an immediate influx of dollars, but it is building of brand on a platform on which to make customers (or donors, in this case) feel important. This sense of connection to the organization is what eventually allows you to gain traction and retain donors.

Questions? Anecdotes? Need to vent about the under-appreciation of social media? Email us!