What’s your first hire?

January 27, 2011

Filed under: Human Resources — jonathanpoisner @ 8:53 am

A few days ago I was chatting over coffee with a new acquaintance who serves as Executive Director of a small, 3 year old organization.  As of now, the staff consists of her and 2 staff people, both of whom work half-time on programs.

We had an interesting conversation about what the appropriate hiring sequence is for smaller organizations that want to grow.  In her case, the decision to hire program staff was driven by program-specific grants.

But if grant restrictions don’t exist, what’s the next hire?

Some organizations hire staff to do mission-driven program work.  The choice here is to free up the Executive Director from program work as much as possible, so that they can focus on fundraising and building organizational administrative systems.

Some organizations hire development staff.   Under this choice, the goal is to augment the organizations fundraising as rapidly as possible, freeing up the Executive Director to do higher level relationship building, organizational systems, and programs.

My own recommendation is a third path — a part-time administrative assistant.  Maybe you call this person Office Manager.  Regardless, the goal of this position is to identify 10-20 hours of work that implement basic organizational systems, removing from the Executive Directors plate the least complex tasks that can be done by somebody who’s paid far less and is happy without significant work stress in their life.

With the time freed up for them to do extra fundraising, a competent Executive Director should be able to raise far more than the cost of the new staff person.

Let’s do the math.  If you hire an administrative assistant at $10-15/hour for 15 hours per week, taking into account overhead and taxes, that roughly means $200-$300 per week in extra expense for the organization.   This should free up an absolute minimum of 5 hours per week for the Executive Director to do more fundraising.  The question is: can the Executive Director raise an extra $40-$60 on average for every extra hour they fundraise?

My answer is, if they can’t, then they shouldn’t be your Executive Director.   A good Executive Director should be able to raise far more than that.    That puts the organization in an even stronger position to then hire a subsequent staff person — whether for program or development — or for some combination of program and development.

Of course, the danger of this approach is some Executive Directors reach this point and redirect their extra time into program instead of into fundraising.

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