Who’s your next hire?

Posted in hiring / executive director / staff team

Who’s your next hire?

A non-profit usually starts with only one employee. It is often the executive director, and the position handles everything from planning, to programming, to administrative support. When it’s time to hire a second employee, it can be challenging to decide if it is better to hire administrative support, freeing up the ED to handle more programming, or hire a program employee, leaving the ED to handle more administration.

Equal parts exciting and terrifying.

It is very empowering when the board authorizes the executive director to make the choice s/he wants. It is equally terrifying, especially for new executive directors, who don’t have the experience to choose one over the other. The pressure of making the right decision weighs heavily. No executive director wants to make the wrong choice. No executive director wants to let the board down. No executive director has all the answers.

Rather than look at the decision as a choice that the executive director will have to live with for the rest of their career, it helps to embrace the idea that over time the organization will grow and change, and the staff team can grow and change along with it. A decision made for the current environment of the non-profit is not expected to be the decision forever.

Fix what isn’t working.

An executive director who handles all their own accounting has such an intimate knowledge of budgets and financial transactions that they can make corrections with very little effort. This is a good place for groups that are new, haven’t developed strong administrative processes, or have experienced fraud in the past. It can feel very intimidating to give that up.

As a non-profit grows, and as budget availability increases, it begins to make little sense for the ED to handle the accounting. Compare an executive director’s hourly wage to a contract bookkeeper’s hourly wage and it starts to become clearer that an ED’s time could be used in more impactful ways, such as finding additional funding or running additional programming.

Growth and change are allowed.

When a non-profit relies on the executive director to handle all programming, the truth is they are likely also leaning on unpaid volunteers to fill in the extra manpower. That’s helpful for non-profits with small budgets because the organization can accomplish great things with low cost. But that can’t last forever.

Eventually volunteers get burned out, get bored, or want to spend their time on other things. So, the executive director might think about hiring a permanent employee to handle programming tasks. To be successful when hiring additional programming support, a non-profit usually needs to be a little more advanced to have the budget to not only hire another employee, but the budget to run the additional programs to keep the new staffer busy.

Look at the nuances.

Finding the nuance of who to hire and when, doesn’t need to be the same path for every executive director or every non-profit. Some non-profits might want to really focus on getting their administrative processes established and so, an executive director, even an experienced one, spends their time making that happen.

Other non-profit’s might have already built their strong administrative systems and may even have one or two program staff on the team. So, an executive director explores what the next step might be. This often coincides with staffing changes, so no one needs to be laid off. This opens the door for the executive director to decide what is best shift for the organization at this stage.

It might be a senior staffer stepping into the ED position, but still wanting to retain aspects of their program work, so they hire a bookkeeper, or an admin assistant, or even a social media assistant.

It might be a long-term executive director who feels the administrative pieces are not as complex as they once were. So, they move the overly experienced admin assistant into a program role and split up the admin work between the whole team.

There are so many options.  

Decide today and change it tomorrow.

Executive directors can get really locked into building a staff team that the board wants, or the membership wants, or the funders want. There can be a great deal of guilt when people aren’t happy, and the decision can feel impossible.

Rather than trying to please everyone, or remain stuck in past structures, an executive director can take some time to observe the organization. What didn’t work in the past that is working well now? What did work I the past that is no longer relevant? How does the organization want to grow and change?

With a little observation, a little creativity, and a lot of forward thinking, and executive director will discover the right kind of employee to hire. Oh, and the best part? It can always be changed. In a few years when the staff team fluctuates, as it always does, positions can be adjusted, and a different new employee can be hired.

Your turn.

How has your non-profit staff team changed over the years? Who was your first employee? How many do you have now? I want to know! Please use the form on the side of the page to let me know, ..or send me an email, ..or message me on socials.


Hi, I'm Christie. I help executive directors develop the systems and processes needed to run a non-profit.

I learned early in my career, there is no non-profit school. Browsing the internet for resources from big-city experts doesn’t provide practical solutions to balance the budget, write a work plan, or conduct an employee evaluation. Leadership development tips don’t really resonate when you are also taking out the recycling and cleaning the washroom.

I created ChristieSaas.com so non-profit leaders never need to wonder how to do the job – no matter how big or small that job is.

I have been the executive director of small-team, small-budget, non-profits for 20+ years. My experience isn’t theory. It is the real, operational, and practical solutions I use every day.

I love my work and I want to help you love yours too.

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