What’s Hot in Nonprofit Staffing?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 24th, 2017 in Thoughts & Commentary

0 comment

It’s my practice to always keep an eye on the sector, taking its pulse, monitoring the trends to see what is a blip, what’s moving from trend to part of the fabric, and everything in between.  Executive directors who don’t do this risk harming their organizations. , I read a lot—and I mean a lot, from the solid, academic journals to the lay publications, the revered to the trash.  The variety of sources helps me sort the wheat from the chaff, to pick out the trends from the hype, the serious from the self-promotion.

A recent article from Fast Company that identified the three hottest new staff positions coming now to a nonprofit near you—or so they would have you believe.  They are interesting concepts and point out, for the most part, clear gaps in many nonprofits.  But the idea that the majority of nonprofits—when you consider that three quarters of nonprofits have budgets under $500,000—have the staff capacity to hire any of these positions is ridiculous.

The three positions are:  Chief Culture Officer, Data Scientist and UX Officer.

I get the job responsibilities of a Chief Culture Officer—or at least I thought I did.  And, I value the importance of these responsibilities, but question whether any nonprofit should invest in such a position.  According to Fast Company, the responsibilities of this position “… in the nonprofit world includes managing the organization’s relationship with the community, implementing wellness and health initiatives, and drawing up policies for avoiding burnout. They’re usually also the person in charge of overseeing hiring and staffing decisions, particularly those that lead to an inclusive and equitable workplace.”

With the exception of the first item in this list—“managing the organization’s relationship with the community”–this actually sounds like a highly competent HR director.  But most nonprofits, due to their size, don’t have a dedicated HR director at all.  So HR roles fall to the executive director–and program directors/managers, if there are such positions.

But, let’s take a step back:  establishing, nurturing, maintaining an organization’s culture is and should be the executive director’s job, with every other employee helping.  The executive director should be thinking about wellness initiatives and avoiding burnout and building and insuring an “inclusive and equitable workplace.”  That’s included in the part of the job that is working on the organization.  Less time working in the organization and more time working on the organization and the average nonprofit doesn’t need a chief culture officer; it just needs a really good executive director.

As for managing the relationships with the community?  If there is any executive director not already expected to be doing that, the author of that job description needs to be fired immediately.  If an organization has the financial capacity that would allow for the conversation to consider whether to hire a Chief Culture Officer, I would suggest rewriting the executive director’s job description. If the current person in that position is not capable of doing the newly crafted position, say good-bye, spend some more money and hire the person who can do it.  Take the remaining money you would have spent on the Chief Culture Officer and hire a great development or marketing person.

Data Scientist.  Despite its somewhat off-putting title, this is a position that should be wildly embraced.  Every nonprofit should have this role, though, sadly, few can afford it.  With the increasing, and rightfully so, demands for real proof of impact, the importance of collecting the right data—and making sure it is good data, that answers the question of impact, gathered through a solid, well-designed process that is fully within the organization’s capacity to execute—and using it well and appropriately is mandatory.  The likelihood that program staff have the research expertise and/or time to be this data wonk is slim, regardless of whether they have the desire.  But there is an urgent need to make the collection and use of data an integral part of operating procedure in every nonprofit, data that come from within the organization and data that come from other sources, be that data from collaborative organizations, professional researchers, academics, etc.  Every nonprofit must become fluent in data, using it to improve services, to convince donors to invest, to tell their stories.  And it is going to take someone fluent in data who will be dedicated to the task of converting others to the language and wonders of data.

Clearly, I will not be hiring a UX Officer anytime soon, as I have absolutely no idea what this position is all about.  Fast Company’s explanation provides little enlightenment for me:  “At the intersection of culture and data is user experience. This isn’t solely about making your website better, either (though it certainly includes that). For nonprofits, full user experience design and evaluation spans the on- and offline processes that clients work through in order to make use of an organization’s programs and services.  So nonprofits are investing more in hiring in-house user experience experts to help them get that right.”

Got it?  Maybe a UX Officer and an Interactive Designer, another new position I’ve tripped across, could get along well.  But I’m sure the Interactive Designer and Data Scientist also could be an awesome collaborative duo.  Don’t know what an Interactive Designer does?  An Interactive Designer is a visual storyteller, or, as described in the job description I saw is:  “primarily responsible for conceptualizing, designing and developing engaging interactive visual stories and data visualizations that work across multiple platforms (desktop, mobile, social).”

There is no question but that we all must evolve with the times and be innovative, otherwise we die.  But, there is cake, and there is icing.  I get that people’s preferences vary:  some like the cake more than the icing, others prefer the opposite and still others only like them when truly eaten together.  Unfortunately, as nonprofits we must know what goes into the cake, and make the most delicious cake possible.  Then, and only then, may we go for the icing.








The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.