“We built our staff from the bottom up.”
Linda Casey wasn’t hired as Director of Development & Program at Bridgeport Rescue Mission because of her experience.
In fact, she didn’t have any development experience when she came aboard.
Linda began her career at Procter and Gamble. “My background was sales and marketing, with a heavy leaning toward sales.” When she left that job, it was because she felt the call to a new path… but to what path exactly, she had no idea.
“For the first time in my long career, I didn’t know what God had for me,” she remembers. “I didn’t feel called to sales and marketing, or consulting.” She began working at her church, which was a complete departure from any of her prior work experience.
“I had a strong sense I was supposed to work at the church. In retrospect, I can see working there was a critical time of preparation that God put in my path,” Linda says.
While she was working in that role, she was also working through the book The Path: Creating Your Mission Statement for Work and for Life by Laurie Beth Jones to figure out her mission statement and God’s plan. “We all have junctures in life,” she says. “I spent almost a year working through that book and writing my mission statement.” When she finished, her vision statement was a touchstone for her next steps.
That’s when she was offered an opportunity to work at Bridgeport Rescue Mission in development. “I was afraid to go back and read my vision statement,” she says with a laugh. “I wanted that job! But the job and my vision statement fit hand-in-glove.”
Vici Myers has worked in business development and ministry for a good part of her professional career and now serves on the development team at Union Rescue Mission. She’s passionate about Rescue Mission work and communicating that message effectively to inspire others to join God at work in this life changing ministry.
Linda had never worked at a Rescue Mission… and she had no development experience. But she recalls that Terry Wilcox, the Mission’s Executive Director at that time, wasn’t looking only at candidates who knew the ins and outs of development – he was looking for people with the skill set necessary to fundraise.
I was hired because Terry saw I had passion, maturity, character and a teachable spirit, along with some raw experience that paralleled the skills necessary to succeed in development.
Linda notes that when hiring, Terry illustrates a lesson that’s exceedingly important for CEOs: his commitment to training and support. It’s especially important for executives in nonprofits who may not have the budget to hire a candidate with lots of experience. “Training for me was critical,” she says. “Terry understood that he had to invest in me as a fundraising professional if we were going to be successful… so he set up opportunities for me.”
An agency can often be an important partner in supporting new hires. When Linda chose to work with ENEX GROUP (which has since merged with Brewer Direct), it was because “they listened well and were open and willing to teach the nuances of fundraising to someone who didn’t have a lot of fundraising experience.”
Through working with the right agency, Linda learned invaluable lessons about the business of fundraising. “I realized I was willing to learn, and they were willing to educate me in the most effective ways to build relationships with donors… including the cycle of giving.”
Over her 10 years at Bridgeport Rescue Mission, as the Mission’s development program (and budget!) grew, Linda learned about making the right hires. “When I started, I was the only development person and we had a part-time gift entry staff member,” she remembers. “Once we hired ENEX GROUP, the first thing we did was hire a full-time gift entry person to handle the increased flow of contributions. We wanted to lay the foundational pieces to build our system well.”
You have to be honest about what kind of resources and staff you need in order to execute well. Our motto was, we're looking for excellence, not perfection.
Linda also hired people with the right set of skills, not just experience. People who were hard workers and passionate, willing to learn and driven, were always her top choice. “We were intent on building a very strong foundation that was broad,” she says. “We weren’t interested in the quick fix.”
“We built our development team from the bottom up,” she says. And she found great benefits to hiring this way. “I never asked my staff to do anything I wasn’t willing to do or hadn’t already done myself. That’s the value of growing from the bottom up. You can appreciate not only the importance of each task and why it’s being done, but you can help teach the principles over and over again.”
By the end of her 10-year tenure at Bridgeport Rescue Mission, the operating budget was over triple what it was when she started. Linda believes that because they focused on excellence in their strategies and in hiring staff, they were able to build a solid foundation for long-term growth.
Her final word to other nonprofits looking to hire? “Often, people come to fundraising for nonprofits because they’re so passionate about it. But you have to do a good job vetting not just passion, but also, their skills and drive. We built from the bottom and grew to the top – and that served us well over the long haul.”
Want more? For this month’s “Need to Read” on 3 questions to ask when hiring on a nonprofit budget, click here.
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