Photo by ninitta on Canva
3 min Read
March 22, 2023

4 questions to guide your next communications hire

If you’ve experienced a lot of comings and goings on your nonprofit staff in the last few years, you’re not alone (see: Great Resignation). When a key member of your marketing or communications team transitions on to their next challenge, you’re left with some shoes to fill—and an opportunity to step back and consider these four key questions about your communications function overall.

Before you dust off the old job description, carve out some time to take a step back. The questions below can help you hire for growth and stay focused on your organization’s strategic communications priorities.

What kinds of communications skills and expertise do you need on your team?

Think about what you’d like your organization’s communications function to look like in five years. If you have a strategic plan or specific strategic communications goals, give them a skim to ensure your vision is grounded in the bigger-picture strategy.

Perhaps you envision increasing enrollment, cultivating partnerships, or growing your audience on social media. You might need someone who’s a great content creator and can take point on implementing your communications plans, or you might need someone who can see the bigger strategic picture and shape your communications function accordingly. Whatever you identify as the priorities, translating those goals into communications capacity—recruitment, digital marketing, online fundraising, search optimization, content strategy, public relations, speaking, and more—can help you identify what skills you already have represented on your team, and what onescan take this chance to build. 

What are the biggest sticking points in your current communications workflows?

Consider what’s holding you back from that five-year vision. Here are a few of the issues we often see when we look at nonprofit communications teams: 

  • Structural disconnects between development and communications
  • Difficulty creating a fluid exchange of ideas, stories, and opportunities between your communications team and your colleagues working on the ground to advance your organization’s mission
  • Limited or outdated systems, including project management tools and internal workflows, for managing communications (in other words, the communications “machine” is rusty and lacks momentum)
  • Plain old not-enough-time-or-money

A new hire could bring specific skills and professional experiences to help your team work past some of those obstacles.

Back to the beginning: what role are we really hiring for?

With your strategic needs and growth opportunities in mind, take a look at the communications team as a whole. What role(s) do you need to fill those gaps and build on your strengths?

Maybe you’ve identified a need for team members with specialized skills, or someone who can bring to life a specific vision of your organization’s communications function. Maybe this is an opportunity to make your communications team bigger or smaller, or integrated with leadership and development teams in different ways. Maybe the vacant role is still the one you need, but the job description could use some sharpening and re-prioritizing.

What do we need to prioritize in this hire?
  • The job description is typically a comprehensive list of all the skills and competencies you require in the role, and it’s an important starting point for any hiring process—but it doesn’t give you a clear sense of priorities.

As you look through the list of job responsibilities, which of the items are musts from day one, and which represent skills that a candidate could build over time? What are the “need to haves” and what are the “nice to haves”? Capture the priorities in a hiring brief—a simple strategic document that summarizes what you are looking for in this hire, which skills are most crucial, and what kinds of experience a highly-qualified candidate will bring.


Whether you’re answering these questions through a comprehensive research and discovery process or just taking an afternoon to think it through with a colleague, taking a pause to strategize will help you make stronger, smarter hires

Visit our website to learn more about how Big Duck helps nonprofits strengthen their communications teams, including a case study of our process working with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice on hiring for a senior communications role.