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Writing Strong Job Descriptions: Why They Matter


Different seasons bring different news in an organization. Sometimes, a change in seasons brings something unexpected: resignation letters. Whether it is the fiscal year-end or the summer rush to change jobs before schools starts, every nonprofit organization has faced the daunting task of replacing talent through unanticipated departures. Few people want the extra work of hiring a new employee, but this situation can create a surprise advantage for managers. When posting a job opening, a well-written job description will not only attract strong candidates but also set the organization up for employee success.

PMA has conducted searches for dozens of organizations. In our experience, we have found that a robust job description provides clarity for applicants, managers and the overall organization about how this particular job opening impacts the collective work of the group. If written well, a job description provides clear job expectations for an employee in the following ways:

  • Orientation. A clear job description will intuitively provide a list of stakeholders and peers who will become a basis of orientation for a new employee. For example, a development director may need relationship management skills, especially with key donors. Note this required skill in the job description and internally keep a list of these donors so the new employee can start quickly on day one. An integrated employee is usually a more motivated one as well.
  • Performance. Each employee in a nonprofit organization should have a performance plan. PMA understands that human resources may be completed by limited resources in some nonprofits, but a performance plan for each employee creates productivity, motivation and structure for the workplace. A detailed job description can become an employee performance plan simply by adding performance measurements and dates to the document and reviewing the plan quarterly.
  • Pay and Recognition. A salary is usually set by budget and market expectations and not communicated in a job posting, so how could a job description help with salary? When transparent job details are shared with an applicant, he or she is less likely to be surprised by the salary range (if it is market appropriate). A job description also allows a manager to understand where an employee is meeting or exceeding expectations, which should result in cash or non-cash recognition for the employee and/or the team.
  • Training. When hiring a new employee, he or she may not fit every category in the qualifications for the new job. A documented job description inherently gives a foundation from which to start training a new employee. Maybe a candidate doesn’t have the nonprofit experience for a position, but he or she has command of the analytical skills needed for the role. Insert any ideas for training, such as Leadership Gift School or AFP, into the performance plan, which is based on the job description.
  • Career Development. A robust job description also offers candidates and ultimately new employees insight into possible job expansion and career development. An overqualified candidate may be interested in a different role purely for the career growth opportunities. He or she will not know this is a possibility unless some general language about growth is included in the job description or informational interviews. On the flip side, a detailed job description is also valuable when an employee is not meeting his or her goals. Documentation of expectations from day one of employment gives security to management when it is time to let someone go.

Writing a good job description may seem like a nuisance or even an unwelcome weekend activity when the time comes, but investing the time and effort in it will more than pay off in the end. Patrick Wright, professor of business management at the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, recently said in an interview, “It still remains to be seen how rapid economic growth may be … but based on the assumption of growth, there will be a lot of people that will start looking for new jobs. The perception is always that the grass is greener on the other side.” While talent may move to other roles in other organizations, any nonprofit is capable of conducting a strong search and hiring good candidates with a well-written job description.

Looking for more advice about talent development and search? Contact Sally Loftis today via email at