3 Smart Reasons Why Nonprofits Should Hire Candidates with Personal Brands

Recently, there’s been talk among nonprofit millennials about how personal branding might negatively influence the potential for an individual to be hired…. even though personal branding will make you better at your job. The idea is that nonprofit HR folks may note the strength of a candidate’s personal brand and take it as an indicator that a candidate may be more concerned with their own brand than the organization’s brand. Overlooking a candidate with a strong personal brand because you’re worried that they will care more about themselves than the company is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Some of that worry is practical. Members of Generation Y (a large portion of those with personal brands) don’t feel the same level of personal connectivity to their jobs as Baby Boomers and Traditionalists that came before them. In fact, members of Generation Y aren’t as likely to consider their organization of employment to be as integral an aspect of their personal identity, and Gen Y has different workplace motivators. Is that a bad thing for organizations? Maybe. But the world keeps moving and we are entering a future that is ruled by information, ideas, and an entrepreneurial mindset. A big part of that is keeping a fresh perspective.


1. Personal branding is indicative of an Institutional Manager– which is the kind you want to hire. In the popular Harvard Business Review article, Power is the Great Motivator, David McClelland and David H. Burnham identify three types of motivation: power, achievement, and affiliation. Arguably, of these three, candidates with a personal brand fall into the desire for achievement category (there are over 50 million blogs so power isn’t as direct, and personal branding doesn’t necessitate a need-to-please, especially since controversial posts often get the most traffic).  The Institutional Manager is identified as the most effective organizational leader and is someone who is highly motivated by both power and achievement. On top of this, the authors found that for folks with balanced power and achievement motivation, then “stories about power tend to be altruistic.” This is more than an ideal manager; it’s the ideal nonprofit manager. This ideal leader is driven by achievement motivation; the same kind of motivation driving those with personal brands.

The opposite of the institutional manager is the personal-power manager. This is the kind of manager that people think they are weeding out if they cut out candidates with personal brands. These candidates are only motivated insofar as the organizational operations result in personal power. The personal-power manager has high power motivation like the institutional manager, but has low achievement motivation. Not only is personal branding indicative of an institutional manager because it necessitates achievement motivation, but it is directly at odds with literature on the personal-power manager.


2. Personal branders allow you to tap into a tribe. Speaking of power motivation, we nonprofiteers have that, too.  According to popular blogger and author, Seth Godin, what we all want is to change things. Nonprofit employees, arguably more so than private sector employees, want to change things. Many of us believe strongly in large-scale change or we wouldn’t be working in the sector. What Seth Godin argues is that leaders spread ideas about change by leading tribes. Tribes are silos of interest and Godin argues that tribes will change the world; “It’s about leading and connecting people and ideas.” People with (good) personal brands and a message usually have a tribe– or a group of similarly interested folks who are interested in or agree with their message.

Especially for those interested in nonprofits, personal branding is often about connecting people in order to create change. When you hire a person with a personal brand, you’re signing on their tribe. Your organization will be a key part of their ideas and learning, and that person will share their lessons and passions for your organization– and likely its mission. As a slightly related side, word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most powerful kinds of marketing.  Social media is a mecca for word-of-mouth marketing and if you’re signing on someone and your organization is becoming part of their personal brand, then they are recommending you to their tribe.


3. Personal branders are social-tech, brand, and community conscious– and you likely need these areas of expertise in your organization. People on social media are constantly connected to other people, and they often know what’s going on in an industry thanks to their networks. A successful personal brand utilizes social media. If you hire someone with a strong personal brand, then that candidate is likely knowledgable in at least three areas that are important in the business world right now: social technology, branding, and community.

  • Social technology: This person knows how to utilize Facebook, Twitter, and other sites to spread a message– or at the very least they’ve had experience with spreading a message.
  • Brand: If the candidate has built a strong brand on their own, then they’ve developed branding skills that can be utilized by your organization. There’s a lot to learn here: the proper amount of transparency, tone, and the way to think about brands in this era of the social media revolution. Hire someone who knows and you’ll save time on trial and error.
  • Community: As mentioned above, a good personal brand is about building a strong community and getting the attention and respect from the right tribe. This person knows how to connect with other people through the Internet; a skill that will become increasingly desired.


While there may be a tendency to think that job candidates with personal brands may be personal-power managers, the tendency is often unfounded. This is not to say that there aren’t a few bad apples in the bunch, but if a person would be a personal-power manager, there are likely hints of this in their personal brand. Instead, it may be helpful to think of personal branding as a resume of the future; folks can often control their personal brand much like they write their own resume. Social media is already helping organizations hire employees more intelligently. Looking for candidates with personal brands that match your organization’s goals and mission may be a key indicator that the candidate has the characteristics your organization not only wants, but needs in order to survive.

And if you don’t have a personal brand, what are you waiting for?

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 12 Comments

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

12 Responses to 3 Smart Reasons Why Nonprofits Should Hire Candidates with Personal Brands

  1. Jeff Guin

    Enjoyed the post, Colleen. As more people grow up empowered by the web, I don’t think non-profits will have much choice if they want the competitive advantage of effective advocates, and not just workers. The going has been slow, particularly in cultural heritage professions. But the economy is forcing traditionalist organizations to take stock in their future, which is not among the “philanthropic few” anymore. Gen Y will need every advantage as Gen X’ers and even Baby Boomers continue to flood into new media retrograde and begin finding their voices as well.

    • colleendilen

      That’s a good point about the competitive advantage bit.

      “Gen Y will need every advantage as Gen X’ers and even Baby Boomers continue to flood into new media retrograde and begin finding their voices as well.”Very well said!

  2. Dan Schawbel

    Personal brands can help promote non-profit’s and vice verse. When someone is well-known, they can attract attention to a non-profit that people didn’t know about. It’s important to find the right person though, whose values coincide with the non-profits.

    • colleendilen

      Thanks for the comment, Dan. I think your absolutely right: hiring on somebody with incorrect values for the position is not a good idea regardless of whether or not they have a personal brand.

  3. Jorgen Sundberg

    This is a really good post Colleen, well researched and presented. A recommendation for you would be to add sharing buttons, and to move the Tweet button up to the top of the page as I had to look for it a bit too long – you want to make it dead easy for Joe Websurfer to share you great content. Cheers from London!

    • colleendilen

      Thanks for the kind words, Jorgen. Thanks, also, for the layout pointers. I appreciate it very much!

  4. Pam Schwartz

    Excellent post Colleen! An effective personal brand is not an easy thing to accomplish
    (I know from constantly working on mine) and I agree that employers should be taking note of the initiative it takes. As Dan mentioned, somebody who is already part of a tribe has the potential to increase visibility to your institution and to help you create your own tribe of dedicated followers.

    • colleendilen

      Thanks for the comment, Pam. I also know first hand that an effective personal brand takes hard work! 🙂

  5. Nathan

    Colleen – great post, nice to be intro’d to your blog. I wonder how many people tap their personal brand/network for the benefit of their organization? And vice-versa? Then what happens with turnover? In the fundraising world it’s considered unethical to build a personal relationship with a donor and take that donor with you when/if you change organizations – but it happens all the time. Hmm, might have a follow-up blog topic. You got me thinking, thx again – keep up the great work!

    • colleendilen

      Wow. Yes, there’s a lot of meat here that would make for a very interesting blog post. While it is considered unethical for development professionals to build personal relationships and take donors with them when they change organizations, I also wonder what that looks like in reality. I also wonder if the onset of social media plays a role in this and if it may be considered less unethical over time…

      Please keep me posted if you write a follow-up post. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts and what you find.

  6. Tony Martignetti

    Well thought out, Colleen,

    I suspect all the comments come from those who are branded. I’d like to hear the perspectives of HR pros and executive directors. Did you post to any HR forums? (Of course, we’re grateful for the comments that come and don’t regret those that don’t.)

    I’ve bookmarked your post. Tony

  7. Corina M. Paraschiv

    Re: your no.2 point: I think museums are not jut about the physical artwork in them — otherwise you’d just hire about anybody and invest all your money into just having a great collection — and every other museum out there without too many “great pieces” would be forever forgotten by the public. Instead, I think that – like in any organization – what makes a museum is the people in it. The people working there. It would make sense to hire people with ideas and inspiration because that’s how a museum gets created in the first place!


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