Nonprofit HR’s Executive Search team places hundreds of candidates in positions each year. This story features a recent placement who is making incredible impacts in the social sector.
Interviewee: Suzi Spahr
Organization: North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association
Title: Executive Director
In Their Own Words – Executive Search Highlights
Nonprofit HR: What lead you to a career in the nonprofit sector? What skills do you think you bring to the sector?
Spahr: I most recently worked in the private sector for three years after spending 17 years in government. In the for-profit sector, there is so much focus on the bottom line and not as much focus on missions. In that experience, I found that I am not as motivated by personal financial gain. Personally, I am motivated by being committed to a larger mission which is likely a result of all the time I spent in government. I was also looking for an organization where I felt I was making a difference. I also have a deep appreciation for the agriculture industry.
I believe I bring strong organization skills to this sector. I have always been very organized which may just be more innate to me. Given the limited capacity of many nonprofits, it is very easy for nonprofits to focus on getting things done without doing it in a structured way. But, I believe I bring structure, organization, and stability to our nonprofit. Overall, my goal is to improve organizations with processes and procedures that add clarity of process for everyone and works for the whole.
Nonprofit HR: What drew you to your current organization’s mission? What do you love about it?
Spahr: NAFDMA, the International Agritourism Association, is a membership-based non-profit trade association dedicated to advancing the farm direct marketing and agritourism industries. I was drawn to the organization because I actually have a personal connection to agriculture as my dad and brother farm. Growing up, I wanted to completely get out of my small community where everyone knew everyone. So, when I went off to school, I was more drawn to an urban setting. In doing so, however, I eventually realized how few people understand the value of rural and agricultural communities. Moving away from my small community I found a new appreciation for hard work, earning an honest living, and just the beauty of seeing what you can grow and enjoy what you eat that night. I think that idea is lost in the general public. If people think their food is just from a grocery store, the concept is lost to them.
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Nonprofit HR: What do you love about the culture of NAFDMA?
Spahr: I enjoy the dynamic of smaller teams. I have worked for my state’s House of Representatives, Governor’s office and Department of Agriculture which had teams of about 25-50 with different cultures and styles. There were never the same people in the office on a daily basis. But while the number of staff was larger, many times I worked with just a few staff on smaller teams that were isolated to individual tasks. I think it is easier to work with smaller groups because you get to know individuals better. You get to know their strengths, where they want to grow and how to help them along that path. Also, the staff respects hard work which is a core value of many of our members. Our members recognize that things may not come easy, but they appreciate if you continue you will get things done. Our staff reflects that.
One thing that is very different is the fact that the staff is all remote and based out of three states. There is no virtual water cooler, so we spend a lot of time on the phone. Given the physical distance, we have to work harder at understanding body language.
Nonprofit HR: What excites you the most about your new role?
Spahr: I am excited about the potential for growth in the area. Agri-tourism is a growing industry and producers are looking to diversify their operations and grow in other ways. It will be interesting to see where it could go and grow.
While I am not a producer, I am very impressed with the producers with whom I work. This is one way to use my skills to help the farmers and those in agriculture tell their stories in unique and fun ways. I am happy to share those stories and to foster the growth of individuals and of the industry. I was incredibly impressed with the high intelligence and amazing commitment of our members to share their personal stories of agriculture. Farmers are astute business people who understand their customers very well.
Nonprofit HR: What impact do you wish to have in your new role?
Spahr: I hope to bring organization and structure to NAFDMA. The organization had both for a while but some were lost, and I am hoping to reinstate it. I also want to bring new ideas and a new perspective on the industry. The current staff has not lived agriculture so they can bring a much different perspective. One staff member has a background in AV and teaching. He brings knowledge and understanding of how to make a quality product and strong organization skills. Another individual has so much heart. She is very optimistic and very good at building relationships, bridging gaps with members, and delivering the value they need. I am a big believer in lifelong learning and began the process of setting up development goals for them to grow personally and professionally. I hope to be the source of providing that structure for them to do so.
Nonprofit HR: What advice would you give job seekers looking for their next dream role in the sector?
Spahr: Keep an open mind and keep looking. Change is always inevitable in organizations even when it may seem entrenched for eons. You never know when the next change will occur, just be open and ready for them. And, keep looking.
Spahr: I valued the high level of connectivity between me and Executive Search Consultant, Danisha Martin. Having Danisha as the point person to facilitate the process along with her ability to be open and accessible as an intermediary was phenomenal. Normally when interviewing, job seekers do not have a middle person and there are questions you feel you cannot ask. With an intermediary, you can ask those questions earlier and determine earlier in the game if a position is the right one for you. The clarity and transparency were stellar and Danisha is just phenomenal!
Nonprofit HR: How has the team exceeded your expectations while working with us?
Spahr: Danisha blew me away. She was aware of all details before going into all meetings. I mostly appreciate the continued reaching out and touching base even after the placement. She continues to check-in and be a third-party sounding board as I settle into my role. That on-going support has really been something I appreciate.
Danisha Martin shares recruiting tips in this recent Nonprofit HR webinar Virtualizing Your Recruitment and Onboarding Experience – download and watch it now!
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