In Their Own Words: Paul A. LaLonde, SHRM-CP | Nonprofit HR

In Their Own Words: Paul A. LaLonde, SHRM-CP

In Their Own Words: Paul A. LaLonde, SHRM-CP


Nonprofit HR’s Talent Acquisition team places hundreds of candidates in positions each year. This story features a recent placement that is making incredible impacts in the social sector.

What lead you to a career in the nonprofit sector? What skills do you think you bring to the sector?

As part of my MPA program at Northern Illinois University, I interned for a local municipality that did business with a local nonprofit. When I graduated, a position opened up at the nonprofit that allowed me to immediately apply much of the knowledge I gained during my MPA program. While City governance was my primary interest during my studies, this was a welcomed job opportunity as I developed an appreciation of the attitudes and comradery of the nonprofit sector during my internship. I have now been in nonprofits for my entire professional career. I started as a program director, but as is the case with many nonprofit professionals, I wore different hats including the HR hat. It turns out that I enjoyed HR and moved up the chains to become this nonprofit’s first HR director.

I have been fortunate enough to bring my skills to a range of missions from community transportation for seniors and individuals with disabilities, nutrition programs for seniors, summer food programs for kids, and most recently a community action agency. My number one mantra is lead with empathy. This approach helps me to better understand clients and employees, which is critical because everyone is very different and requires empathy to understand varying perspectives and viewpoints.

What drew you to your current organization’s mission? What do you love about it?

I currently work at the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County, Inc. (CEDA) which is one of the nation’s largest private, nonprofit Community Action Agencies. I started in November 2019. Its mission is to work in partnership with communities to empower individuals and families to achieve self-sufficiency and improve their quality of life. Prior to joining the CEDA team, I worked with other community action agencies in an ancillary way during my time at my previous employer. So, I was excited about the opportunity to be a part of CEDA and become more familiar with the broad impact it has on the community.

CEDA has vast reach and impact as the second largest community action agency in the country. A myriad of initiatives stem from its five-pronged strategic approach and each is so different. Being able to move from one specialized or narrow mission-focus to multiple is exciting. We serve more than 300,000 people and 150,000 households every year which is motivating. Also, working with CEDA also gave me the opportunity to move from a rural nonprofit to an urban one.

What do you love about the culture of your new organization?

I really love CEDA’s culture, in that, employees are really reflective of our mission. At the end of the day, we serve others and that is the approach that much of the staff reflects. Teamwork and keeping an eye on the mission are mirrored in the way the staff interacts with each other. The staff has each other’s backs, and that has been magnified in this time of crisis. I love that we have not lost sight of the little things. Managers still email good news and celebrate wins. This confirms to me that winning cultures are built through the little things we do.

Since I arrived at CEDA, I have tried to contribute to our culture by turning HR in to a much more communicative, customer-focused department. I’ve done this by upping the communication! I send frequent all-staff emails, get out of the office and talk with folks, do random check-ins, and learn about our employees and their families. Overall, they have seemed to appreciate the transparency and presence.

What excites you the most about your new role? And, what impact do you wish to have in your new role?

Prior to my arrival, there was some turnover, and my goal was to set a foundation and seize the opportunity to build a world-class HR department. Since starting, I have hired two additional staff and am focused on stability and developing a customer service orientation within our department. I want our department to be responsive to the needs of employees and to also make CEDA an employer of choice. To put it simply, my goal is to be a world-class HR department with an understanding that focusing on talent will drive CEDA’s impact in the community.

Also, I hope to adjust the perceptions of HR, making it a vital part of the organization that is not just transactional. I want our team to be viewed as strategic partners. I do not want HR to be just the place folks go for FMLA questions. I want the HR department to be a place where people go for career advice, coaching moments, and organizational theory. My goal is to create a better experience for employees. It is people over the process for me.

What advice would you give job seekers looking for their next dream role in the sector?

Be open to new experiences. Most of my professional nonprofit career has been rural, and I never thought I would go to “the big city.” Still, I challenged myself to go outside of my comfort zone. So, be open to taking risks. Also, do not tell yourself that you are not qualified for a position. Do your best to convince potential employers that you are the right person for the job. Leave it to the potential employer to tell you that you are not the right fit for the role if that is truly the case.

What was the most valuable part of the Direct Hire process? What should we keep the same?

I primarily worked with Yvonne Rivera from the talent acquisition team, and my experience with her was so valuable. It was the first time I worked with a recruiter and do not have another experience to compare it to, but I have heard that a good recruiter can make or break the process. Yvonne was an amazing recruiter. She was always available, warm, and made me feel comfortable. She gave me useful tips along the way and showed me that she was invested in working with people. It clearly not just about a paycheck for her. I could tell she wants to make the experience with the candidate very positive.

I found the prescreening process extremely efficient. There weren’t too many interviews or long drawn out interviews, which I appreciated. I had about four interviews all together and two of those were with CEDA team. The other two were with Yvonne.

How has the team exceeded your expectations while working with us?

Since I did not work with a recruiter before, I did not really have many expectations. It is so easy to get into a bit of a rut while job searching, but Yvonne lifted me out of that. She encouraged me and treated me as an individual, not just another placement. She could easily see where I was going, which was helpful and is something I will not forget.

I also want to add that as a whole, I have worked with several Nonprofit HR staff (Yvonne, Lisa Wright Ponce, and Megan Carpenter). Every person has been wonderful to work with, and I now consider Lisa a friend. I am looking forward to working with Lisa and Megan going forward. Everyone has been a 10 out of 10!






By |2020-06-12T17:39:55-04:00June 12th, 2020|Nonprofit HR News|0 Comments