CASA: A Guide to Program Development

Section 1 - Planning a Quality Program (Chapters 1- 9)
Section II - Volunteers (Chapters 10- 12)
Section III - Managing the Program (Chapters - 13-15)

<Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Section I - Planning a Quality Program
Chapter 7: Staffing the Program

Where to Begin
Developing the Job Description & Qualifications
  - Getting the Word Out
  - Reviewing Resumes
  - Interviewing
  - Other Screening Requirements
  - Selection and Hiring
  - Employee vs. Contract Consultant
  - Additional Staff

The steering committee is likely to realize very quickly that in order to get a program fully operational, it will be necessary to have staff. Initial staffing is often a catch-22 situation -- hiring an employee requires funding, but to be successful obtaining funding you need staff to coordinate and oversee fundraising activities.

At this point someone usually wonders aloud if the development of the program can continue without paid staff. After all, members have volunteered their time to do everything needed and things are progressing well thus far. Perhaps, the group may speculate, they could find a volunteer to run the office for a while until they have the necessary funds.

While having a volunteer run the office is one option, it may not be the best choice. Though a volunteer may be well qualified, hiring a salaried employee guarantees a time commitment and a regular work schedule. It also allows the board to have control over the nature and priorities of the work to be done and provides overall continuity for the program development effort.

Having professional staff is also an important step in establishing the credibility of the program with other professionals in the community, and it is staff who will assure the quality of the program?s day to day operations.


Where to Begin

The selection of the director is the most critical hiring decision for the start-up program. Even the most dedicated volunteers can make only limited impact without adequate supervision and guidance. Since both program quality and viability are highly correlated with effective management, it is important the director be chosen wisely.

Initially, the board must decide whether to hire a full-time or part-time person. The decision should be based on the defined duties the person will be expected to perform; how involved board members intend to be in policy development and fundraising, and how many volunteers are projected for the first year or so. The experience of most directors in starting programs is that, even if the board is active and involved, the job requires at least 40 hours a week if it is to be done well. Most new directors find they spend full-time hours even if they are paid for part-time. If there is any way possible to generate enough funds, it is cost effective in the long run to employ a full-time director from the beginning.


Developing the Job Description & Qualifications

Finding and hiring the right staff starts with a clear, concise job description. There is no formula for the perfect one, but at a minimum, a good job description should include:

  • Basic skills required, both technical and educational;
  • Desired qualities beyond skills and education;
  • Duties and responsibilities;
  • Hours required; and
  • Who the person will report to.

Initially, the director will most likely be performing duties that will later be shifted to other staff. This should be explained during the interview process. Caution should be exercised to avoid developing a job description containing such an extensive list of duties that no one could perform them all effectively. Such a job description is frustrating for a new director and is a good way to set someone up to fail. A realistic job description serves as a guide for the employee and a basis for performance appraisals and salary increases. Key duties of an executive director usually include:

  • Hiring, training and supervising staff;
  • Conducting or overseeing recruitment, screening, training, and supervision of program volunteers;
  • Providing professional perspectives to staff and volunteers regarding services;
  • Developing and maintaining procedures for case record keeping and supervising staff and volunteers in completing record keeping tasks;
  • Developing and maintaining procedures for managing information systems;
  • Serving as a professional liaison to the court, agency personnel, and the board of directors;
  • Planning program growth and development, including special projects, budgets, annual work plans, and analysis of trends in program services;
  • Representing the program to networks of service providers, and coalitions dealing with child welfare; and
  • Overseeing day-to-day operations.

The specific experience and educational requirements should be developed by the planning committee, in keeping with the present standards for comparable positions in the community. Fundamental requirements for the executive director should include:

  • Knowledge of the juvenile justice system;
  • Awareness of trends in child welfare and permanency planning;
  • Familiarity with community resources and leaders who can facilitate establishment and growth of the program;
  • Understanding of the dynamics of child abuse and neglect;
  • Ability to provide training for volunteers and staff;
  • Good communication skills;
  • Ability to plan, organize, supervise, delegate and evaluate the program operations;
  • Knowledge of budgeting methods; and
  • Interviewing and assessment skills.

The director should also be flexible, creative, possess leadership qualities, have a professional appearance and be able to develop good working relationships with a variety of people. Remember that the executive director generally is the program?s official spokesperson in the community.

Of course, finding an individual with all of these qualifications is possible, but not very likely for a starting program. Such people are rare and they usually command much higher salaries than the program can afford. One solution to this dilemma is to focus on the skills in one area and plan to offer training in the additional areas of responsibility. This allows for the scope of duties to broaden as the demands of the program change and for the director?s salary to increase at a comparable rate.


Getting the Word Out

Recruiting the right person to fill the director?s position may require sensitivity to the local political scene. In some communities in which there is strong resistance to the CASA program, hiring an attorney or a social worker known by the professionals in the area might be a wise move. A person who has credibility and long-established personal relationships may be a real asset in the early developmental stages of the program. On the other hand, there is the possibility that conflict will arise between new responsibilities and old allegiances. The board committee will need to assess this carefully.

Finding the right person usually requires a variety of strategies. Ads placed in the local newspaper?s classified sections may bring a slew of responses, but many may be way off the mark in terms of qualifications. Sending a job announcement to your state organization, to court agencies and to other CASA programs may elicit more qualified candidates. Word of mouth is also effective, especially in small communities.


Reviewing Resumes

As resumes arrive, develop a fair and systematic process to review them, always keeping in mind what skills are required for the position. With experience, each reviewer will develop his or her own rating system. Obviously, the main points of the resume are all important ? the education, experience, skill levels, and any demonstrable communication and interpersonal abilities. Interest in and commitment to an organization?s mission should be paramount.

Start judging a candidate as soon as you open the envelope. Does the resume look like it is written with care: Are there typographical or spelling errors? Is it orderly and easy to read? Is the cover letter direct and cogent or rambling and ineffective?

To uncover more intangible qualities in a candidate, look for evidence of:

  • Sustained interest in a job or cause;
  • Loyalty to an organization;
  • Ability to be a team player;
  • Communication skills; and
  • Orientation to detail.



Conducting good interviews is a learned skill that requires careful preparation, execution and follow-up. It is perhaps hardest to master the techniques of putting applicants at ease. Proceed with the general understanding that applicants will be nervous, especially if several members of the committee are conducting the interview. During the interview, you should address administrative issues, such as salary and benefits, travel requirements and starting date, in addition to the job requirements.

All applicants should be asked a common set of questions that can help determine the candidate?s job-related skills and experience, general intelligence and aptitude, attitudes and personality. Standardizing the questions from interview to interview helps to avoid discrimination. In addition to questions about background and experience, asking questions such as the following that have been recommended by experts in human resources can provide good insight into a candidate?s suitability:

  • What was your single most noteworthy achievement or contribution in your current job?
  • What specific strengths do you bring to this job and this organization?
  • How do you make important decisions?
  • What risks did you take in previous jobs, and what was the result?

Obviously, the overall goal is to learn as much about each candidate as possible, as well as determine if that candidate?s resume is accurate. Generally, an interviewer should try to determine the candidate?s ability to do the following:

  • Plan tasks;
  • Prioritize;
  • Solve problems;
  • Work on a team;
  • Apply knowledge;
  • Know limitations;
  • Take initiative;
  • Learn on the job;
  • Communicate with colleagues.


Other Screening Requirements

All candidates should be required to submit a written application and references. As part of the application or as a separate document, be sure to obtain the person?s signed consent to contact references and conduct criminal record and child abuse registry background checks.


Selection and Hiring

Once the most qualified candidate has been selected, the offer should be made in a letter accurately stating the job offer and employment conditions. Additional documents that should be contained in the employee?s personnel record include:

  • Employment application;
  • Copy of formal job offer and written acceptance;
  • Social security number;
  • Completed Form I-9 (to document immigration status);
  • Federal, state, and local tax withholding forms as applicable.

See National CASA?s publication, Achieving Our Mission for additional discussion of the hiring process.


Employee vs. Contract Consultant

A number of developing programs have chosen to obtain the services of an independent contractor to perform the duties of a director instead of hiring an employee. While the benefits of hiring a contractor are appealing when funding is limited, caution is advised if you decide to pursue this approach.

Having a contracted person run the program poses the same concerns previously discussed in the section regarding volunteer directors. The board has no control over the individual?s schedule or priorities, and may have little recourse if work is not completed as intended.

However, the biggest risk in using a contractor is the possibility of running afoul of the Internal Revenue Service. An organization must be able to clearly show the contract arrangement is not merely a strategy to circumvent paying taxes or benefits for a person who, for all practical purposes, is functioning as an employee. To avoid this possibility, the following federal guidelines must be followed:

  • Use a written contractual agreement;
  • Make sure the contractor works for clients other than your organization;
  • Have the contractor use his or her own equipment;
  • Assign a broad project and do not supervise closely;
  • Keep written documentation showing that the person meets the criteria for an independent contractor.

If you are going to enter into such a contract, don?t forget to have an attorney review it before finalizing anything.


Additional Staff

Depending upon the level of initial funding for the program and the projected rate of growth in the initial phase of operation, the organization will want to consider how administrative support, including word processing, bookkeeping, record keeping, and receptionist duties, will be filled. Hiring a part-time person can be cost-effective in that it frees the director and board members to concentrate on fundraising and volunteer development. Some organizations have successfully filled these responsibilities using volunteers or consultants contracted for specific projects.

Again, depending upon the amount of growth projected for the program, a volunteer coordinator will most likely be needed in the early stages of the program?s growth. The national standards for volunteer supervision recommend that a full-time supervisor be assigned to no more than 30 volunteers. It is obvious then, that if the director is filling the role of supervisor in addition to administrative and other duties, volunteer supervision will be inadequate if there are more than a handful of active volunteers.

As with the director?s position, careful attention should be given to developing the job descriptions for these additional positions and to the recruiting and selecting of the individuals to fill them. The personnel committee should work closely with the director on these tasks (see examples of job descriptions in the Tools section).

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