Recruiting firm brings survivor ‘full circle’
Hire for Hope pours 10 percent of revenue into anti-domestic abuse nonprofit while empowering women in leadership.
When Ashley Ward meets with prospective clients, she cuts to the chase about her mission.
Several years ago, she experienced an abusive relationship while she was a stay-at-home mom raising her daughter.
Despite feeling trapped, Ward’s fear that her daughter might one day repeat the cycle gave her the courage to flee to Safe Haven Ministries.
The Grand Rapids nonprofit provides emergency shelter for women and children — along with counseling, support groups, education and prevention-based services.
With support from Safe Haven, Ward transitioned from unemployment to a job as a sales recruiter at New York Life Insurance.
“Through that whole transitioning period, I knew I wanted to somehow work for Safe Haven or partner with Safe Haven to give back to women who were in the same situation that I was who deserve a chance and who needed to find hope,” Ward said.
Having already earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cornerstone University, she decided to enroll in a master’s degree program for counseling, so she could help women who had gone through what she did.
But at the same time, her aptitude and passion for recruiting were blossoming.
Leaving New York Life, she worked as a recruiter at Total Quality Logistics, then took a position at an executive search firm called WilliamCharles Search Group.
As her list of contacts and number of successful placements grew, Ward decided to start her own firm focusing on recruiting executive talent for manufacturing and business-to-business services companies.
In February 2017, Hire for Hope was born. The cornerstone of Ward’s “socially conscious” business is donating 10 percent of all revenue to Safe Haven Ministries, as well as sharing her inspirational story at the nonprofit’s events and in its women’s small groups.
“(Safe Haven) impacted my life and gave me that hope to move forward and pave my own path,” she said.
Hire for Hope received a Good for the Community Award in February as part of the economic development nonprofit Local First’s inaugural Good for Grand Rapids awards.
In June, Hire for Hope won a Silver Stevie Award for Startup of the Year in the Business Services Industries category from the American Business Awards. Ward traveled to Times Square in New York to receive the award and share her story with an audience of hundreds.
So far, Hire for Hope has helped 20 to 30 small- to midsize businesses with $10 million to $500 million in annual revenue find top-level talent that is a good “skillset fit and cultural fit” for their organizations.
About 90 percent of those businesses are Michigan-based, and the other 10 percent do business in Michigan.
Hire for Hope also helps advanced candidates find the “next level” in their career. So far, the firm has assisted in about 30 candidate placements.
Ward said she is seeing a theme emerge in her work: empowering women to become leaders.
“A lot of these companies are looking for diversity among all ethnicities and groups of people, but we are also seeing a huge trend of women in leadership positions at manufacturing companies,” she said. “They bring a lot to the table, and so that’s kind of our niche focus is having great women in leadership at these companies.
“It works very well, too, with our social mission of helping these women in domestic violence situations. Woman empowerment is really our focus. It’s really cool to place a woman COO and watch her make waves at a company.”
As founder and CEO of her own company, Ward recently hired her first recruiter, Ashlee Moran.
The two met because Moran’s stepfather recently served on Safe Haven’s board of directors. Ward was asked to serve a six-year term on the board beginning this fall — an opportunity she said brings her “full circle” in her connection to Safe Haven.
Moran, a 2018 graduate of Hillsdale College, said she had been looking for a company to work for that is built on a purpose.
During her first few months on the job, she has seen Hire for Hope help clients and candidates, as well as the women Safe Haven serves.
“It’s nice when you talk with a candidate, and you tell them about what Hire for Hope does and how we contribute to Safe Haven, and some people open up about their own experiences or a family member’s experience with either domestic violence or some sort of other situation. It’s crazy how widespread it is and how you can connect with people on that level,” Moran said.
Both women said their “vulnerability” helps clients feel they are in good hands, which makes for a more rewarding partnership.
“In our business model, we really want to know people, not just, ‘Tell me about a time when you did X,’ but also, ‘What is your family life like?’ and, ‘What is ideal for you?’” Moran said.
Ward and Moran said in a tight labor market such as this one, getting to know the candidate well can mean placing them in a company that’s a better fit, boosting retention levels and ensuring the company’s repeat business with the search firm.
Hire for Hope currently is operating at Start Garden but is about to start a month-to-month lease at Worklab by Custer, 99 Monroe Ave. NW in downtown Grand Rapids.
Ward’s near-term goal is to buy a brick-and-mortar location and hire eight to 10 employees within five to eight years.
One thing that won’t change about the business, she said, is its philanthropic core.
“I want to bring attention to domestic violence because it’s very prevalent. One in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime and 1 in 7 men,” Ward said. “Using my foundation and my platform as a launching pad to bring awareness to the issue is important to me.
“Our partnership with Safe Haven is definitely what we’re sticking to for the long haul, and that’s woven into the foundation of Hire for Hope.”