Focusing on HR Can Help Nonprofits Become Employers of Choice

Staffing and recruitment are now among the biggest worries among leaders of nonprofits, and it’s not hard to figure out why. With the economy on a rebound, people have again become choosy about where they want to work — posing fresh challenges to nonprofit managers.

Attracting talent comes down to employing the princples of human resourcesNonprofits can’t always pay as well as their for-profit counterparts, which presents an uphill battle for finding and keeping top talent. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that for 59 percent of HR professionals, retaining and rewarding the best employees and developing the next generation of leaders are their biggest challenges. In the nonprofit world, that’s made extra difficult by the financial constraints characteristic of all but the biggest organizations.

One good start would be to grant HR a seat at the proverbial table.

Most leaders of successful nonprofits agree that hiring — and keeping — good people is key to providing good human services and accomplishing their mission. Yet, in too many places HR is not part of an organization’s “inner circle” of leaders. In some places it’s not even formally recognized as an organizational discipline. Instead, HR tasks and decisions are often performed piecemeal by an assortment of people with other duties.

Effective recruitment begins with making HR part of the strategic-planning process: After all, who else will know better the numbers and types of people the organization will need as it charts its course forward? Once this takes place, nonprofits can use a host of tactics to retain the best people, hire talented new folks and become employers of choice in their communities.

Don’t compete on salary alone

In most parts of the U.S., nonprofits compete with both large and small for-profits for talent — and large corporations are known to pay top dollar. Even if they cannot offer lavish salaries, nonprofits need to be somewhat competitive in their particular job markets — particularly with smaller businesses. Moreover, nonprofits have plenty of options for making themselves more attractive to candidates. While pay is high on most people’s wish lists, it isn’t the only important consideration.

For instance, in today’s job market, many candidates will take a job that pays less if it also offers more flexibility in scheduling or even the opportunity to telecommute. Training opportunities and the ability to take on new, varied job assignments also rank high with job candidates. Health and wellness programs — such as gym memberships — also are popular and need not be overly costly.

Pay attention to retention

Many organizations are guilty of neglecting employee retention, including nonprofits. The 2013 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey found that 90 percent of nonprofits lack a formal employee-retention strategy. They do so at a high cost: losing a skilled employee is expensive, especially for a resource-challenged nonprofit. So is the cost to locate and train a replacement.

Cast a wide net

One edge nonprofits enjoy over their for-profit counterparts is a network of committed, trained volunteers. In the late ’70s, a now-retired teacher began volunteering at a private school on Long Island, New York, for special-needs children. Several years later the school offered her a full-time classroom position, and she went on to earn a doctorate in the field. Her story isn’t unusual: Many of the school’s teachers started as volunteers.

A variety of enterprises have sprung up lately that offer assistance to nonprofits in managing their staffing needs. One such company is Hirefly, which has worked with organizations such as the Salvation Army, Big Brothers Big Sisters and a host of other nonprofits to properly identify and hire good candidates. This lets the client organization — the nonprofit — focus on what matters most: serving the public good.

Nonprofits can also increase the candidate pool by reaching out to diverse, underserved communities for talent. In a recent report on diversity initiatives, the HR Council of Canada pointed to one ready source for able talent: older job candidates. Such people are often perceived to be “too expensive” and not as savvy about technology.

However, out-of-work people often accept modest decreases in pay in exchange for meaningful work in their fields. What’s more, many older baby boomers were there when the  technology revolution started and have worked through multiple generations of office technology since then.

Employ IT creatively

Software packages known as human resource information systems (HRIS) are indispensable to for-profits in monitoring compensation, employee retention and other HR practices — but their price tag is often steep for all but the biggest nonprofit organizations. To make up for this shortfall, an automated payroll system can often perform many of the rudimentary functions of an HRIS. In addition, there are simple HR modules that can be added to a payroll system.

Additionally, creative HR staff often employ simple Microsoft Office and Google tools for functions such as spreadsheets and databases. Moreover, free or low-cost, open-source solutions have begun to come onto the scene. One is OrangeHRM, which contains modules for personnel information management, employee self-service, leave, time and attendance, benefits and recruitment.

Related: Four Keys to Keeping a Human Touch in Your HR Practices

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