HR Priorities for Nonprofits: A Guide to the Essentials

Rosalynn Alessi

People matter. And nowhere is that principle more true than in the nonprofit sector, where people are driven to show up for others every single day.

In nonprofit organizations, the role of Human Resources (HR) is essential to an organization’s success. However, despite its key role, it’s an area of the business that is often under-prioritized and under-resourced. 

Why HR Matters at Nonprofits

While the individual missions of nonprofits may vary widely, from humanitarian aid to environmental conservation, they all share a common goal: to make a positive impact on society. And to achieve this goal effectively, nonprofits must prioritize their HR efforts. 

Why is HR so critical? Because to make an impact on others, organizations must make sure their own people are taken care of, equipping them with the tools, resources, and support to be effective in their roles. Every nonprofit should be committed to aligning their HR operations with their mission, values, and organizational objectives. 

Think of it as walking the walk. Providing support for other communities begins with making sure your own people have the support they need.

Essential HR Priorities for Nonprofits

In this overview of  the essential areas of focus for nonprofit HR, we’ll explore the critical areas that underpin effective human resources management within these organizations. Each of these areas deserves in-depth exploration, which we will undertake in future articles. 

Let’s dive in.

Recruitment and Retention Strategies

Attracting and retaining talent is crucial for the success of any organization, but it can be particularly challenging for nonprofits, which often operate with limited resources. Organizations  should focus on leveraging innovative recruitment strategies that appeal to candidates who are passionate about their cause. Examples could include:

  • Virtual recruitment events

  • Referral programs

  • Partnerships and collaborations

  • Job sharing

  • Leveraging diverse recruitment channels

  • Developing and advertising your Employee Value Proposition (EVP)

  • Skill-based hiring and volunteer recruitment

Volunteer Management

Don’t forget to include volunteers in your nonprofit HR strategy. Volunteers are one of the most vital components of many nonprofit organizations, contributing their time, skills, and expertise to further the organization’s mission. Effective volunteer retention strategies involve training and engaging volunteers in meaningful ways. Make sure your strategy includes:

  • Clear expectations

  • Recognition for their contributions

  • A commitment to providing meaningful work

  • Auditing long tenure volunteers to understand why they joined the organization and why they continue to stay

  • Skill development for volunteers

Total Rewards

While nonprofits may not always be able to compete with the salaries offered by for-profit organizations, they can still provide competitive total rewards packages that include a combination of salary, benefits, and non-monetary rewards. Nonprofit organizations should carefully consider the unique needs and preferences of their workforce when designing total rewards programs, ensuring they are aligned with the organization’s mission and values. Some examples include:

  • Customizable benefits packages

  • Workplace flexibility (time, location, etc.)

  • Employee ownership and participation

  • Partnerships and collaborations with other organizations to build more robust rewards packages

Engagement & Wellbeing

Working in the nonprofit sector can be extremely rewarding, but it can also be demanding and stressful. Prioritizing employee engagement and wellbeing is essential for fostering a positive work environment, as well as maximizing productivity and performance. Nonprofits should integrate engagement initiatives that promote a sense of purpose, connection, and belonging among employees and volunteers. Consider implementing a few of these ideas for effective engagement initiatives:

  • Rebranding wellness initiatives to better align with organizational goals and values

  • Fostering open communication and feedback channels

  • Recognizing and celebrating achievements and milestones 

  • Implementing retention initiatives 

  • Providing access to mental health resources

  • Implementing burnout prevention strategies

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI)

Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion is not only the right thing to do; it’s also essential for the success of nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits should prioritize DEI initiatives to ensure that their workforce reflects the communities they serve and that all individuals feel valued and included. This may involve implementing diversity training programs, establishing inclusive hiring practices, and fostering a culture of belonging within the organization.

Read more about establishing EDI initiatives effectively.

Performance Management and Feedback

At any organization, we know that clear expectations and regular feedback are essential for employee growth and development. Still, it’s difficult for most organizations to implement robust performance management systems, let alone for a nonprofit that may be under-resourced. That said, it is important to enable employees to set goals, receive constructive feedback, and track their progress over time. Some creative methods include:

  • Establishing regular check-ins between managers and employees

  • Implementing employee-led performance reviews

  • Focusing on building a continuous feedback culture

  • Integrating a strengths-based approach

Succession Planning and Leadership Development

Succession planning is critical for the long-term sustainability of nonprofit organizations. As an investment in the future, nonprofits should identify and develop emerging leaders within the organization, providing them with opportunities for growth and mentorship. Again, in an environment in which time and resources may be limited, nonprofits can contribute to a smooth transition of leadership and maintain momentum towards their mission by:

  • Implementing cross-training and skill development into day-to-day activities

  • Identifying and documenting key roles and potential successors

  • Developing an emergency succession plan and pre-booking biannual succession planning meetings

  • Staying connected with the community, alumni etc.

The Bottom Line

We’ve only scratched the surface of these essential nonprofit HR areas of focus. Stay tuned for future articles, where we’ll delve deeper into each topic. By prioritizing these areas, nonprofit organizations can build strong foundations for success, empower their employees and volunteers, and ultimately, make a greater impact on the communities they serve.

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