The Issue With Nonprofit Sector Talent
In 2008, U.S. News & World Report published an article about how the deck is always stacked against nonprofit organizations. The article continues to say that no one doubts nonprofit work is important, but nonprofit jobs with long hours and low salaries have always required a certain amount of sacrifice. The “Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out” study notes that nearly 6,000 nonprofit employees around the country reported rising burnout rates and increasing frustration in their careers.
In a Q and A with Billy Shore, founder and executive director of Share Our Strength in Washington D.C., Shore noted that a talent crisis in the nonprofit sector was becoming a serious challenge and that nonprofits have not been particularly good at being purposeful about creating career paths. For many, the nonprofit sector was a career detour rather than a career builder.
Fast forward to 2016. Nonprofit HR published an article titled “5 Talent and Culture Trends Your Nonprofit Needs to Be Ready For in 2016.” Here are signs nonprofits to be on the lookout for via Nonprofit HR:
- Generational changes that will force nonprofits to re-evaluate their talent and culture strategies.
- The hybrid office will become the expectation, not the exception.
- New employment and benefits regulations will force nonprofits to tighten their budgets in other areas.
- Traditional performance reviews will be scrapped in favor of new performance management and engagement strategies.
- Nonprofits will change their candidate screening processes to eliminate hiring bias.
Any nonprofit will only be as effective as its people, so it’s imperative that you staff your organization for success. That said, staffing can be a challenge, especially in the face of your nonprofit’s ever-changing budgets, goals and needs.
The theme of talent in the nonprofit arena continues in 2017. In this article, HR Dive shared the results of a recent poll of nonprofit leaders, which pointed out a concern by the Association of Fundraising Professionals: Chief in mind is the inability to plan too far in the future. Multiple organizations mentioned they were worried about their ability to attract and retain nonprofit talent, which include the rapid rate of Baby Boomers retiring combined with middle management shortcomings. The need and use of technology in this sector is another major issue for concern.
Knowing that talent shortcomings are an issue in the nonprofit sector, the Harvard Business Review article titled “Nonprofits Need to Compete for Top Talent” suggests that nonprofits need to leverage their mission, focus on culture and growth, pay as competitively as they can, invest in leadership and make talent management as organizational priority.
This blog mentions that the nonprofit sector is up against “numerous obstacles when it comes to identifying, hiring and retaining top-tier staff and leadership.” According to the Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, the top three nonprofit staffing challenges are hiring qualified staff with limited budgets, finding qualified staff and finding time to recruit and interview staff.
Another major issue is the factor of constant high turnover. The blog author is an advocate for developing a process for recruiting and retaining “A” players whose talents and motivations align with the nonprofits and believes a strong recruiting process is vital to keeping the best nonprofit employees possible in an organization.
This article from Nonprofit HR notes that “nonprofit sustainability occurs when a nonprofit attracts and effectively uses enough and the right kinds of money necessary to achieve their long-term outcome goals.” The article goes on to say that nonprofit cannot achieve overall sustainability until it first achieves talent sustainability. According to the article, talent sustainability requires:
- Knowing your long-term people outcome goals.
- Having a strategy to achieve those goals.
- Effectively using the resources needed to attract, develop and retain talent.
- Attracting the right kinds of people.
One important piece for dealing with the talent issue is having an organizational HR structure and function that emphasizes the importance of this process. The author suggests that everyone who wants to create social change must advocate for, support and invest more in talent sustainability across the sector.
While serving as an executive for several nonprofit organizations, I noticed the issue of nonprofit sector talent was rarely discussed or pursued at the highest organizational level in the board room. Many organizations did not have an up-to-date strategic or operational plan, much less an HR plan for recruitment and retention of talented employees.
Talent will continue to be a major issue for nonprofits going forward. Thinking in this regard may involve paradigm shifts and eventual integration of nonprofits with similar missions. This important issue must be continually examined and solutions evaluated. The long-term success of the nonprofit sector depends upon having quality future talent in its ranks. Step one is understanding the problem, and step two is creating a process to address the issue in a consistent way.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last nine years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 25 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years. He received his doctorate from West Virginia University with an emphasis in philanthropy, masters from Marshall University with an emphasis on resource development and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with emphasis in marketing/management. Currently he is executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org.