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Recruiting and retaining staff at nonprofits

The world of nonprofit work has always attracted people who are passionate about a common cause. Many nonprofits exist to support needy or underserved populations, addressing a variety of social issues.

But passion alone can’t pay the bills, and nonprofits often find themselves managing high employee turnover, struggling to keep their valuable staff from leaving to find more lucrative work. Some nonprofits have responded to this problem by honing their strategies for staff recruitment and retention.

To fulfill specialized roles within a nonprofit, recruiters seek highly qualified candidates who are ideologically aligned with the organization. “Finding staff who align with the nonprofit’s vision, mission and core values is paramount,” says Kiera Cohen, director of human resources at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center in Roslyn Heights, New York. “Most nonprofits are focused on serving communities and people in need; candidates will serve as ambassadors for the agency, so they must convey empathy and compassion at all times.”

Of course, it isn’t as simple as finding candidates who care. “At times it can be a challenge to find qualified talent in a specific field due to program requirements,” says Lucy Das-Mohan, chief human resource officer at Family & Children’s Association in Garden City, New York. “The demand for certain skills often hinders our team from finding qualified candidates, and limited program budgets restrict us from being competitive in the salaries we can offer.”

Das-Mohan addresses these challenges by placing an emphasis on communication. “Our team analyzes our hiring metrics and conducts constant feedback sessions from hiring managers and candidates to continue to strengthen our recruitment efforts and build a talented, diverse workforce,” she says.

A competitive labor market and high area employment complicates staff retention at nonprofits.

“Due to changes in the workforce, job seekers are often demanding higher wages than nonprofits can offer,” explains Dynaah Letellier-Fanfan, recruiter for EAC Network in Garden City, New York. “Employees may accept a job, but continue to keep their eye on the external job market. If this is happening across multiple departments or programs, this greatly affects those who remain and have to deal with the expanded workload. The combination of below-average wages and increased workload is a recipe for lower morale and higher turnover.”

Letellier-Fanfan highlights the importance of recognizing employees for their hard work and dedication to their roles. “When a vast majority of funding is received from grants or government contracts, nonprofit human resource teams often have to work within a limited budget,” she says. “However, our culture and how we treat our employees is something that we can — and should — control.” She lists employee recognition initiatives, mentorship programs and the implementation of healthy work environments as important components of EAC’s staff retention strategy.

And while the salaries offered by nonprofits may seem smaller by comparison, enticing benefit packages are often tailored to ensure employees’ needs are met. “Benefits that nonprofits may seek to include are generous paid time off policies, flexible schedules, pet insurance, opportunity to work remotely, childcare assistance and tuition discounts or reimbursements,” Letellier-Fanfan says.

Cohen’s approach to staff management is rooted in the philosophy of the organization she represents. “Our mission at the Guidance Center is to restore and strengthen the emotional well-being of children and families throughout the community. Of course, many of our employees have families of their own, so doing what we can to cultivate and support a healthy work-life balance for our staff has had great results,” Cohen says, citing a hybrid work-from-home policy as an example.

Given the array of difficulties facing nonprofits, some have chosen a different approach. Walter Stockton, president and CEO of the Kinexion Network, leads an organization dedicated to providing business solutions for nonprofits. As a management service organization, or MSO, Kinexion facilitates operational support for a network of seven human service agencies on Long Island in New York.

“The MSO model provides the back-end functions of finance, IT, HR, corporate compliance, purchasing, maintenance and logistics, significantly reducing the operational costs for all seven affiliate agencies and freeing up internal resources so they can focus on their life-changing mission,” Stockton explains. “Instead of competing for staff, all seven nonprofits share the resources and benefit from a centralized administrative management system.”

For any nonprofit, finding a balance between an organization’s objectives and the needs of its employees is key. “So much in a nonprofit is about ensuring sustainability, from programming to funding, and staff isn’t any different,” says Cohen. “Nonprofits must operate with a business model, balancing finances and outcomes in the healthiest way possible.”