Putting the Human Back into Your Resources

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on June 6th, 2012 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Philadelphia was fortunate to be one of the sites around the country where Nonprofit HR Solutions brought its traveling symposia to discuss the results of the 2012 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey.

The Nonprofit Center was fortunate enough to be asked to host the event, and I to moderate the panel.  This last task got me perusing the survey results even more closely than my first go through.  What the survey clearly reveals is how little time, attention and resources nonprofits pay to one of the most central factors in achieving mission fulfillment success; what the three wonderful panelists—Jennelle Rush, Nonprofit HR Solutions; Alison DiFlorio, eXude Benefits; and Larry Solow, Complexity Space Consulting – brought home in our discussion, is that as an organization, you reap what you sow.  There is no bigger expense in most organization’s budget than the cost of its labor; there is no other resource that can make or break a nonprofit’s ability to deliver on those on-so-important mission promises than its people.  And yet, ….

And yet, in the survey, of the 451 responses received, from small organizations with budgets under $1 million (17% of the sample) to mid-size organizations with budgets over $1 million but less than $10,000,001 (49% of the sample) to large organizations with budgets over $10 million (34% of the sample), 81% agreed that the human resource function is critical to their organization’s ability to deliver on its mission.  Hopeful sign, there.  But, and you knew there had to be a but:  only 23% (granted an increase over the 15% reported in the 2011 survey) said that the HR function is actually perceived as a key function in their organization.  In other words, in theory, folks recognize the importance of the HR function done and done well to their organization’s success; but in the reality, very few put their actions behind their thoughts.  Sad state of affairs!

Sad because in order to maximize your human resource potential, there needs to be an investment of time—and money:  hiring well and right is not a start and stop process.  It involves so much more than, “oh, we have a position open, post an ad, read through resumes, pick the best one, hire” process—the “the reactive job filling” approach (as opposed to replacement planning or, if you really want to go for the gold, succession planning).  According to the survey, 81% of respondents indicated that staff diversity—gender (should be sex, but that is for another time), ethnic, cultural, and age—was very important to their organization.  (The panelists added things like personality, ways of thinking and more, in considering diversity.)  Yet, they admitted to challenges in achieving that diversity, something I find hard to imagine if an organization is truly committed to the goal.  As one panelist pointed out, it is enough to have a nicely worded statement that speaks to the desire for and virtues of having a diversified staff.  An organization has to go the next step and ask, “What next?”  What steps do we need to do to achieve this goal?  Where and how should we be networking?  Yes, networking!  Networking was a word that came up in suggestion after suggestion from the panelists.

Cases in point:  the survey found that only 26% of nonprofits engage in on-campus recruiting.  (My students always used to complain that there were only for-profit companies at career fairs and no nonprofits.)  When the panelists were asked whether job fairs were a recruitment vehicle of the past, all said no.  That it was one of many sources of networking.  Someone in the audience made the point that for-profit companies go to these fairs not merely to hire, but to get their brand out.  A panelist quickly responded that getting the brand out for a nonprofit is equally important, and that at a job fair, a nonprofit might not merely find candidates to hire but also future volunteers and/or donors.  Nothing shabby there.  Picking up on that idea, a panelist suggested that if a job fair doesn’t float your boat, go speak to a class or a student organization and take the time to build a relationship with the career office staff.  If age diversity is what you seek, what better place to look than a college campus!

Second case in point:  using personal networks (there is that word again!) and newspapers remain the number one location for advertising jobs; however, social media are gaining in popularity.  (The most popular website for jobs posting Craigslist!  Who would have thought?  Certainly not this boomer!)  Those who have used social media point to the quantity of applicants (not a good thing, in and of itself), the quality of applicants (but is that the result of social media solicitation or, as with the quantity of applicants, a function of our current economic times where there are too many people out of work and too many who don’t bother to see whether their background and skills match that which is being requested) and the lower costs associated with soliciting via social media than newspapers and jobs sites that cost money.  Given that only 20% of survey respondents said they had a formal recruitment budget, saving money is a huge factor.

While the use of social media has grown in popularity since the 2011 survey, the panelists were quick to point out that social media should be but one part of your recruitment strategy.  (Did I say strategy and recruitment in the same sentence, let alone same phrase?  Would that organizations had true recruitment strategies, that evolved from their diversification goals, their future HR needs, etc.  But, alas.)  Just as advertising in a newspaper may draw in a certain type of applicant, so may social media.  Where will the people you think want to hire be looking?  And one more thought from the panelists on social media that takes us back to networking:  make sure your LinkedIn and Facebook and other pages are clear on your brand, chat about what you are doing, create chatter in your network.  You never know what passive job seekers (and future donors) are lurking out there.

If you’ve read this far, you should have picked up the message that just the small piece of the much larger HR function that involves hiring and retaining takes time.  Yet, as we know, the vast majority of nonprofits don’t have a dedicated person to fulfill all of those functions.  What too many nonprofits have are individuals for whom the hiring and retaining is a small add-on to what they were hired to do.  So, what to do? Where to begin? As a participant asked:  if I have five (random number) hours a month to spend on this work, what should I do?  Here’s what the panelists said, in no particular order:

  • scare the higher ups, be it an executive director and/or the board:  let them know some or the entire litany of the things that can go wrong when an organization isn’t paying attention to its people.  Identify the risks for them, make it real!  Fear can be a powerful motivator;
  • attend one networking experience a month, simply to build your brand;
  • understand that every member of the staff of an organization is a recruiter; help them understand that role and function;
  • spend time forecasting your future HR needs, going 6, 12, 18 months out; knowing what you will need puts more control in your hands so that you can do some replacement planning rather than always doing reactive job filling;
  • make “people” a standing item on the agenda for senior management team meetings.  This gets people thinking and talking about the human needs of the organization, while allowing everyone to realize they are not alone in fulfilling this function.  There can be proactive discussions about what to do with those high potential staff members and those diamonds in the rough, how to plan for pending retirements and/or strategies for weeding out the underperformers.

Doing any one or some of these suggestions in a concerted manner will undoubtedly mean that most nonprofits will be spending more time and attention than ever before on the most important resource the organization has:  its people.  And it is more than time to do so!

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.


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