Hiring & Retaining the Best Nonprofit Employees

Hiring & Retaining the Best Nonprofit Employees

As a nonprofit organization, PAL has unique challenges to tackle.  Considerations for best uses and practices on organizational structure, funding, and staffing are the toughest challenges that face all nonprofits.  A major priority for us is making sure that our staffing structure is empowering and effective. We care about our programming, and if we want that to be strong, we have to care about our people who make it happen.  

We have been so fortunate in hiring and retaining the most amazing staff at PAL and it has not been by accident.  Hiring for a nonprofit can be stressful because most people are aware they are asking a lot of person in return for what can be very little compensation by market standards.  So what is it that we do different that has allowed us to grow and prosper with the best people PAL could ask for?

Take a look at the standards that we strive to maintain:

Market-Driven Compensation – Let’s start with the elephant in the room: compensation.  “A sensitive topic in the nonprofit arena, competitive compensation and benefits play a key role in hiring and retaining valuable employees. As you mentor and educate your employees to become the best leaders they can be, it is important to meet the value of their skills to manage retention rates.” *  At PAL this starts even before the hiring process begins. We do not hire until we know we can compensate with a fair wage. Other training and benefits are added bonuses for any nonprofit employee, but it is bottom-line compensation that is required from the start to keep the right employees and minimize turnover and burnout.

Hire for Cultural Fit – A nonprofit employee is unique in the fact that they often wear a lot of hats and the job can look drastically different from day-to-day. “Because of that, it can be a good approach to look for someone who is passionate about your organization’s mission, rather than seeking a candidate with a certain skill set. If they have knowledge of the challenges at hand, they can bring smart ideas to the table. It also decreases the likelihood they’ll get discouraged or burnt out down the road, lowering turnover and preventing a future need to hire.”**  PAL is unique in that it takes quite a process to be on-boarded due to the confidential nature of any government-associated organization. Our employees are dedicated to the mission of the organization and right from the start have a passion that can easily be seen.

Good Communication and Leadership  – Not unique to just nonprofits, good quality leadership is key and communication from the top down is even more important.  “Goals, feedback, supervisor communication, autonomy, and resources all have an effect on satisfaction and turnover. Compared to what employees report, supervisors tend to overestimate their level of communication and feedback regarding the performance, support and guidance that their employees are seeking.”***  Being a small organization is a huge benefit here for PAL.  Everyone is always on the same page, and we share in most responsibilities and commitments.  We get things done as a team and meet and train in order to keep on top of our priorities and goals.

Offer Training and Development – “When considering growth opportunities for employees, it’s important to include both lateral and upward growth opportunities. Lateral growth is in line with leadership development; it increases employees’ knowledge about the organization and allows them to grow their skill sets. Lateral growth also gives employees a chance to work with new people at the organization and learn new strategies for addressing challenges.”*  Both types of growth are important, and although small, PAL also strives for upward growth as well. As we have grown as an organization, so have our employees, having added full-time hours and benefits to our program staff as an example.

Emphasize Culture, Mission, and Purpose – ”One of the best ways to keep employees engaged and increase retention is setting goals that relate directly to the mission, and celebrating their achievement. Culture is driven by the values that the organization and its managers express, so make sure core beliefs and desired behaviors are communicated from the top down, and are tied to your mission.”*** All of PAL’s programming is directly related to our mission and as such a close staff, we develop our goals together and can’t celebrate without one another since everything is a group effort.

A nonprofit consulting firm took an interesting look at the importance of mission and contribution in the nonprofit world vs the corporate world, how it panned out is no surprise:

“Expectations as an employee in the corporate world order of importance were:

  1. To be paid bi-weekly
  2. To be treated with respect by my boss
  3. To work with my boss to set annual goals so I understood what success looked like
  4. To make a significant contribution to the bottom line of the organization.
  5. To secure a very nice year-end bonus if I delivered aforementioned significant contribution

What nonprofit employees have been shown to care about:

  1. To be given the opportunity to have a voice
  2. To make a significant contribution to a cause that is deeply and personally meaningful to them
  3. To be treated as a three dimensional person and not just as “a worker”
  4. To work with a boss to set goals and expectations so that success is clear
  5. To be paid bi-weekly

It is clear that nonprofit folks have made a tradeoff. No year-end bonus. The anxiety of wondering if there’s enough cash in the bank to even get paid bi-weekly. It’s about commitment to the work or cause itself and the stakes feel really high.”****

PAL is quite lucky to be structured as it is, lead as it is, and staffed as it is… and again, it’s not by accident, but by intelligent leadership from the members of this organization that care enough about its mission to make sure things are getting done the right way.  Sad to say, this is not always the case for nonprofits; easy ways are often taken, saving a buck now can take priority, but with PAL that is not the case and we are all so grateful for that.