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Human Resources for Small Nonprofits

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“Human Resources isn’t a thing we do. It’s the thing that runs our business.”
– Steve Wynn

As a consultant, my favorite clients are small organizations that are well connected to their communities. These nonprofits are generally staffed by passionate people, who making a real difference in the world. However, when I start digging into employee satisfaction, I hear things like:

“The turnaround is killing me- I feel like we’re always hiring.”
“I’ve never had a review. I really don’t know if I’m doing a good job or not.”
“I love my work, but I don’t think I can keep up this pace forever.”

At the heart of it, these issues boil down to human resources. While smaller nonprofits may have basic HR practices in place- payroll andbenefit administration- very few pay attention to other human aspects of human resources.

HR is much more than administrative tasks. Solid HR practices encourage retention, build strong teams, and help organizations achieve their missions. Don’t worry- you don’t have to create an entire HR department to put some basic practices in place. Here are some tips to get you going:

1. Start an employee-training program

Nonprofit employees want more professional development. Organizations benefit from a skilled force. How to do this on the cheap?

  • <span”>Partner with other nonprofits and double your training dollars
  • <span”>Leverage your board, staff, and other volunteers to provide in-house development
  • <span”>Start monthly “lunch and learn” sessions or video/book clubs
  • <span”>Build mentoring relationships between staff
  • <span”>Check out free webinars
  • <span”>If you can’t provide tuition assistance, offer flextime if staff is in school.

2. Provide regular feedback

You don’t have to develop a cumbersome performance management process with annual (often awkward) performance appraisals. Rather, schedule performance conversations quarterly to provide feedback, discuss personal and professional goals, and open the door to conversation.

3. Find out what your people want- and help them get it.

The 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey found that retention of nonprofit staff continues to be a problem. What will make your staff stay? Figure out what your people want and help them get it. Do they want a telecommuting option? How about longer days Monday-Thursday with a half-day on Friday? Can they bring their dogs to work? Retention strategies are most effective when they are tailored to individual needs.



In small nonprofits, staff must wear many hats. Human resources, just like leadership, is all about relationships. Spend time each day ensuring effective communication, transparency, and equity, and you will be on your way to building a great place to work.

For help on staff development, facilitation, and talent management, contact Kerri Drumm at Purpose Aligned Consulting

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After fifteen years in the nonprofit sector, Kerri Drumm founded Purpose Aligned Consulting in 2014. She has experience on three continents, in two languages and on literally thousands of mission-driven projects and programs.