Nonprofit organizations, despite their special tax status, are really not all that different from small to mid-size for-profit companies in regards to operations, management, budgeting, cash flow, strategic planning, technology, marketing and human resource issues.  They face the universal challenges that often come as a result of limited financial resources and none is more important than the need for responsible and committed employees.  

The challenge is that small nonprofits may not be able to offer the cutting-edge employee benefits or salary and compensation packages that attract superior employees who will enable them to realize the vision and mission of the organization.

But there are a range of advantages that nonprofit leaders can leverage to create a dynamic work environment.

The first thing to do is ensure the use of meaningful recruiting and interview techniques. This starts by making a good first impression, showcasing the professional approach of the organization. Some tips to create a solid first impression include:

  1. Developing a consistent and meaningful recruiting and interview process.  Being clear about the mission, goals and accomplishments of the organization in order to find the right staff members for the group.
  2. Talking honestly to potential employees and asking them about their own goals and philosophies to ensure that synergy exists. This includes a discussion on whether or not they will be comfortable working in the organization's culture and asking if this is a cause they sincerely embrace. The answers to these questions may have a direct correlation to the personal satisfaction that employees can anticipate if then accept the job.
  3. Being transparent about the roles and responsibilities that define the job and the actual types of tasks that are included.  Adhering to the philosophy of "no surprises" can help to keep employees engaged.  It is important to manage expectations and be sure that everyone knows what will be expected so that there are no disappointments, including an understanding the hours of employment. For example, potential employees should be told if this role requires evening hours, weekend time or if it is going to be a traditional eight hour day. Today's younger work force may focus on if there will be flexibility or even virtual/remote work opportunities. 

Along with realistic recruiting and interview practices, there are many ways that nonprofits can deliver a powerful onboarding experience.  Some tips include: 

  1. Be sure to explain the contributions staff make to the organization. Nonprofit employees – just like everyone else – want to add real value. After all, it is rewarding to work in an environment where employees understand that they are having a positive impact and are being recognized for it. This is a key differentiator for many employees who seek nonprofit positions and should not be overlooked.
  2. Give employees ownership. Nonprofit organizations may be able to give their staff a level of autonomy over their work, encouraging them and empowering them to help the organization accomplish its objectives.  In addition, in smaller organizations there are frequently opportunities for the staff to wear many hats and thus to add value in many different ways. This, too, is a distinct way that nonprofits can demonstrate that they offer an attractive employment alternative.
  3. Provide frequent feedback and hold regularly scheduled employee reviews and evaluations so that the employees have a relevant perspective on their performance. It is important to also offer structured mentoring to help them progress in their careers. The best employees want to know what the future will bring, what their career trajectory may be, what leadership roles will be available, and what exciting opportunities for advancement lie ahead of them.  Employers who take this into consideration can be more successful in cultivating dedicated staff.  

The next phase in developing satisfied employees is for nonprofits to leverage their stature in the community to engage their employees once they are hired.  What this means is that nonprofit leaders can use their community contacts to help employees develop a powerful network of important relationships. Employees in nonprofit organizations have the chance to regularly come in contact with corporate and government leaders, including board members, donors and other volunteers in the community. These connections are priceless and represent one of the greatest benefits of nonprofit employment. Some tips include: 

  1. Invite staff to sit in at Board meetings and offer their insights as appropriate
  2. Introduce employees to corporate leaders at events whenever possible
  3. Remind for-profit supporters of the essential roles played by the staff
  4. Encourage staff to feel comfortable interacting with the organization's lay leaders

Many nonprofits worry that without competitive salaries they can't attract top level employees, but that concern is significantly minimized when the organizations look inward and consider all of the tangible and intangible advantages they offer for employees who choose to work within the nonprofit community.