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Nonprofit HR’s Blog



How does an organization effectively operate without an HR department or a dedicated HR professional? For small nonprofit organizations, there is often little choice and operating without a HR department is often a necessity instead of a choice.

An effective HR department can provide an organization tremendous value. Having a person or department who is responsible for handling difficult or complex employee and legal issues can provide any executive director peace of mind. It can also afford an organization with the tools needed to advance its mission. More importantly, an effective human resources function can change people from being a resource to a strategy.

But reality for many nonprofit organizations says that they are just too small or not sufficiently funded to afford a dedicated HR department or professional. Unfortunately, other organizations operate with the misguided belief that can operate just fine without HR.

So how do you manage the HR duties at your organization without an HR department?

Every CEO, executive director, CFO or director of anything needs to fight tooth and nail to have an HR department. If internal resources do not allow for someone on staff to take on this responsibility, nonprofits should consider outsourcing the department. Consider hiring a firm within your budget that provides you and your organization with at least part-time support.

Obtain HR on a project-based level. Need an up-to-date employee manual, sexual harassment or social media policy? Don’t Google it. Hire an experienced consultant to review what you have and draft a manual or policies that also get reviewed by legal counsel.

Look to your board of directors. Recruit a board member that is an HR professional or has access to HR services that can be leveraged for your organization on a pro-bono basis. Scan your local community. Find out what your peer organizations are doing for human resources support. Consider contract HR professionals who can work with your organization on a project basis.

If you have tapped out your volunteer or pro-bono resources, consider the following:

  • Get educated on what HR is and isn’t.
  • Consider sharing resources with a peer organization.
  • Subscribe to services providing HR legal updates.
  • Tap into networks of HR professionals (Local Nonprofit HR Directors Group, Taproot Foundation, local SHRM chapter).
  • Attend conferences where HR people gather (Nonprofit HR Conference).
  • Join SHRM or similar organizations.

The reality is if your organization lacks access to an effective human resources department or it has no access to an experienced human resources professional, your ability to deliver on your mission will be impact. You can’t move your mission without people to do that. Consider that as you the decision to live with or without human resources.

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