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Nonprofit HR’s Blog

By Lisa Brown Morton, SPHR

Last week, our firm excitedly released the results of our annual Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey. We’ve been producing this survey every year since 2007. For several years, the overall results were about the same: nonprofits were lagging behind the employment practices of the for-profit world, were challenged with recruiting and retaining talent, and attracting and keeping staff from diverse backgrounds. That pretty well summed it up. But in the last few years, we’ve seen some interesting shifts, and this year is no exception.

In 2009 through about 2011, we saw more and more organizations struggling with staff reductions –like the rest of America – as they suffered from collateral damage of the Great Recession. And then in 2012, something really exciting began to happen. We started to see an uptick in the number of nonprofits that were hiring again!

We were excited. More hiring meant more opportunities for individuals pursuing careers in the sector and ultimately, a greater emphasis by the sector on the importance of investing in sound employment practices. At least that’s what we hoped for.

This year’s hiring numbers are even more encouraging. Roughly 50% of nonprofits expect to hire in 2015. Nonprofits are outpacing their corporate counterparts, 36% of whom expect to hire this year, by leaps and bounds. But unfortunately, we haven’t seen the growing emphasis on investing in recruitment, retention and human resources that we hoped for.

With so much hiring and growth expected within the sector in 2015, investing in sound employment practices is more important than ever. Yet, many nonprofits, the boards that govern them, and the funders that support them, continue to under-invest in recruitment and retention. Why? Because HR and the things related to it (think people, hiring retention, etc.) continue to be seen not as a priority for the vast majority of nonprofits, but as overhead. “Overhead” must be kept low in order to keep both funders and donors happy. And so, recruitment and retention investments continue to be seen as luxuries in most organizations. This thinking is not just incorrect, it’s damaging to the health of nonprofit organizations and the sector as a whole.

But think what amazing things could happen with the missions of countless of nonprofits across the nation if leaders, boards and funders made talent a priority. Is it possible that more hungry children could be fed, the environment could be better protected, and more victories in civil rights could be realized.

Can investing in sound employment practices and talent really make a difference? My answer is a resounding “yes!” I strongly believe that an exponential investment in HR and talent will result in exponential impact in the communities served by the over one million nonprofits in America.

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