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Nonprofit talent matters. To achieve your mission, it’s essential that your organization has the right, high-performing people in place. But as we learned from our 2017 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, hiring competition from the corporate sector is heating up, and talent who might typically be attracted to the nonprofit space are now being attracted by social enterprises as well. To combat this shift and maintain a roster of high-performers, all organizations should strive to achieve “talent sustainability” through mission-aligned strategies.

Talent-focused organizations are the most sustainable.

What is nonprofit sustainability, and why should you strive to achieve it? It’s defined in many different ways, including:

  • “Nonprofit sustainability lies at the intersection of exceptional impact and financial viability.” – Steve Zimmerman & Jeanne Bell, The Sustainability Mindset
  • “For charitable nonprofits, the phrase ‘sustainability’ is commonly used to describe a nonprofit that is able to sustain itself over the long term, perpetuating its ability to fulfill its mission.” – Megan Coolidge, Community Wealth Partners
  • “Nonprofit sustainability occurs when a nonprofit attracts and effectively uses enough and the right kinds of money.” – Nell Edgington, Social Velocity

There’s simply no denying that there is a financial component of nonprofit sustainability, but the right talent is necessary to achieving it. At Nonprofit HR, our definition of nonprofit sustainability is:

Nonprofit sustainability occurs when a nonprofit attracts and effectively uses enough and the right kinds of money and people necessary to lead and achieve their long-term outcome goals. Share on X

With the right talent in place, you’ll be able to continue to operate in the long term, and in turn, make a greater impact on the communities you serve and sustain that impact. A strong team makes a difference in the eyes of funders, as well. Consider again GlobalGiving, which received four times more donations after investing in more professional development for its staff.

There are three types of nonprofits when looking at nonprofit talent sustainability: talent-oblivious, talent-aware and talent-focused organizations. In a recent blog, we discussed how to determine where your organization exists on this continuum:

  • Talent-oblivious organizations allocate little to no resources to talent attraction, development or retention. As such, hiring, development and retention practices are often ineffective and absent of planning. This is often because leadership is focused on programs, fundraising and finance, so staff are seen as incidental and taken for granted.
  • Talent-aware organizations do allocate resources to talent attraction, development and retention, but not intentionally. These programs are typically seen by talent aware organizations as “nice to have,” but not essential. As a result, hiring, development and retention investments are often inconsistent, and talent management planning often does not happen. When talent management planning does occur, it is not integrated with the organization’s overall strategic plan.
  • Talent-focused organizations are the gold standard of nonprofit talent management. In these organizations, allocation of resources for talent attraction, development and retention is intentional and seen as essential to organizational success. Therefore, hiring, development and retention effectiveness are prioritized and talent management is integrated with an organization’s overall strategic plan.

If your organization is not yet talent-focused, here’s why you should work toward that goal:

Intentional talent strategies lead to better performance and outcomes.

ProInspire Founder & CEO, Monisha Kapila says, “An investment in talent is an investment in a nonprofit’s ability to achieve its mission and meet increasing societal needs.” The same way for-profit organizations strive to meet business goals and generate revenue through talent, nonprofit organizations should understand that talent is one of the most essential components for meeting organizational goals and achieving mission impact.

Consider Google, one of the most successful companies in the world, is also widely regarded as having some of the best talent practices. Google is routinely included in lists of the best places to work because of its innovative human resources department, and top performers strive to join their team. Of course, Google’s seven-acre sports complex, wellness centers and company-subsidized massages are not necessarily realistic for many nonprofit organizations or even other for-profit companies, but their focus on leveraging talent as a strategy for driving organizational performance can be replicated. At Google, at the most basic level, team members are recognized and see that the company is invested in their best interests. Organizations of any size can also put budget-appropriate talent initiatives in place that support staff feeling valued and heard and, in turn, see improvements in performance and mission outcomes.

Your organization achieves greater employer brand value.

With a reputation as a nonprofit that prioritizes talent management, your organization can attract even more high-performing talent at all levels, from volunteers to executives. If being a team of high performers is part of your employer brand value, and your existing talent can attest to that value, your organization will attract other people who are seeking to join a talent-focused organization.

In addition to their deep investments in talent development, GlobalGiving is also widely regarded in the nonprofit sector as being a guiding light of meaningful talent practices. To achieve this strong employer brand value, GlobalGiving COO Jen Sigler said in an interview with ProInspire:

We spend a lot of time trying to put benefits and perks to help people feel recognized and appreciated. We have a 360 feedback tool to recognize each other, appreciation awards, retreats, and other activities.

We also focus on developing our employees. Each person has $1200 of professional development funds that can be used however they want. People use it for attending conferences, taking classes, buying books, and more.

As part of our annual review and goal setting process, each person sets three development goals. Two goals are related to their work at GlobalGiving. The third goal is a personal goal. For example, one year I took a class on fashion design because my personal goal was to learn more about that space.

As a result of these practices and a strong employer brand that prioritizes talent –– which is appealing to job seekers who want to make a difference –– GlobalGiving’s retention rate is higher than average across the sector.

How can your organization become talent-focused?

Understanding the benefits of becoming talent-focused is only the beginning of actually achieving it for your organization. To achieve the performance and outcomes, brand value and sustainability of becoming talent-focused, your organization should strive for:


Recognize that your mission will be as impactful as the extent to which you prioritize talent, and that talent is an asset to be managed, nurtured and invested in.

Shed the view that talent intentionality is a perk for large, high-budget companies like Google, or even large nonprofit organizations. Be intentional about assigning ownership of the talent function to an organizational leader to ensure accountability and authority.


Strategy is as effective as the resources assigned to make it come to life. Advocate for appropriate resources needed to maximize your organization’s talent spend. Have a talent management strategy in place and ensure that it is aligned with overall organizational strategy, goals and outcomes and includes an employer brand strategy.

Report on talent successes often with leadership, the board and with funders. To start, your team should identify two or three key metrics that correspond to your organization’s objectives and draw a connection between people and measurable outcomes. For example, be able to illustrate that for every $5,000 invested in talent development, your organization saw a proportional reduction in turnover or higher engagement scores and better organizational performance.


Bringing organizational strategy together with your talent management strategy to become talent-focused also requires a high-level integration.

To achieve this, consider bringing on a human resources professional at the leadership level, like a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) or Chief Talent Officer, to ensure better collaboration between the leadership team and talent prioritization. Or, engage a human resources partner firm with an understanding of the unique needs of the nonprofit sector.

To learn more about becoming talent-focused to achieve talent sustainability, download our whitepaper on how talent impacts the overall health of your organization: “Talent: the Missing Piece in Nonprofit Sustainability.

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