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Human Resources Guide for Small Nonprofits:
Introduction

In our post-industrialized world, Human Resources has become an advanced science...an art, some would say. Any experienced HR person could spout methodology on how to achieve best practice in hiring and firing employees. But such methodology does not necessarily apply to the small non-profit organization. There are distinct and obvious differences between the for-profit and non-profit sectors in general, but the smaller organizations within the non-profit world are in a class of their own, and face unique challenges when it comes to finding the right person for the right job at the right time.

Building the plane in mid-air

For small non-profits, work often follows the flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants action plan. No one feels like they're flying the plane; rather, they feel more like they're building it in mid-air. Human Resources is no exception. Whose job is it to hire a new employee when there is no official HR person? How can you write a job description when the needs of the organization change daily? How can you hire someone when you don't have secure funding after six months? The challenges are formidable, yet not uncommon for small non-profits.

There are many books out there that offer definitions of best practice in Human Resources. They contain detailed lists of the steps you should take to be successful in the different phases of the hiring process. Such information is useful and important, but not always practical for the small non-profit. For example, sometimes you can't develop comprehensive personnel policies before you hire someone; the job needs to get done and there is no time to waste. You'll have to figure them out later. If a consultant were to come into one of these organizations to do a job analysis, she'd quickly discover that the three employees were actually doing the work of seven! Clearly there's a need for new positions, but without more funding, what can you do?

If you can relate, this guide is for you.

This guide is designed to offer creative advice to small non-profits facing such HR challenges. If you don't have the resources to pay a consultant or search firm, perhaps the contents of this guide will help you discover more effective ways of attracting, selecting, developing, and retaining talented employees. At the very least, it can help you take comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your struggle.

This is by no means a comprehensive document. There is no limit to the creative solutions an organization can find to solve even its most challenging problems. Hopefully, you will find some advice herein that is relevant and helpful to your situation. You may find that you have additional ideas or advice, based on your own experience, which could be useful to others. In that case, please be encouraged to submit them for later editions. Ultimately, the best resource small non-profits have is each other. This guide is simply a vehicle through which communication between such organizations can happen.

So, you need to hire someone...

If you've reached this point, it's for one of two reasons: either you have a new position that needs to be filled, or you need to replace someone who is leaving. Assuming you are a typical small and growing non-profit, your next steps are not going to include redecorating an office space or choosing between 401(K) plans. More than likely, you'll be asking yourself, "How on earth am I going to find someone to do all that we need done for the small amount I can afford to pay? And where am I going to put them?"

No one goes into non-profit for the money!

HR professionals will tell you that if you pay people low wages, you'll get what you pay for. This does not inspire much hope in those of you working for small non-profits who often don't have a choice. It is helpful to remember that the individuals who would be interested in working with you are most likely not going to be chiefly motivated by money. If they are, you probably could do without them.

When your financial resources are weak, your philosophy must be strong!

All businesses and organizations must have a strong and cohesive philosophy if they want to be successful. This is especially important for small non-profits. Think about it. When you are up into the wee hours rushing to finish a grant proposal that is due the next day, you're juggling twenty tasks at once, your phone is ringing off the hook, and you're frantically trying to find a volunteer to replace the one who just cancelled at the last minute, you're not thinking about your big, fat salary. You're probably thinking that it's about time to throw in the towel. But you don't, and you get up the next day and do it all again. Why? Because you are committed to your cause, and you see a sense of purpose in what you're doing.

"The other day, a friend of mine was telling me about his job search. He was just offered a position at a reputable corporation that would pay him a competitive salary, give four weeks vacation, provide full health benefits, give him a signing bonus of $15,000 for a down payment on a house, and put $12,000 into an IRA on his first day. I laughed when he said he had to think about it. Then I told him about my latest job offer. 'We would absolutely love to have you come work with us. We wish we could pay you a lot more...we know it's not much to live on, but it's all we have. Unfortunately, we can't offer health benefits either, and we're not sure exactly when we will receive the check from the funder, so we might not be able to pay you for the first few weeks. We expect that our grant will be renewed, but there is a possibility that we won't receive funds to support your position past June. But we think you would add so much to our staff and we hope you will accept our offer, meager as it is.' My friend was shocked when I told him I didn't hesitate to accept. I told him that it's not that I can't find a better paying job, but I have a calling, a passion for this work that I can't ignore. I have to trust that I'll find a way to make it work, and remind myself that I am paid in more ways than one."

Coordinator of teen pregnancy program


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