Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

September 8, 2008

Nonprofits must invest in human capital

People are nonprofits’ most valuable asset and they must be smarter about finding, engaging and keeping the staff they need.

A new report from the Nonprofit Listening Post Project at Johns Hopkins University, for example, says nonprofits can be more effective at recruiting and retaining staff -- particularly from among “Millennials” born between 1982 and 2002, and Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 – by focusing on their mission.

“Offering staff a life of meaning can be a powerful tool for recruitment,” says Lester M. Salamon, who wrote the report and directs the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies.

Nonprofits also need to show they value their workforce by putting a high priority on personnel issues and adapting themselves to the diverse needs and interests of employees and prospective employees.

To attract Millenials, for example, nonprofits are shifting their recruiting to the internet and looking for ways to offset student-loan obligations, the Hopkins report says.

Other strategies nonprofits can use to be more effective at recruiting and retaining employees include:

* Selling their organizations’ “context,” including physical environment, work environment and mission.

* Taking the initiative on recruiting by reaching out to young professionals who may not know much about nonprofits, an approach can include recruiting young people as board members and donors.

* Redefining work and the work environment by redesigning benefits to reflect new family structures, offering flexible hours, and using focus groups to keep in touch with worker concerns.

* Staffing and investing in human-resources departments.

* Offering relief to recent college graduates who face debt burdens.

* Reaching out to diverse communities in recruiting.

The workforce is changing and becoming more diverse, and nonprofits must move quickly to make sure they reflect and connect to the interests, need and values of the workers they will need to thrive and grow.


  • At 10:45 AM, Blogger said…

    I agree. Many organizations seek volunteers to cover administration in an effort to keep admin costs down, but to be successful I believe that nonprofits should invest in educated, qualified leaders. The ROI will be great.

  • At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree 100% with the notion that nonprofits need to invest in human capital - especially the younger generation. Newcomers, especially the under thirty somethings, to the nonprofit sector are bringing a sense of mission and purpose coupled with a fresh outlook that is re-shaping the way nonprofits will conduct business in the future. The old guard, including me, must make way for the newcomers!!

  • At 12:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree completely! 'Common wisdom states that in any organization, its greatest asset is its people. This is doubly true for nonprofits, where staff work for less pay, with heavy workloads, out of choice and dedication to cause. Known as human capital in the corporate world, this also applies to the nonprofit sector, where competition for funding and for qualified staff is very high.

    If people are your organization's greatest assets, what are you doing to invest in them? Has your executive director or your board discussed policies to grow the strengths of the staff and how to support these efforts financially?'


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