Non-Profit Hiring Best Practices
Best practices in the hiring and onboarding of new nonprofit employees include: Considering multiple aspects and employing flexible solutions, offering newbies x-ray vision into the work from before day one, getting the basics handled on the first day, providing newbies with buddies, and setting clear expectations and timelines for performance.
For the purposes of this request, “recruiting” includes all processes related to identifying open positions, creating job postings and putting them in various locations (like online job boards), and identifying potential candidates through their applications. “Hiring” includes the screening, testing, and interviewing processes for the narrowed-down list of potential candidates (or those selected from the entire pool of applicants as the best potentials), as well as the onboarding process for those selected for hire.
Background: Hurdles to Recruiting & Hiring
- Some of the biggest hurdles nonprofits (NPs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can face in recruiting and hiring not just the right employees, but any employees, include lower-than-industry-rate compensation offerings, variable schedules (based on need), high burnout rates, and lofty (read: tough) goals to work toward reaching, which can lead to significant stress for employees. If these are addressed early in the recruiting pipeline – and steps are taken to ensure the onboarding process deals with any remaining questions, that onboarding process is likely to be smoother and more satisfying for the new employee.
- Nonprofits in the US have an employee turnover (churn) rate of about 19%, with a great majority of these employees leaving within the first three months.
- Since NPs and NGOs are competing within the same pool of applicants as for-profit companies who can offer better options, they “can struggle to attract great [employees] and retain them once they’re hired.” So, ensuring NPs and NGOs consider these hurdles – and how to overcome them – is key to keeping them competitive in the marketplace. Offering strong onboarding programs that offer new employees ways to overcome these hurdles with the organization (instead of in spite of it) is the key to onboarding success in these areas.
- Strong onboarding provides more than just training on how to complete job tasks, it includes buy-in for the mission of the organization. Employees given robust onboarding programs “are 50% more productive as new hires and are more likely to still be with the organization after three years.” Another expert states these individuals are 69% more likely to be with the company three years later.
Background: Screening & Training for Specific SKAs
- As noted in the related project, the job description for a position should include a detailed description of the position, as well as the organization’s mission and values statements. For screening processes and during onboarding, these important items should morph into specific testing and training toward (at least) these four main areas: Technology, Industry, Community, and Strategy.
- If the NP/NGO uses specific software or other technologies (as many do, like fundraising or client management software), hiring candidates who have previous (or related) experience in these specialty programs will allow the new employee to be more useful even more quickly than would onboarding a non-trained employee. Additionally, new-hires with previous related industry/market experience would be easier to hire and onboard, as well.
- New-hires who have experience working with the specific community the NP/NGO serves are likely to have a greater level of passion for service of that particular community, and therefore will be easier to onboard. Also, those with previous fundraising, event planning, or other nonprofit-related skills are often those bringing the most to the table the quickest.
- Finding a wide selection of top-notch candidates during recruiting is important, but so is utilizing an applications and screening process (pre-hire through hire) to ensure that the ideal candidates are the ones onboarded to the organization. Finding candidates whose entire set of skills, knowledge, and abilities (SKAs) match or blend with the organization’s mission and focus is essential – and the right tests will help match these potentials to the positions for which they are the best fit (as well as help quickly identify those who do not match the profile of the ideal candidate).
BEST PRACTICE: Considering Multiple Aspects & Employing Flexible Solutions
- Taking the work and life experiences of the potential candidates into account during applications and screening processes is also important. Some experts state that it’s a “good idea to consider people who have previously worked, interned, or volunteered with an NPO” previously, since they are more likely to understand what it’s like to work in such an organization. These people are also easier to get ramped up quickly during onboarding.
- Incorporating previous life experiences into onboarding exercises – in ways that allow the employee to identify ways to serve this particular organization – with the related experience – will deepen the connection the employee has to the work. In fact, making the whole onboarding experience as personalized as possible is highly recommended to help “new team members feel welcome and valued.”
- In addition to educational and work backgrounds, and life experiences, considering which particular set of soft skills the ideal employees should have, screening for those, and offering training on them during the onboarding processes – is vital to the best preparation of candidates and new-hires. Since different types of jobs require different soft skills, making sure to refine the general list of skills into position-specific skills is necessary, as is making sure new-hires who might be lacking in those skills get some necessary preparation before being expected to utilize them.
- Experts at FrontStream warn, “Don’t be so specific and inflexible, though, that you disqualify or deter qualified candidates from applying. It’s impossible to know exactly how a new personality will fit in with the rest of your team until they actually begin working, though you can bring candidates in to meet your team as part of your application process.” Team-building work that helps the new employee mesh with all members of the team(s) should be an integral part of all onboarding procedures.
- Notably, when considering hiring individuals who are transitioning from a background in X to working for a nonprofit that does Y (with X and Y being different industries or markets), including screening questions on “why they are looking to make the move and what they expect in return” is recommended. Additionally, ensuring that the onboarding training offers the necessary background, terminology, and focus explanations to properly educate the new employee on this new industry/market will be key to their foundational success.
- The Hawaii Community Foundation is one example of a nonprofit that uses flexible onboarding procedures. They have separate types of onboarding programs based on job type, like the process is different for a new executive director than it would be for a non-executive-level employee.
BEST PRACTICE: Offering X-Ray Vision into the Work from Before Day One
- While best recruiting practices state optimizing the job description is essential, experts in hiring would add that conveying the full picture of expectations is also important during the earliest part of onboarding. This includes a detailed and honest outline and discussion of the expected time commitments (including expected schedule variations), a detailed list of all compensation and benefits, and what it’s like to work not only in the nonprofit sector, but in this particular organization. New employees with the clearest picture of these expectations will be more likely to handle the job as expected.
- Working for NPs and NGOs typically requires a greater sacrifice (across many levels) than many people might expect, and clarifying these things throughout the recruiting and hiring process – as well as throughout onboarding – will help ensure the new-hire is best prepared for what’s to come.
- Making sure new employees are prepared before their first day and feel welcomed by the organization is important, as well. Emailing them with all details they’ll need before Day One, and encouraging members of the leadership teams to welcome newbies “will make a very positive impression” on them.
- For their first week (or month), structure time to allow the new employee to get used to the environment and expected tasks, and to begin to develop a daily routine. Also, schedule time for the employee to meet with key stakeholders (related to the employee’s position) and others with whom the person may be closely working.
- Aly Sterling Philanthropy is one organization that promotes creating a “welcoming, celebratory culture” for newbies coming into their organization.
BEST PRACTICE: Getting the Nuts & Bolts Out of the Way on Day One
- On the first day of the newbie’s employment, ensure all employment paperwork is completed, that HR and administrative procedures are detailed, employee policies (like dress codes or lunch policies) are outlined, and safety and security procedures (including building security and internet safety/security) are covered in full.
- Also ensure the employee has a chance to discuss any questions or possible issues with appropriate HR personnel. In some organizations, an extension of this could include asking the newbie to check in several times for the first week or two with HR staff members.
- Make sure the newbie’s workspace is completely set up, and s/he is given help setting up company email (with proper signature lines) and voice mail (with appropriate corporate greeting). Provide the employee with an employee badge (or ID card, as needed), and ensure s/he knows which exits and parking spaces are preferred.
- Utilizing technology (like internal HR / ERM software) is highly recommended for those organizations with allowance for this expense in their budgets. Incorporating tech into this process can make it go much faster, be more organized, and be easier to track.
- One example of an organization successfully using technology to manage all the “nuts and bolts” of hiring and onboarding a new employee is WGBH Educational Foundation. Through standardization of this process (via technology), they were able to improve their “onboarding completion rate by 48%”.
BEST PRACTICE: Pairing Newbie with a Mentor
- Pairing new employees with seasoned vets, as “buddies” or mentors, is recommended by multiple experts. In fact, CivicHR notes that using a buddy system “can do wonders in terms of building your organization’s culture.”
- Buddies provide newbies with a go-to person for questions, as well as someone who will acquaint them with the new environment, make them aware of the corporate culture, and introduce them to their new colleagues.
- Assign “a buddy to serve as an informal guide,” or the new employee could be paired with their direct supervisor, who could provide a tour of the office and background into the history and focus of the organization, as well as personal challenges and triumphs to help motivate or inspire.
- Although not a nonprofit, Buffer, a startup similar to Twitter, has a three-buddy system for each of its onboarding employees, and they offer a Free Buddy Program Playbook to any company who wants to utilize their successful system.
BEST PRACTICE: Setting Clear Expectations & Specific Timelines
- Outlining what is expected of the new employee for the first 30, 60, and 90 days is important and should be included in onboarding during the first week. Clarifying for the newbie how job performance will be reviewed, on what metrics the performance will be graded, who will be performing these reviews, and on what schedule they’ll be conducted is essential within the first week of employment. This sets a clear forward-focus and allows for the identification of specific areas in which the new employee may need additional training or assistance to meet organizational requirements.
- Additionally, outline the annual (or quarterly) review process, including what is expected of the employee and what will happen during (and after) these meetings.
- The Massachusetts Nonprofit Network is an example of an organization that provides detailed information to all new employees on what’s expected of them during hiring and new employee orientation procedures. They also provide detailed information on performance evaluations, as well as termination and exit interview guidelines.
To identify these best practices, we poured through what industry and nonprofit experts stated were the best practices to use in hiring and onboarding staff for nonprofits. From these, we weeded out those that were focused only on recruiting or other related practices not specific to hiring or onboarding. From the remaining collection, we pulled the best practices mentioned by multiple experts, and synthesized them into our findings.