Outstanding Nonprofit Management! Hallmark #4: Human Resources

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Welcome to the fourth installment of my seven- part series on Outstanding Nonprofit Management. If you not have seen the first three posts on Mission and Program, Leadership and Governance, or Strategy and Innovation, visit:
This series was inspired by the Axelson Center’s Alford-Axelson Award Review Committee’s use of the following seven Hallmarks of Nonprofit Managerial Excellence℠ in order to assess the nonprofit management and performance of award applicants:
• Mission and Program
• Leadership and Governance
• Strategy and Innovation
• Human Resources
• Financial Strength and Performance
• Resource Generation and External Relations
• Accountability and Integrity

This post addresses Human Resources and provides insights and resources to help your organization excel in this very important area. For each Hallmark, the award review committee uses a set of underlying performance criteria to identify exemplary management. For Human Resources, the criteria are:

1. Organization has written personnel policies and procedures, approved by the board, governing the work and actions of all employees and volunteers of the organization.

2. Organization has written job descriptions for employees that clearly identify roles and responsibilities.

3. Organization has system in place for conducting annual performance evaluations for all employees.

4. Organization has a professional development plan in place and strives for excellence in recruiting and retaining qualified and diverse (ethnicity, professional acumen, gender, age, etc.) employees and volunteers.

5. Organization has developed a succession plan for all upper management roles.

6. Roles and responsibilities for all organizational entities are formalized and clear.

7. Organization chart is complete and reflects current organizational realities.

8. Benchmarking is used for compensation and salary planning.

Here are some insights and actionable steps for addressing points 1-8 above:

1: The operative word here is “written” which ensures that personnel policies and procedures governing the work and actions of all employees and volunteers are formally articulated and not subject to individual and therefore inconsistent interpretation. These policies and procedures most definitely should be board-approved to ensure that they are in compliance with prevailing local, state and federal employment law. For related resources see: National Council of Nonprofits: Managing Nonprofit Employees and Minnesota Council of Nonprofits: Nonprofit Management and HR

2: Job descriptions. Whether for full, part-time or volunteer positions, written job descriptions that clearly identify roles and responsibilities will reduce misinterpretation of defined roles and responsibilities. Very often individuals are given multiple “other duties as assigned” and over time this can lead to unrealistic expectations of staff by management and frustration on the part of team members. With roles and responsibilities documented, and revised as needed by mutual consent, the risks of confrontation and dissatisfaction will be significantly reduced. See: Nonprofit Job Description Toolkit

3: Many nonprofits do performance reviews only on an annual basis, however it is also helpful to do a 60-90 day review especially with new employees. This is also true for staff who generally perform well but whose morale and performance may be affected during exceptionally stressful times for the organization. Under such circumstances it’s less about critiquing understandable slips in performance but more about reassuring and supporting them as a good leader does during trying times. Here are some resources to check out on this topic from the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits: Conducting Performance Evaluations and the Annual Performance Evaluation.

On a related note for those unfamiliar with what’s known as a 360 degree review, this is an alternate assessment tool to systematically collect candid feedback about job performance, skills, and behaviors from an individual’s supervisor, colleagues, direct reports, clients, and other key community stakeholders, as well as from the individual who is being assessed. See: Nonprofit Leaders Rate Highest in 360-Degree Reviews and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of 360° Evaluations for more information.

4: Progressive organizations continuously strive for excellence in recruiting and retaining a qualified and diverse team. Beyond assessing an applicant’s hard skills, making the right hire can also be facilitated by using any one of a number of personality profile tools which assess the applicant on a range of soft skills to determine if they are a good fit for the organization. Firms such as Wonderlic ( and Meyers-Briggs ( have a long history of documenting the personality traits of exemplary employees in hundreds of job positions, against which applicants are compared in order to gauge their degree of “fit” with an organization. The tests are quite effective and serve as an analytic adjunct to “gut instinct” when hiring. Investing in team members by providing professional development opportunities such as seminars, workshops or continuing education in areas that relate to the mission and operational needs of the organization create a more rewarding and valuable experience for staff members and contribute to retention of valuable employees.

On a related note, the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management at North Park University is offering a free workshop on December 10, 2014, “Making the Right Hire the First Time”. Learn more and register here.

Regarding diversity, many nonprofits remain unsure that they are maintaining an appropriate balance in their diversity hiring (e.g. ethnicity, professional acumen, gender, age, etc). The following articles provide some excellent insights to help you assess your current diversity levels: GuideStar Online Tool to Gauge Nonprofits’ Diversity, Achieving Diversity in the Nonprofit Workplace and Is the Nonprofit Sector Doing Enough for Diversity?

5: In an ideal world, organizations would strategically hire people with both the skills needed immediately and the ability to grow professionally so that in time they can replace individuals in more senior positions who leave. Unfortunately this is not always the case, but it need not be so. Even if the organization has not been strategic in its hiring it’s never too late to start. The following links provide information and guidance on creating a succession plan: Leadership Development and Succession and Nonprofit Executive Succession-Planning Toolkit. Also, see this article Strategic Hiring for the Long Term which also applies to nonprofits.

6: In this context, an organizational entity refers to a specific department within the organization. For example roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined for each separate department such as development, marketing, programming, finance, HR etc. See: Nonprofit Job Description Toolkit

7: Organizational charts help to graphically represent the staff structure of an organization. Here are some sources to help you develop or refine your organizational chart: Traditional Nonprofit Organizational Structure then click ‘Nonprofit Org Charts’ in the column on the left.

8: To ensure that your organization’s employee compensation structure is competitive you can access the Donors Forum ( and see Research Services for Members.

For a nominal membership fee you can access compensation tables for a wide range of nonprofit positions such as executive director, development director, administrative assistant, etc.. To take advantage of this Member benefit email, or ask a question via @DFLibrarian.

In my next post I will examine the fifth Hallmark of Nonprofit Managerial Excellence, Financial Strength and Performance, so stay tuned!

Please post your questions/comments and share this post with others in the nonprofit world, and feel free to call/e-mail me anytime for free chat about any questions you may have.
Jim Stoynoff
jstoynoff@Synthesis.Biz or (312) 920-1700


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