A Nonprofit Guide to Human Resources Management

Ryan Jones • Jun 02, 2021
Nonprofit Human Resources Management

So many nonprofit organizations start with one person, one passion, and one mission. But to make an impact, most organizations eventually have to hire someone else. Then probably another person. Then maybe a marketing team and an accounting department? 

Pretty soon, the office is starting to look crowded, and no one knows whether the dental plan covers braces. It’s time to get some help with human resources.

What is Human Resources Management for Nonprofits?

What is Human Resources Management for Nonprofits?

Like any company, your nonprofit’s success depends on finding qualified, dedicated staff and keeping them happy.

People are an investment and essential to achieving your organization’s goals. So you must manage your human resources so that your team feels supported, empowered, and excited to come to work every day.

Human resources management in nonprofit organizations includes recruiting talent, compensating them, creating strategies to retain them, and developing nonprofit employment policies that create a safe and productive workplace for them. Many nonprofits also require volunteers, whose administration also falls under the responsibility of the HR department. 

Human resources managers and teams are also tasked with keeping your organization compliant with local, regional, and federal laws, as well as the internal policies that govern your day-to-day activities. 

And because HR is usually the most knowledgeable department when it comes to the rules and regulations at a nonprofit organization, it becomes the place employees and volunteers can go to get help with their work situation, from inquiring about compensation to lodging complaints.

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What Are the Responsibilities of a Nonprofit HR Manager?

What Are the Responsibilities of a Nonprofit HR Manager?

HR managers provide comprehensive human resources services for nonprofit organizations, including oversight and management for a whole host of things that might never make it onto the leadership team’s to-do list. 

Human resources professionals are specialists just like anyone else you might bring onto your team, and their expertise will be incredibly valuable to your organization. Here are seven key responsibilities of your nonprofit’s human resources manager:

1. Managing Talent

Human resources managers are responsible for creating an environment that is productive and supportive for employees and volunteers. This includes implementing strategies that boost employee engagement, measure and improve performance, and contribute to retention, which is a major consideration for nonprofit organizations. 

Since the purpose of your donor management strategy is to keep donors giving for the long term, it also makes sense to try to keep employees for a long time. This helps maintain continuity in your operations, especially in relationships with major donors who need a little hand-holding. Beyond that, hiring new employees can be expensive for any organization, so it’s much more cost-effective to keep the people you already have.

2. Recruiting Talent

Your HR manager is instrumental in attracting the right people. They can identify standout candidates, screen them ahead of in-depth interviews, and ultimately manage the hiring process, including contracts and salary negotiations.

Recruiting nonprofit organizations isn’t exactly easy; nonprofits often can’t afford to match the salaries or benefit packages offered by large for-profit corporations. That’s why it’s so important to have an HR manager who can find potential employees who aren’t just capable of doing the job but also have a passion and commitment to your mission.

3. Onboarding New Staff

If you’ve ever started a new job and felt like you didn’t know what you were supposed to be doing on your first day, chances are the job was missing something important: orientation and onboarding

New employees arrive filled with expectation, excitement, and probably many questions. It’s important to devise a strategy to introduce them to the work environment, organizational policies, and their specific jobs. Onboarding is the first step toward retention and sets a positive baseline for morale and productivity.

For volunteers, orientation might only last a short time, an hour or so, depending on the complexity of their position; for higher-level staff, onboarding might last days or weeks to bring them up to speed with the rest of the team. Either way, it’s up to the HR manager to introduce them to the organization.

4. Training

If you need to train your employees or volunteers and empower them to be more productive, you can get your HR manager to facilitate in-house training programs. 

From tips on filling out and submitting a timesheet, or using software specific to your organization, to guidelines on how to claim benefits, the list goes on. Volunteers may even need to be trained from scratch on performing their given task, like asking for donations or how to dial 9 to get an outside line. This type of specific training is usually the responsibility of the HR manager.

Human resources personnel are also responsible for seeking out and managing employee professional development opportunities, so that staff can continue to learn and grow with the organization. And it’s worth noting that this is yet another great way to retain employees.

5. Compensation Strategy

The leadership of any organization may want to pay their employees handsomely, but for nonprofits, the budget usually won’t allow it. Nonprofits are accountable to their donors. If generous contributors feel that too much of their money is going to people instead of programs, you’re going to have a bad time during the next big fundraiser. 

On the flip side, employees want to make as much money as possible in exchange for their services. Luckily, the HR manager is responsible for working between management and employees to determine fair compensation so that employees earn an appropriate amount without limiting the ability of the organization to make an impact.

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6. Workplace Policies 

HR policies for nonprofit organizations provide a documented framework for dealing with common workplace issues. From complaints and harassment to compliance with laws and job descriptions, robust HR policies outline the correct course of action for these cases, rather than forcing leadership to reinvent the wheel every time a new issue pops up. 

Creating human resource policy for nonprofit organizations takes up a lot of an HR manager’s time, but it’s worth it to protect the company and its employees.

7. Developing a Positive Culture

HR managers must walk a fine line between concrete management tasks like policymaking and touchy-feely human-centric things like ensuring everyone is having a good time. 

For maximum productivity, retention, and happiness, employees should feel comfortable in the workplace and with each other; they shouldn’t be overworked or underutilized. Teams should endeavor to communicate well and work collaboratively. Figuring out how to make it happen is the job of the HR manager.

5 Fantastic Platforms for Nonprofit HR Management

5 Fantastic Platforms for Nonprofit HR Management

Your human resources manager shouldn’t be forced to make all of this happen on her own. There are tools available to help your HR department run smoothly, stay organized, and nurture happier, more productive employees.

Let’s take a look:

1. Sapling 

Sapling provides HR software tools suitable for large nonprofit organizations and governments, offering help with everything from recruiting to internal communications to manager support, all in an easy-to-follow project management environment that includes customizable dashboards, scheduling, alerts, and workflows.

2. Bamboo HR 

Bamboo HR focuses on the time savings feature associated with using its software. And it makes sense: less time spent dealing with administrative problems means more time to make an impact. Plus, it includes modules for recruitment, onboarding, and even timesheets—no more old-timey punch cards for your team.

3. Workday 

Workday is a little bit unique in this field in that they combine HR software with financial tools in a single, unified package. And it makes sense: employee compensation is often the single biggest expense for a nonprofit organization; why not manage it in conjunction with everything else on your balance sheet? Workday also includes tools to help with employee experience, training, and performance.

4. PurelyHR 

For smaller organizations or nonprofits with particular HR needs, PurelyHR may be the way to go. This platform is modular, meaning you can pick and choose which tools you need and which ones you don’t, which saves you from spending your precious budget on things you don’t need. Choose from modules like Performance, Time-Sheets, Warnings, and more.

5. Sage HR 

One of Sage HR’s slogans is “Running your non-profit organization like a business.” That may not work for everyone, but for the right nonprofit, their software platform could be the ideal path toward efficiency and greater positive impact. Sage includes an intelligent analytics tool, management modules, and some accounting features.


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Still don’t think you need a human resources manager? Plenty of team leaders operate under a policy of “no news is good news.” That is, if they don’t hear complaints from their employees and volunteers, everything must be okay, right?

That’s the rub: without an HR manager and an effective human resources policy structure, employees often don’t feel secure enough to bring up issues to leadership. Nonprofit jobs can be fleeting, and few people want to risk their position over workplace friction. So they continue to work in a less than ideal environment, eventually quitting when they find something better. 

Now you’ve lost a great employee, and you have to spend more time and money to find a replacement. Wouldn’t it have been better to have trusted an HR manager to monitor employee engagement, streamline HR administration, and ultimately listen to your employees?

Yes. Yes, it would have.