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Assessing a Nonprofit Regime: HR Management Discipline, Then and Now

Management of nonprofits has gone from decades of very randomly assigned administrative skill sets in government and nongovernment entities to new, evolving and very specialized high level professional placements. This requires a multiplicity of new ideas and motivational and developmental skill sets, which run the gamut from managing small local municipal government agencies to managing large charities or multi-million dollar endowment funds for educational institutions. These examples entail the savvy of sustainable team members able to work collectively, collaboratively and effectively with human resources management to create and produce the best value outcome possible for that nonprofit organization. Keeping in mind that nonprofits are apt to take lessons from for-profit regimes where keeping the organization functioning well in its economic state, is a hybrid character that becomes an everyday preoccupation.

As Ketl (2002) pointed out, analysts have been keen to assess that government has been relying more on a wide variety of partnerships with nonprofit and voluntary organizations. These increasing connections among private, public and nonprofit organizations profoundly disrupt traditional notions of administrative management, thus creating different strategies and fresh tactics in order to ensure effective and responsive programs. Further inferences are drawn from the resource dependency theory as being one of the most popular macro-organizational theories for nonprofit groups (Abzug, 1999); it holds that nonprofit organizations invest efforts to manage their relationships with stakeholders and thereby guarantee legitimacy and access to resources (Pfieffer and Salanick, 2003).

In terms of human resources management being an effective disciple that takes any nonprofit from good to great, one only has to examine issues of recruitment, selection, training, motivation, compensation, evaluation, ability to investigate new ways of getting things done and, worst case scenario, the replacement of those who are not a good fit for that organization. Here, human resources management has to make its way well beyond its traditional function as mere monitor of compliance in support of separate management objectives, and instead rise to the level of strategic importance in any nonprofit organization. For this reason, human resources management in the nonprofit sector truly requires the scope of responsibility that involves some very unique considerations in terms of motivational and great people-person skills. One of the most unique characteristics of a nonprofit is to balance organizational goals, board members, staff and the army of volunteers that often align themselves with their favorite nonprofit entity. Maintaining a motivated and productive workforce is indeed one of the most daunting challenges for today’s nonprofit organizations and more specifically for the human resources department who must keep a high level focus on staffing, orientation and training the workforce well enough for them to take on the key responsibilities of the organization.

For any human resources management professional to be effective, requirements include the ability to rise above available knowledge and take on the context of being able to examine work in that particular nonprofit organization. Understanding that employees are a very important resource, rather that an addition to the cost of doing business, helps the human resources management team to place great value on the selection of the best, most worthy and qualified staff for the nonprofit organization. Within the nonprofit sector the same scope of responsibilities as private sector staffing needs are considered. In addition to balancing the needs of board members, the productive workforce and, in the case of small nonprofits, providing an adequate compensation package to keep the organization attractive for maintaining the needed talent in staffing levels. Keeping in mind the business of nonprofit organizations are rarely very strict nine to five operations. It is important to inform all candidates that the task could and will require unusual hours as well as travel locally and to distant locations depending on the initiative that is been addressed. In any management of human resources there are several fundamental principles concerning the assessment of personnel needs that apply to nonprofits:

  • Fill the positions with the most talented and able bodied personnel who are willing to take on the intended tasks that are assigned to them.
  • Clearly providing adequate and the most realistic specifications that will be part of each job position. This reality helps the perspective candidate to be very certain as to what is expected of them in terms of responsibilities. This avoids any confusion and the possibility of a quick turnover.
  • Explaining what metrics are utilized in performance appraisals as well as the process for any alternative dispute resolution that may arise.

Applying some of the best practices is a step forward when it comes to the knowledge and concerted ability to operate within a nonprofit regime. This list is not all inclusive, however, it gives some basic guidelines that are a win for the organization:

  • Legal obligations that are duty of care, duty of loyalty and duty of obedience.
  • Effective governance, strategic planning and strong financial oversight.
  • Assessing staffing needs, monitoring compliance and personnel policies, providing support to all departments in hiring, promotions and employee related issues.

Therefore the state of the nonprofit regime is shaped by the commitment to its social provision. Its character becomes evident in the high level of participation by designated nonprofit organizations in selected areas of social provision under federal, state or local communities. The organizational nonprofit entities are subjected to a different set of rules and scrutiny that would not be the norm among private organizations. Human resources anchored in the rule of law governing nonprofits is a task to take seriously, not just to avoid unnecessary litigation, but also to establish the notion and ability to operate with credibility as an ethical organization in which to be proud. Best practices are the key to success such as strategy focused on mission, board work supporting the mission as well as determining the policy and the staff implementing a policy where good human resources management and organizational governance result in a competitive edge.


Author: Horace A. Blake has served three full terms as HOA Commissioner for the City of Carrollton and has occupied an advisory role in matters relating to human resources issues under the direction of the City Attorney. Blake have a total of 25 years in Human Resources Management in the private sector and has volunteered with the county and the state in the capacity of teaching the youths on career management and job search techniques. Currently Blake serves on the City’s Storm Water Management Board along with being a DPA Candidate. As a member of ASPA, he is the Treasurer for the Section on Public Law and Administration.



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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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