Managing People 2016-12-22T08:18:09+00:00


Managing People

The strength of any nonprofit relies primarily on the strength of its people. These are the folks who carry out your mission day in and day out. In most cases, they need to be motivated by a lot more than money (because let’s face it, you probably don’t have a lot). But how do you find people who are as passionate about your work as you are?

The question is actually more complicated than it might seem. First, you need to get very specific about what you mean by “people.” Federal and state laws have a lot to say about whether an employee is exempt from overtime laws or not, and what makes a consultant a consultant. On top of that, there’s a lot to know about recruiting, managing and being liable for volunteers. This is all very serious stuff.

Managing People FAQ’S

In the nonprofit sector, where salaries are often modest and resources are usually stretched thin, an organization’s success depends in large part on the diverse skills, experience, flexibility and commitment of its workforce. But how do you find passionate candidates who have the skills you need to reach your constituency?

Today, most job seekers start by searching the Internet for advertised positions. This makes the web an effective way to reach out to a wide pool of potential candidates. But if you’re looking for applicants keenly interested in the nonprofit sector, you’ll want to advertise on sites targeted specifically to this audience.

To reach mission-driven, experienced nonprofit professionals, contact the Center for Nonprofit Management (CNM) to advertise on their job site, Jobscoop (, which connects nonprofit employers and job seekers. Other useful resources include Idealist (, Opportunity Knocks ( and The Chronicle of Philanthropy jobs section (

And don’t forget to use the power of referrals. Let employees, colleagues, board members and professional associations know you’re actively looking for qualified candidates and ask for recommendations. Studies show that most job seekers will ultimately find a position through a referral network.

Your organization is growing and it’s time to recruit new employees. And chances are, you’ve decided to do the hiring yourself. But you’re unsure of how to go about it. Follow these easy steps to help ensure a smooth and successful hiring process.

1. Develop a clear job description.

First, determine what you’re looking for and put it down on paper. This will become your job description. The details should ideally be developed by a department supervisor, but you may also want to ask staff in the department to contribute.

Be sure to include:

  • Job title and reporting structure.
  •  The purpose of the position and its relation to the organization’s structure.
  • Overall responsibilities, decision-making authority, and typical daily activities.
  •  Required skills, knowledge, education and experience.
  • A bit of background about the organization.

2. Advertise the position.

Post on targeted websites, in community newsletters and on your website. Use social media tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Ask staff, colleagues and associates for recommendations. Use all avenues to get the word out about your open position.

3. Review the resumes.

Digging through resumes for a qualified applicant can be an arduous task, so here are some tips to help speed the process:

• Before looking at resumes, review your job description and jot down the key skills and experience you need. Then, compare each resume to your list. Look for keywords and phrases that match.
• Pull viable candidates and review experience continuity. Look for gaps in employment history. If a candidate looks worthy, make notes directly on his or her resume for future review before and during an interview.
• If you have too many solid candidates, consider conducting preliminary interviews by phone to narrow down your list.

4. Consider having qualified candidates complete an employment application form.

Once you identify promising candidates, you may want to have each applicant fill out a standard application form. Standardizing applications will enable you to quickly compare candidates, identify weaknesses or gaps in work history, and collect additional information that may not be in a resume. It will also help you tailor interviews for efficiency and avoid interview questions that may be sensitive or illegal.

5. Interview qualified candidates.

In an interview, you’ll want to be sure to ask about relevant skills and experience, nonprofit-specific training, and the candidate’s motivation for seeking employment with your organization. To gauge knowledge about the sector and specific interest in your organization, ask about sector-specific challenges and what the candidate knows about your organization’s history and mission. To make sure the candidate is a fit with your organization’s values, ask what he or she looks for in a position and organizational culture.

It’s important to note that when you hire an employee, you cannot discriminate on the basis of age, race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and in some cases, veteran status. Therefore, understanding your interviewing responsibilities – what topics are sensitive or off-limits in an interview – is paramount.

6. Conduct reference checks.

As a prospective employer, you want to obtain a reference that clarifies an applicant’s strengths and limitations. So, be sure to ask former employers about the candidate’s job function, attitude and dependability, ability to take responsibility, relationships with co-workers, and advancement potential.

Keep in mind, to protect against lawsuits, employers you contact may limit the scope of their reference to date of employment, job title and compensation level. If you’re not getting enough information from HR or managers, consider asking the applicant to supply other references such as a co-worker or colleague, and don’t be afraid to reach out to your professional networks.

7. Draft a letter offering employment.

Once you’ve chosen a candidate, you’re going to want to write an offer of employment. This is a document that both you and the applicant will sign. The letter should include confirmation of title, compensation, employment status, job classification, description of benefits, first date of employment, orientation period (if any), and supervisor’s name and title. If you’re unsure, refer to a reputable hiring guide for tips and boilerplate language.

o fulfill their missions and make the most out of limited resources, more and more nonprofits are hiring a mix of employees and independent contractors. But classifying employees and determining who is and is not an independent contractor isn’t always an easy task. If a hire is misclassified, an organization can face hefty fines and even lawsuits. So understanding the determining factors to classification is key. Here are the basics:


To avoid paying overtime, an employer may be tempted to classify an employee as “exempt” under the law. (Non-exempt employees are entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor and Standards Act [FLSA], typically when they work more than 40 hours in a week.) Employees who might fall into this category include executive, administrative, and professional workers.

But simply calling an employee a manager, or paying them a salary as opposed to an hourly rate, doesn’t necessarily make an employee exempt. So do your research before making a classification. If you’re unsure, it’s best to refer to a reputable employment guide, an HR management firm or an attorney.

Independent Contractors

The IRS, California courts, and state agencies use a number of factors to determine whether an individual is an independent contractor or an employee. But because no single factor is conclusive on its own, it’s sometimes difficult for hiring organizations to determine a relationship.

In general, independent contractors work on specific, time-bound projects and are able to work when, where and how they choose. For example, they wouldn’t be required, as employees often are, to work a set number of hours or on the premises, to complete a job. They’re usually paid by the project or on commission, as opposed to employees who may be paid by the hour or the month. They typically use their own equipment, work for more than one employer at a time, and their work is generally not integral to the continuation of business. Contractors are also responsible for satisfactory completion of a job or are legally obligated to make good for failure to complete it, allowing for profit or loss. To learn more, visit the IRS website and read the IRSPublication 15-A: Employer’s Supplemental Tax Guide

Developing documented policies and procedures is an essential step toward structuring an organization, guiding consistent and fair decision-making, and ensuring a safe and happy workplace. Writing a personnel policy will help you establish a company culture and rules of conduct, and help you determine how to handle situations before they arise. Once developed, it will also become the first resource you’ll turn to when orienting a new employee.

A personnel policy can provide all kinds of details that your new, and established employees should know. It’s up to you to decide how specific you want to get. Just remember, you’re bound by the policy you create. So make sure it’s not more restrictive than necessary by law. You may even want to talk to an employment lawyer to ask about labor rules that may affect you.

At minimum, your policy should contain discussion in the following areas:

Orientation or Trial Periods

Employers often use orientation or trial periods to apply an initial review of an employee or to phase in eligibility for benefits. If you choose to apply orientation or trial periods to new employees, be clear when and how their status will change, and seek legal advice if you’re unsure.


As an employer, you’re responsible for providing a safe workplace that meets health and safety standards. You must ensure employees are informed about hazardous chemicals and receive adequate safety training. You must also keep detailed safety records and notify the government about workplace accidents.

With this in mind, California law requires employers to develop an Illness and Injury Prevention Program. This policy should identify those responsible in your organization for implementing the Program, and describe your system for identifying workplace hazards, correcting issues, communicating with and training staff, and ensuring Program compliance.

For more information on your workplace safety responsibilities, visit the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website (


It’s your responsibility to create and enforce a harassment-free workplace. A comprehensive harassment policy can help you do that. A good policy takes a no-tolerance approach. It outlines types of harassment, describes prohibitive behavior, outlines training and education procedures, encourages victim reporting and ensures confidentiality. It also details complaint procedures, and promises prompt disciplinary action.

Grievance Procedures

Though grievance procedures are not required by law, you may want to consider adding them to your personnel policy. Formal grievance procedures will boost employee confidence and provide specific steps for filing and responding to complaints. Developing policy in this area and consistently following it can save time and administrative costs when grievances do arise, and even minimize your exposure to liability.

When writing your grievance procedures, be specific about:

  • Eligible employee classifications.
  • The kinds of disputes that are covered.
  • The steps to filing, and any time constraints.
  • Levels of authority and the designation of substitutes.
  •  Rules governing evidence and cross-examination.
  •  Representation at grievance procedures and the use of arbitration.
  • Any rules against retaliation.

Jury Duty

Under California law, employers are not allowed to fire or discriminate against an employee called to serve as a juror or testify as a witness, provided the employee gives reasonable advance notice for time off. That said, employers are typically not required to pay wages while an employee serves as a juror or witness. Therefore, your policy in this area may want to state whether and for how long wages and benefits are provided during jury leave.

Family and Medical Leave

Under federal and California state law, employers with 50 or more employees (fewer in some states) must provide eligible employees unpaid family and medical care leave of up to three months in a 12-month period. Leaves can be taken to care for a newborn or adopted child, or a child, spouse or parent with a serious health condition. In addition, employees unable to work due to pregnancy-related conditions may take up to four months of disability leave, in addition to their maternity leave.

Maternity and medical leaves are typically granted under the expectation that an employee will be eligible to return to work. And the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Therefore, your policy in this area should be carefully crafted and clearly specify the circumstances under which maternity and medical leaves will be granted. It should also outline the employee’s obligations while on leave.

To learn more about developing a personnel policy, consult a reputable guide such as the Employee Handbook and Personnel Policies Manual by Richard J. Simmons, LLP, L.A.

Your organization’s approach to compensation will affect your ability to attract, retain and motivate qualified and enthusiastic employees. So how do you determine how to set appropriate yet attractive salaries and give increases and benefits? Here are some ideas to get you started:

Set salaries that fit.

In Southern California, the Center for Nonprofit Management (CNM) publishes an annual compensation and benefits survey for nonprofit employers located in Southern and Central California. To purchase a copy, visit the CNM website (

Next, you’ll want to look at your organization in relation to others in your service area. Check competitors and partner associations. Look at individual roles in your organization and compare market pay scales for each position.

Search job sites for job titles that match, and look for salary information. Reach out to professional associations for salary studies or trend reports. Or, try one of the many salary calculators available online.

Then, look at how positions fit within your organization. Determine value based on the skills and experience necessary to perform the job, as well as output and how integral the position is to your organization’s success.

To help ensure fair decision-making when evaluating and compensating potential and current employees, establish a salary range for each position. You’ll want a minimum and a maximum salary, with the midpoint being your target for fully effective performance.

How to determine a salary range? Try dividing the salary minimum by a factor and then adding the result to the minimum. For example, a 50 percent salary range based on a minimum of $24,000 can be calculated by dividing by 2 ($12,000) and adding that to the minimum ($24,000 + $12,000 = $36,000). Here, $24,000 is the minimum, $30,000 is the midpoint and $36,000 is the maximum.

Consider offering other benefits, particularly when budgets are tight.

It’s well known that salaries in the nonprofit sector are lower than those in the corporate sector. And nonprofit job seekers often choose the work for reasons that go beyond compensation. This makes benefit packages a big factor in recruiting and retaining nonprofit employees.

Since employers are not required to provide benefits, plans will vary widely depending on an organization’s size, field of service and budget constraints. If offered, benefits can include paid vacation; holidays; sick time; training opportunities; health, dental, life, and disability insurance; and retirement benefits. In addition, you may want to build in other attractive benefits, such as flexible working hours or the ability to work from home, gym memberships, or even an office lunch program.

If you do decide to offer benefits, you must abide by state and federal laws that regulate them. Therefore, you’ll want to clearly define who is eligible for benefits and when, the types and amounts of benefits available, and the circumstances under which benefits may be lost or forfeited. Also be sure to document your right to modify or terminate benefit features as needed.

Set guidelines for compensation increases.

When do increases happen? Will increases be available for promotion or transfer? Tie salary increases to performance and set regular performance reviews, and you set fair standards for all.

Performance evaluations are key to keeping communication lines open, effectively managing people and getting their best, everyday. Evaluations boost employee confidence, encourage individuals to achieve, and correct performance issues. They also help employers provide employees with necessary support and may protect employers from false claims of wrongful termination.

In the case of employees, evaluations are generally conducted by an immediate supervisor. In the case of the executive director, a board member should lead the effort.

Following are some key factors to consider:

Develop a regular schedule for evaluations.

Depending on your organizational needs, consider conducting employee evaluations annually, semi-annually or quarterly. They should be conducted either on the same date for all employees or on the anniversary of an employee’s hire.

Be clear, objective and consistent about performance standards.

Develop a standard evaluation form for use organization-wide, to ensure balanced, fair results.

Keep the discussion positive, but don’t be afraid to accurately reflect performance. Discuss both strengths and weaknesses using specific examples where expectations have been met, exceeded or fallen short. If performance is low, set a date to meet again soon and review progress.

Once the form has been completed and discussed with the employee, be sure it is understood. Leave space for employee comments and a signature.

Board evaluations of the executive director should not be missed.

Executive director evaluations are a significant component of a board’s responsibilities. They are critical to ensuring an executive director is in sync with a board, and driving the organization forward toward its mission. Evaluations also help to clarify expectations and set goals for the future.

As with employees, it’s important to establish clear, consistent criteria and processes for executive director evaluations. You’ll also want to set regular reviews, at least annually.

Questions to consider before evaluating an executive director:

• Who will be involved in the evaluation?
• What form will the evaluation take – 360°, feedback, meeting of performance goals, or …?
• How will future goals be established?
• How is the evaluation and review tied to compensation?

Taking disciplinary action or terminating an employee is never easy. It affects organizational morale, taps resources and, if not handled properly, could result in lawsuits.

To minimize risk, develop clear guidelines for performance reviews. Truthfully document employee progress, and track disciplinary measures as they happen.

If you do need to let an employee go, termination should be based on:

• An employee not adequately performing specific job duties.
• An employee violating a written organizational policy, such as harassing another employee.

Generally, a court will uphold an employer’s right to fire an employee as long as the termination does not violate discrimination laws, protective statutes or the employer’s contractual commitments.

Here’s an example. Your employee handbook states an employee will not be disciplined or fired without cause. You have also developed a grievance policy to help resolve disputes. In this case, a court would be more likely to uphold a “wrongful discharge” claim from an employee who is fired for supposed harassment but was denied the opportunity to use the grievance procedure to try to resolve the issue.

If you do develop written policy that outlines the kind of performance that would result in disciplinary action or termination, be sure to describe the types of offenses carefully. And don’t forget to include a statement that indicates that examples cited are intended as illustration only. Finally, it’s essential that you engage legal counsel to review all human resources policies.

You need an outside perspective and you want to hire a consultant. You’re looking for someone with the expertise and objectivity to help you move forward and succeed. Where do you start?

First determine your needs.

Begin by examining your own organizational goals to determine what it is you really need help with. This is best achieved by determining your objectives and outlining any strategies you’ve applied to meet them.

Think about your resources. How much time do your employees and volunteers have available to dedicate to the tasks necessary to reach your goals? Do they have the requisite skills to achieve the right results? Answering these questions will enable you to identify gaps and define the tasks a consultant may take on. This will help you make the best use of any consultant you hire.

When you’re ready to hire, develop criteria to evaluate candidates.

Develop a list of questions to help you select candidates that fit. Interview at least two to three consultants before making a decision and be sure to discuss:

• Experience in your area of need and with your type of organization.
• Interest in the work your organization does.
• Track records of success.
• Their approach to working with nonprofits – how they plan to structure and check in on the work, and how they define expected outcomes.
• Cost estimates, what fees include, and how payment will be structured.
• Time frames for completion, and other commitments that might limit available time.
• Expectations for support from your employees, how you work and the resources you have available.

Once you’ve found a match, consider vetting your selection with professional colleagues. Develop a contract before work commences. Ask the consultant to provide work plans, contract amounts, billing arrangements, reporting structure and termination procedures.

For more information about working with consultants, refer to a reputable guide such as Nonprofit Consultants: How To Choose Them, How To Use Them. Find it at (click on Resources/Consultant Resource Directory).

As your nonprofit grows, you’ll have a need to get more people involved to meet your objectives. While bringing on a volunteer or two doesn’t require too much organization, if you’re considering developing a more sophisticated volunteer program, you’ll want to assess your readiness to take on the task.

Here are three key questions to address before jumping into volunteer program development:

1. Do you have someone to recruit, select and supervise multiple volunteers? Volunteers are best evaluated, trained and managed by one representative within the organization. And the task of bringing on and managing volunteers requires planning and dedicated time.

2. Have you garnered staff and management support for your volunteer program? Getting the entire organization on-board and involved in creating an appropriate program is a key to success. Tap staff and management to develop a plan. Have them help establish goals for involving volunteers, to make sure goals are consistent with staff roles. Volunteers should be brought on to support staff positions, not infringe on them.

3. Do you have an orientation plan? Before you recruit volunteers, you’re going to want to develop formal procedures to help you orient volunteers to the organization and train them for specific job functions.

Volunteers can be terrific champions for your organization. And starting a volunteer program can be an exciting process. But often these programs grow haphazardly out of an immediate need to bring in additional resources. When this happens, problems can arise. Communication between staff and volunteers can break down, contributions to the organization’s mission may be missed, and volunteer retention may become a challenge.

Before you begin, create a solid foundation. People volunteer because they care about an issue, want to be around others who are of like mind, and want to do meaningful work. Keep this in mind as you develop your volunteer program. Plan thoroughly and you’ll have a better chance of success.

Develop a plan and get buy-in from staff and management.

Identify a need for your program. Define program goals that connect to organizational values, and develop a policy around volunteer involvement. Make sure to involve staff in planning and get full support from management to set your program up for success. Getting everyone to contribute will help you develop a strong model that clearly details how volunteers can take on needed tasks and support staff positions without slowing down overall productivity.

Treat volunteer recruitment seriously.

Create engaging recruitment messages to encourage volunteer participation. Develop thoughtful volunteer job descriptions to further identify needs and ensure expectations are clear. Be creative about where you look for volunteers. Reach out to friends and colleagues, partner associations and board members for referrals. And before you select a candidate, carefully evaluate each potential volunteer just as you would an employee.

Be ready for orientation and training.

Plan in advance how you’ll orient volunteers about the organization and train them for specific job functions. Train staff on how to communicate with volunteers and explain the chain of command. Proper training and orientation will clarify expectations and help your volunteers prepare to dive in.

Coordinate volunteer involvement and monitor progress.

You’ll want to designate a single individual to manage volunteers, track their progress, and monitor interaction between staff, volunteers and constituents. Having volunteers report to a single individual helps keep communication lines open and reduces the likelihood that expectations are not met.

If problems arise, be ready to adjust. Document your progress to help you do so.

Encourage participation and adjust strategies as needed to retain good volunteers.

Provide regular feedback and program results to staff and volunteers to boost morale and encourage new ideas for volunteer involvement. And remember, recognition is key to retaining volunteers. Volunteer retention saves time and effort and allows you to focus on program goals over recruiting. So look for low-cost ways to thank volunteers for a job well done.

Looking for volunteers in Southern California?
Try in the Los Angeles area, and in Orange County.

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, just ask our experts. We’ll be happy to provide the answer.

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