Staffing insight for non-profits

PHOTO/Rob Stapleton/AJOC

Nonprofit organizations have become an important part of Alaska’s economy, and many nonprofit board members and staffers are working hard to build expertise and improve their professionalism.

Taking a professional approach to doing one’s job is as important in the nonprofit sector as it is in private businesses. In some ways, it’s even more important, because resources are usually scarce and lost opportunities can interfere with accomplishing a group’s mission.

Alaska is blessed with a nonprofit community that contributes to its quality of life in many different ways -- by helping those less fortunate, by providing educational opportunities to those who need them, by bringing alive the arts and culture, and by protecting the environment.

But our nonprofit organizations face a big challenge today: finding ways to attract and retain good staff and volunteers. At a recent workshop sponsored jointly by the United Way of Anchorage and Phillips Alaska, participants gained valuable insights on how to meet this challenge. The workshop was one of a series designed to build leadership and management skills within Alaska’s nonprofit organizations.

Workshop speakers emphasized that training staff in "best practices" leads to better management and more satisfied employees. Building a great nonprofit staff requires creating jobs with meaning that allow people to really make a difference.

Nonprofit managers can seldom compete for employees on the basis of salary, so they need to find other ways to make their organizations desirable places to work. There are many possibilities, but two valuable ones are helping staff to acquire new skills and delegating power to them. These two strategies are tried and true approaches; they work.

Recruiting and holding onto good board members is equally vital. People are no longer willing to devote hours each month to boring and ritualistic board meetings where their only role is just to listen and endorse staff reports. Board members increasingly want their time to matter and expect to be engaged in the most important decisions affecting the future of the organization.

Among the issues they face are: dealing with information overload, using technology more effectively, increasing fund raising from individuals, becoming more entrepreneurial, finding ways to collaborate or consolidate with other organizations, and, of course, recruiting and keeping a diverse and effective staff for their organization.

A key element in succeeding with this last issue is to build a strong relationship with their executive director. To do this, they must carefully select this person, conduct annual evaluations and offer fair compensation.

On this point, Alaska nonprofit board members should be aware of a recent salary survey conducted by the United Way of Anchorage that shows that female executive directors are being paid significantly less than men for jobs of similar scope and responsibility. These results should send a message to all boards that pay equity must be at the top of their agenda if they are going to maintain a productive staff.

Together, our boards and staff are doing the hard work of meeting important community needs. They deserve the best tools and skills we can provide. It is vitally important that we develop today the people who will lead our nonprofits tomorrow. We do that by setting annual goals for recruiting new board members, committee chairs and officers -- and through ongoing training and education of staff.

Nancy Schoephoester is manager of philanthropy and community services for Phillips Alaska Inc.

11/20/2016 - 6:38pm