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Research Friday: Survey Backs 2011 Nonprofit Employment Trends Outlook

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

Earlier this month, released a nonprofit sector employment trends survey that supported the findings of the 2011 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey. Both reports indicate that a slow recovery is underway in the nonprofit sector and that many organizations have grave deficiencies in human resources that could threaten future mission success.

The national Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey, produced by Nonprofit HR Solutions, indicated that 60 percent of nonprofit organizations were planning to hire in 2011, even though nearly one-quarter of the organizations trimmed staff in 2010. Findings also revealed that turnover was low within nonprofit organizations. The average turnover rate for respondent organizations was 13 percent, compared to 21 percent in 2010. reported that only nine percent of respondent organizations plan to reduce staff in the near future, with the rest planning to maintain staffing levels or hire for new positions.’s own job posting numbers seem to support these findings, as their 2011 job postings surpassed 20,000 — a record for In fact, the Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey found to be one of the popular job boards in the sector, surpassed only by Craigslist.

The most revealing finding from both surveys is the current Human Resources capacity in the nonprofit sector. The Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey found that 52 percent of respondent organizations do not have a dedicated HR professional on staff. In the survey, 65 percent of responding organizations reporting having no funding dedicated to professional HR development.

One consequence of underfunded HR functions,as shown in the data, is that organizations that do not have a dedicated HR professional often impose HR duties on other staff. Additionally, eighty-seven percent of staff respondents to the survey reported that they have another role outside their HR duties. When looking at the HR function by organization size, the Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey found that small to medium organizations (defined as those organizations with budgets of less than $10 million) were much more likely to have one or more staff members managing the HR function in addition to other duties. Conversely, large organizations (over $10 million budget) were much more likely to have two or more dedicated staff members to manage HR.


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These findings raise the question: How can the nonprofit sector hope to keep up with its often better-funded government and corporate peers when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent? Data from both surveys also found highlighted recruitment deficiencies and ties their poor condition in part to current budgets. Over half of the respondents reporting being impacted by changes to government funding, with 81 percent saying the impact has been negative. This corresponds with the Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey, where 55 percent of organizations indicated they would be forced to use existing staff to support new programs and/or initiatives rather than hire new staff. Concerning growth, backed up the Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey findings when 69 percent of its respondents reported they were hiring for program/direct services staff — the largest category reported on. Unsurprisingly, they also found such staff to be the most challenging to recruit for.

The Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey reported that 50 percent of their respondents filled entry-level vacancies from outside the nonprofit sector. Mid-level vacancies were most often filled by people promoted from within, while senior-level vacancies were commonly either filled by internals candidates or people from other nonprofits. supported these findings by revealing that 89 percent of their respondents believed the understanding of an organization’s mission to be the most important aspect of a candidate’s experience.

Both surveys serve as a wake-up call to the sector. Failure to prioritize HR limits the advancement of an organization’s mission. It also limits the development of teams and individuals within the organization and can increase exposure to legal risks and compliance infractions.

Download the 2011 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey here, or download the nonprofit sector employment trends survey here.

Mac Smith brings a decade's worth of marketing, nonprofit, and events management experience. Prior to joining Nonprofit HR Solutions, he was the Director of Operations for the Independent Glass Association and the National Windshield Repair Association. Mac provides advanced marketing support to Nonprofit HR Solutions and also manages the firm's annual Nonprofit Human Resources Conference. He is an experienced marketing professional with a background in writing, editing, events management, and graphic design with a love of social media. Mac enjoys working with mission-driven organizations to help better himself, his neighbors, and society.


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