Five Steps for Building an Effective Nonprofit Talent Strategy

We all know the potential results of unsuccessful talent practices in nonprofit organizations: difficulty filling positions, increased staff turnover and burnout, low staff morale, and an overarching downgrade of human capital as top performers leave for organizations with stronger talent practices. There is a plethora of research outlining the financial implications of these challenges. For example, the price of one employee leaving their position is estimated to cost a nonprofit organization at least 150 percent of that employee’s annual salary.

The implications do not stop there. Who achieves an organization’s goals? People. Who implements an organization’s marketing strategy? People. Who raises money to support an organization’s programs and growth? People.

For these reasons alone, every nonprofit should strive to have the same level of rigor around their talent strategy as they do around marketing and fundraising strategies. Especially when the success of achieving a nonprofit organization’s mission is so obviously dependent on the people employed there.

Here are five steps your nonprofit can take now to build a talent strategy that is aligned with your organization’s goals and priorities:

  1. Understand what your organization is trying to achieve. This means setting concrete and measurable organization-wide goals that a talent strategy can then reflect and support. For example, if your organization is planning on launching a new service or program, the talent team will need to ensure they have talent pools that are ready to fill new openings.
  2. Assess your current bench. Do the people in your organization have the skills and experience required to achieve these goals? Or are you venturing into a new area that requires bringing new expertise? Maybe your organization is growing in size and complexity, and now requires a more sophisticated management skill set. The talent team needs to be aware of any changes on the horizon in order to plan for a professional development program that will prepare staff for the future and fill current gaps with new talent.
  3. Survey your staff. It is critically important to understand staff engagement. Are people enthusiastic and inspired to give it their all every day or is a lack of engagement and enthusiasm getting in the way of your organization’s success
  4. Start leveraging data. Data driven decision-making is the anchor for any effective talent strategy. Without it, your organization will be shooting blind at an unknown target. For example, individual staff performance data should inform every single decision your organization makes about talent:  who gets promoted, where you invest professional development resources, how you embed strategic succession planning to prepare for future organizational evolution. Market data should inform how much individuals are compensated and how. Engagement data should inform priorities for improvement.
  5. Put it all together to inform your talent strategy. Once you know what your organization aspires to achieve, what skill gaps exist in your talent pool, how engaged your staff is, and have concrete data to refer to, your strategy will become clear. Top talent priorities and areas of urgency will rise to the surface. Now, your job will be to translate these into concrete goals, initiatives, and actions that the organization can take to advance talent practices.

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