Monday, October 13, 2008

The Front Line versus The Bottom Line

One large agency I used to work for had such a problem recruiting front line staff that they would basically hire anyone who applied. The philosophy was that you could sort out the good, the bad and the ugly while they were on the job. Otherwise, there would be a tremendous amount of vacant positions in the critical role of supervising hundreds of very troubled residents. At another agency, we feared that our legions of disgruntled front line staff would call in a union. If they did, it was likely the agency could end up being shut down, since we were already providing all the benefits and salary we could manage.

The problem of recruiting and retaining staff has always been a challenge for charities. On average, the typical non-profit employee makes about 53 percent of what a comparable government employee makes. So, when it comes to salary, we can not even begin to compete. When you compare benefit and pension plans with government entities, the story is often the same (thankfully, benefits tend to be equal to or better compared to for-profits). In addition, if you are fortunate enough to hire good staff, they often leave after only a year or two for those better paying positions. The charity invests all the resources to recruit and train the employee and then they move on!

If that isn’t bad enough, now we have a bad economy to kick us in the pants! This translates into fewer jobs in the sector as charities find it harder to pay their employees. Obviously this could have immensely damaging effects on the future talent pool for charities in general, as well as those they are committed to serve.

Charitable organizations require talented, dedicated, passionate individuals. When these gifted individuals assess the stability of the charitable sector overall, they can be discouraged from seeking employment within it. There should be no room for a talent drought in a vitally important sector that deals with critical, complex and sensitive social issues. However, the net effect of these challenges is that charities will have to work even harder to attract quality employees.

What is a charity to do in these trying times? There are many ways to sweeten the benefit package with low or no cost enhancements such as flex time. Those efforts are important, but I believe the most important thing a charity has to offer is its mission. Talented staff in the charitable sector are usually not in the field for the money anyway! However, they do expect a decent, living wage. If that is provided and staff have a sense of the important role they play in achieving the mission, we have a leg up over the competition from the other sectors. In addition, I have emphasized in another blog the importance of having core values that are truly embraced by the agency from top to bottom, which nurture staff and clients. Having a dynamic, transparent, creative, inclusive, team culture is a rare commodity that will help with staff retention even when the offers of higher pay come along. If the charity does not build this into its culture, the nightmare of recruitment and retention for charities will only keep getting worse.

Note: Once again the idea and some of the key content in this blog entry came from a Program Analyst here at Charity Naviagator - Kaitlin Woolf. She is one of our newest staff, but hopefully, (along the lines of this entry) we can maintain a culture that encourages her to stay for a long time to come!!!

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