by Josh Jacobson

What happens in a growing nonprofit when paid staff are added to a mostly- or all-volunteer workforce?  If you assume that nothing changes, think again.

While much of the early years of a nonprofit will be focused on generating revenue, human resources are more likely how the mission gets fueled. Passionate people who care about making the mission a reality will be needed in multitudes for any organization to achieve success.  How these people are recruited will have a bearing on the ways in which the organization will mature, and good preparation now can save headaches later.

In April, CULTIVATE (our incubator for emerging nonprofits in Charlotte) is focused on creating a design for the human resources that will make organnizations more viable.  For most organizations, this process begins with sourcing individuals who will volunteer their time in the trenches of a nonprofit, delivering programming without compensation.  As the organization matures and succeeds in raising revenue, those volunteer roles can be formalized as contractors, part-time employees, and eventually full-time staff who own the responsibility of both programming and operations.

But of course there is a catch – maintaining the culture as the organization builds stronger processes is no easy task. CULTIVATE participants are looking at the entire nonprofit HR continuum, from volunteer acquisition and management to staffing up with minimal negative impact.

Volunteer Acquisition & Management

Nonprofit organizations are likely to view volunteers in two camps – either as a necessity to take on programming and operational roles in lieu of paid staff, or as a filtering process to source board members and encourage contributed revenue.  Smart emerging organizations view them as both and create an intentional process to source and engage them that evolves over time as the organization grows.

CULTIVATE participants are looking inside their organizations to identify volunteer opportunities, designing methods of engagement to source new volunteers and a plan for onboarding them.

Professionalizing with Staff

Few organizations can stay all-volunteer forever – success and/or exhaustion is likely to set in and the need for paid contractors and staff roles will be unavoidable.  Figuring out how to grow the organization is a critical early problem-solving opportunity.  The order of new paid roles tells a story about an organization’s planning for sustainability.

CULTUVATE participants are learning the importance of an intentional plan that structures for success and builds capacity to continue growing. Participants will also explore setting expectations and assessing achievement in paid roles.

Human Resource Dynamics

The shift to a paid staff is an important one for any organization and is too often one done without a thoughtful plan resulting in unforeseen challenges.  What the founder views as necessity in service to mission others in the organization can as a change to the culture and sense of family.  Still other founders have difficulty giving up control of programmatic details, decreasing efficiency and setting up new staff to fail.

CULTUVATE participants are exploring the nuances of organizational change with a specific focus on proactive culture shifting, collective leadership and whole-organization succession planning.

Yes, There Will Be Homework

CULTIVATE participants are working on staffing plans for their organizations that will serve as a building block of their strategic business plans. The goal is for them to be able to describe different growth scenarios and the impact those avenues will have on their staffing plan. No one can predict the future, but one can be prepared for opportunities as they are uncovered.

Next Up: Partnerships That Make Sense