5 Best Onboarding Practices for Nonprofits

Efficient Onboarding is essential to convert new hires into loyal employees.
Written by - 06 Nov 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

Non-profits heavily rely on people to carry out their mission. How often do you feel that certain tasks are falling by the wayside just because your team member looking after them is no longer with you?

Non-profits heavily rely on people to carry out their mission. How often do you feel that certain tasks are falling by the wayside just because your team member looking after them is no longer with you? And such challenges are more mind-numbing when your team is fast changing because of high employee churn or when you have a huge number of volunteers. Luckily, a well-structured onboarding practice can help you convert new hires into loyal employees!

Why Is Onboarding Important?

  • Research suggests that the non-profit employee turnover rate is 19%.

  • A large percentage of this churn happens in the first three months.

  • New hires, when subjected to an efficient onboarding programme, are 69% more likely to remain in the company after three years.

  • A large percentage of non-profits work with volunteers for whom onboarding is the primary means of knowledge transfer.

What do all these facts suggest? It can be easily inferred that an effective onboarding practice can reduce team churn and associated recruitment costs, while also setting up your employees for long-term success, for themselves as well as your organisation. A good onboarding practice is the one that engages employees early on, builds trust, fosters relationships, and builds your organisation’s brand.

How Do I Build A Great Onboarding Practice?

Onboarding is often confused with orientation, which typically happens on the first few days and comprises of the task and team introduction. This is not sufficient - onboarding must involve open communication, frequent feedback and assessment, as well as the redressal of any concerns the new team member may have. This implies that onboarding needs to be a more structured, planned activity, much like a project. But don’t worry! It is not as challenging as it may seem in the beginning, so long as you stick to a few key principles.

Create an Onboarding Schedule

An effective onboarding plan keeps different timelines and priorities for different tasks. Logistics i.e. email set up, desk assignment, paperwork etc are the highest priority for Day 1 and must typically be completed in the first three days. Team orientation, project details, reporting mechanism etc need to be considered next and must start in the first week. Company history, values, mission, objectives etc are important too, but can wait for the more immediate items to get over. This is just one way of looking at it - how you want to structure onboarding items is entirely up to you, but the key is to have a structure and follow it.

Make it Personal

Onboarding needs to be made personal. The overarching idea is to make new team members feel welcome and valued. Talk to them as individuals, and get to know their stories, family background, personal goals etc. Talk about yourself and your role, and tell them what you like about the organisation and its people. You may also want to give them some insider tips, facts, and jokes, to make them feel like one of your own. And yes, be creative; after all, it is a human-to-human interaction that we are talking about!

Create a Buddy System

Since the onboarding process can go over a long time - typically six months or even a year - it is impossible for one individual to keep track of everything. So to delegate tasks and also to foster genuine peer relationships, establish a Buddy system. Assign a Buddy to a new employee - a Buddy is typically a peer who works closely with new hires and helps them whenever they get stuck. A Buddy is not necessarily a Manager or a Mentor or even someone with greater position or authority - a Buddy is purely a helping hand so the new member does not feel lost. The system can do wonders in terms of building your organisation’s culture.

Review the Onboarding Process At Regular Intervals

An onboarding process, however well structured in theory, will not work unless it is measured and corrected at regular intervals. After a week of a new member joining, you may want to check if all the logistics are taken care of. If not, evaluate where the gap is and fix it for the next time. Repeat the assessment after a week, a month, three months, whatever timelines you decide. Have an open discussion with the employee after three months. What does he/she feel, like, dislike? What does he/she think needs improvement? These may not be official or one-time conversations. Just titbits of watercooler chats can do the job as well.

Use Technology

And yes, use technology to do all of the above! As mentioned earlier, onboarding is a regular exercise, always a work in progress, and needs to be planned well. Keep track of all onboarding items via a tracking tool. Delegate desk assignment to the Office Manager, assign email creation task to the IT Team, apprise the Manager of the new member’s joining date, ensure that all the paperwork is completed by Day 3, let the Buddy know about his tasks during Week 1, schedule an informal interview after a month! See how the onboarding checklist suddenly bulges into a huge to-do list? You don’t want to miss any of these items though, so ensure that you use an effective technology tool. One tool we recommend is CiviHR’s workflows, which is particularly aligned with standardised tasks such as onboarding processes, among other things. (You may read more here or sign up here.)

Lastly, you need to understand that onboarding is not the sole responsibility of the HR or the Manager; it is an organisational practice. The more thoughts your team puts into the onboarding process, the better it will evolve to be. For now, however, the above pointers are a great starting place!

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This post is the next in the series of addressing specific challenges non-profits face, and builds on top of earlier posts such as acquiring the right talent, employee retention strategies., and workplace culture.

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CiviHR is a philanthropic project funded by a charitable foundation, on a mission to create a best-in-class people management solution for organisations that deliver social good. You may read more here or sign up here.







About CiviHR

CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere.


CiviHR is a project to create affordable HR software for non-profit organisations. By developing open source technology the benefits can be shared with non-profits everywhere.