3 Unique Challenges in People Management in Nonprofits

People management challenges in nonprofits
Written by - 28 Aug 2018 Category: Non-profit Challenges

Managing human resources in an organisation is tough, especially in the non-profit sector. As most non-profits are strapped for resources, their people management challenges are unique.

Managing human resources in an organisation is tough, especially in the non-profit sector. As most non-profits are strapped for resources, their people management challenges are unique. Without a strategy, non-profits are susceptible to lower productivity. In some cases, they may even shut down. The good news is that these challenges are not unsolvable if a few fundamentals are kept in mind.

In this series, we intend to throw light on some common challenges and suggest ways to overcome them. This particular article is the first in the series. It talks about the nature of non-profit HR challenges. The upcoming articles will talk more about individual challenges and their potential solutions.

Broadly speaking, non-profit people management challenges are characterised by constraints on three fronts.

Limited Finances

Non-profits, by nature, are not revenue-seeking entities. This makes them dependent on external funding. This has a negative impact on people management, because salaries are the biggest costs. What is the best way to deal with this problem? To work with individuals that are aware of low financial compensation, but are thrilled about other prospects! Training and development opportunities, better work-life balance, and telecommuting can be good incentives. The less a non-profit’s team members are affected by financial constraints, the stronger, and longer, will the non-profit go!

Difficulties in Talent Management

Unpaid volunteers and pro bono workers are the biggest backbone of non-profits. HR managers cannot always supervise volunteer work, which leads to loosely-connected reporting relationships. Further complications can arise because of staffing uncertainties in funded projects. Under such a scenario, it is only motivation that drives unpaid staff's long-term engagement. HR manager’s failure to identify, train, and motivate volunteer staff can lead to low organisational morale. A cost-friendly incentive structure can ensure repeated engagement from unpaid staff. So, thank volunteers for their genuine desire to work with the non-profit. How? Circulate a note of thanks over email, or just offer a plain cup of coffee!

Non-existence of a Dedicated HR Department

Non-profits often have a small, overburdened team that acts as the HR department. They manage joining and leaving formalities, employment documents, leave and benefits management etc.

These tasks can be overwhelming. There are several practices that can help develop strong HR competencies. Building people-independent practices, delegating responsibilities, and leveraging technology tools can produce immediate benefits.

The Way Ahead

While the above three main factors are challenging, they seldom appear in silos. A combination of them leads to tricky situations! In the upcoming articles, we will look at such situations and explore ways in which they can be overcome.

Until then, happy non-profiting!


Compassion in the Workplace

Compassion in the workplace
Written by Charlotte - 16 Aug 2018 Category: HR news

Compassion is increasingly recognised as a foundational aspect of leadership and the building block for a positive work environment.

Compassion is increasingly recognised as a foundational aspect of leadership and the building block for a positive work environment. Studies have found that organisations with compassionate leaders have high rates of collaboration and employee satisfaction.

What is Compassion?

Compassion literally means ‘to suffer together’. It describes the intention to consider and support the wellbeing of others by listening to their concerns, taking time to understand their situation and having empathy for their position - being able to feel, to some degree, something of their suffering -  however uncomfortable that might be.

With an emphasis on consideration, compassion translates neatly to the working environment where different teams have to find ways of communicating with and supporting one another to solve various problems and get the job done. Facilitating such a harmonious way of working is where compassionate leadership comes in.

Compassionate leadership means taking responsibility for the growth and development of employees, leading with the heart as much as the head. Not to be confused with kindness, compassionate leading goes beyond being ‘nice’: to lead compassionately means taking time to connect and truly be present with employees while still adhering to the organisation’s standards, code of conduct and other defined boundaries that are conducive to employee growth and happiness.

Why We Need Compassion at Work

Teams thrive when the members trust their leader cares about them, and there’s a powerful link between productivity and compassionate leadership.

Compassion also creates a sense of psychological safety so that staff feel able to raise concerns about mistakes or problems that they encounter in the workplace. Psychological safety also encourages employees to develop and implement ideas for new and improved ways of doing things.

How to Cultivate Compassion at Work

Organisational psychologists Monica Worline and Jane Dutton have written in detail about cultivating compassion at work. They describe several scenarios that organisations can use to foster more opportunities for compassion:


  • Create sub-groups within a larger organisation where people with shared duties can develop camaraderie
  • Have regular meetings where people are encouraged to share mistakes alongside achievements to make workplaces safe for learning
  • Formally recognise acts of compassion at work to promote more generosity and consideration
  • Ask leaders to role-model their vulnerability to create an atmosphere of safety and trust.


The case for compassionate leadership is strong; the challenge now is to build a workplace environment that leaves room for compassionate ways of working, despite looming deadlines and other organisational pressures. HR professionals and other leaders need to heed the call and prioritise leading compassionately for a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

Are you a compassionate leader? Take this quiz to find out.


How to Handle Employee Mistakes

Written by Charlotte - 09 Aug 2018 Category: HR software

Picture the scene: one of your employees has just missed another important project deadline, causing you to go over budget and jeopardising future work. What do you do?

Picture the scene: one of your employees has just missed another important project deadline, causing you to go over budget and jeopardising future work. What do you do?

While it may be tempting to take an angry approach and reprimand erring employees, you’re likely to make things worse, says Don Rheem, a leadership expert and author. According to Rheem, adopting a fear-based approach to management when employees only perform their duties under threat of punishment is counterproductive, because humans are unable to work to their optimum level when the brain is preoccupied with fear and uncertainty. This distraction means that the more you punish employees, the more mistakes are likely to happen.

But with blown budgets, missed deadlines and angry clients, how do you hold employees accountable without resorting to fear-based tactics?

Making Employees Accountable

Accountability at work is essential. It goes beyond having someone to blame; it’s about delivering on commitment, taking responsibility for an outcome and using initiative with strategic follow-through. It’s at the heart of employee engagement, and conducive to creative problem solving and working to deadlines.

Building Accountability in The Workplace

We’ve summarised the key steps managers can take to help foster accountability within a positive work environment:


  1. Show Appreciation: Rheem recommends identifying something positive about the employee and their previous work before discussing their recent mistake. Often, employees feel that their manager only engages with them to pick up on something negative, so try and show your appreciation for their good work or attitude before addressing what went wrong.

  2. Set Clear Expectations: When speaking to the employee, make sure you are both clear on the outcomes you expect from their work. Tell them how you will measure success and suggest some of the strategies you expect them to use along the way. Tell them what support you can offer and agree to check-in with them on a weekly basis to discuss progress. At the end of the conversation, ask them to summarise what you’ve just discussed to check that you’re both on the same page.

  3. Be open and reframe the mistake: You want to let the employee know that their work has caused a problem but in such a way that avoids making them feel demoralised, inadequate, or blamed. Ask thoughtful questions to find out what went wrong and what they think they can learn from the mistake.


Mistakes are part of the human experience, so it’s inevitable that employees will make occasional errors at work. Using the steps outlined above, managers can hold employees accountable when things go wrong without having to resort to punitive action. Doing so will help boost working relationships and generate a more positive office environment.


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.