Non-profit sector lifts its game

By Helen Frances

Recruiters are better equipped when interviewing volunteers (left). Photo / Supplied
Recruiters are better equipped when interviewing volunteers (left). Photo / Supplied

The not-for-profit sector is attracting a new breed of people, says Gillian Peacock, people and capability manager at New Zealand Red Cross. And in tandem, organisations are doing more to retain staff and increase their numbers.

Peacock brings to her human resource management role experience in the private and government sectors.

"I think there has been a real shift across the sector in the past few years in terms of the people in corporate who are making that move," Peacock says.

"The world outside has changed and we are expected to be much more professional. We are working with vulnerable people and we're also looking after a lot of money."

An example is how the organisation managed funds after the Christchurch earthquakes.

"The onus was on us to quickly set up a whole new group that would pay out the money that came in the form of grants."

Although some people question what they see as an overly corporate element taking over in the non-profit culture, Peacock says it is really a matter of being more professional and accountable in how they look after their clients and manage assets.

"There's been a shift towards going back to values, which is making people relook at their career direction and think about working for not-for-profits."

She receives calls from people who want to do something more meaningful. That may mean considering a lower salary, but there are other things the organisation can offer, including access to the Maxxia salary-packaging scheme. With employer endorsement, employees can allocate as much as $10,000 of their gross tax salary to buy fuel and grocery vouchers. No income tax is paid on the allocated sum. The IRD, Treasury and the Reserve Bank know about the scheme, Peacock says.

"It's much the same as Payroll Giving, donating part of your salary to another organisation. But with this you get your rebate there and then."

She says Red Cross is also building opportunities for people to work in different areas of the organisation and is considering overseas secondment as another way of rewarding people. There is also a policy of advertising positions internally first.

Management consultant Peter McLaren, managing director of McLaren Associates, who has worked with the non-profit sector for many years, says there is a shortage of people in the areas of business development and marketing, fundraising and donor legacy.

"Without them, you run the risk of not getting sufficient funding to run the organisation, as many non-profits rely on donations, bequests and fundraising."

McLaren says that having a sound business model is also essential.

"Often governments won't fund you unless you've got a viable business and they are all competing for the same pool of money. You also need volunteers on the ground - they are the lifeblood of the organisation."

What he sees working in some organisations are initiatives such as talent identification.

"Some may not have thought of being a fundraiser or marketer. So open the door and show them the light, so to speak."

Sharing skills in small NGOs, setting up secondments or having a shared-services arrangement with local bodies are other options for small organisations.

Non-monetary rewards such as training, professional development and travel to conferences help to retain people and grow their skills.

McLaren recommends performance reviews at least every three months "so it's a living document".

"At the end of 12 months, there are no surprises. It's all about communicating well and keeping morale high."

He sees situations where people have left the corporate sector "disillusioned, chewed up and spat out".

"They're saying: 'Money is not everything, I want to do something that's really meaningful. I've lots of skills and experience to contribute and I don't want to be sitting at home watching the weeds grow."'

They take perhaps a $50,000 drop in salary, hit the ground running and can still live comfortably.

Good volunteer management is another key skill. Remembering to thank volunteers regularly makes a big difference, as does defining volunteers' roles clearly and ensuring they have the information to do their job properly.

Peacock says: "We also need to adapt ourselves to new ways of volunteering as life becomes more global and busy ... be more innovative and think outside the square about how to engage volunteers and the things we give them to do."

One possibility is giving university students work experience through internships, which benefits the Red Cross and the students.

"This supports us where we are running lean.

"They get really good project work and exposure to the non-profit world, which they can take back to university and out into the workplace on their CVs. This differentiates them from other graduates."

Peacock says the main challenge facing the sector is that it wants really good people.

"Sometimes that is hard. It's not just that we don't pay enough, it's the fact that we haven't had the resources in the past to give our managers support and training in recruitment processes so that when they are recruiting they make robust decisions about who they hire.

"That's improving and we have done a lot of work on that at Red Cross in the past year - giving our managers skills, experience and good tools to make better recruitment decisions."

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