When It Comes to HR, Best Practices Pay Off

By Ann Geary

Ann Geary
To accommodate employees whose compensation is generally lower than it would be in private industry, nonprofits sometimes take a more relaxed approach to employment rules and regulations than their for-profit counterparts—but doing so carries risk.

Although this may seem a harmless and even sensible practice, nonprofits nevertheless are businesses and need to be accountable as such. They must adhere to best practices related to human resources (HR) activities or they may expose their organizations to costly lawsuits.

Employment Policies

Nonprofits sometimes overlook the importance of consistent employment policies. When hiring new employees they don’t always follow an organized plan, which begins with a needs analysis to fully understand their reasons for hiring. This should be followed by the development of a job description that clearly outlines the responsibilities of the position. Finally, maximizing the use of recruiting tools will help the organization find the most qualified candidates.

The hiring process should include a background check, a step many nonprofits forgo due to cost. Although comprehensive checks do require a financial commitment, they save money in the long run by eliminating applicants who are not forthcoming on their applications. One negligent hiring lawsuit may destroy an organization.

Once the employee is hired, the organization should conduct an employee orientation program, which offers a review of the nonprofit’s policies and procedures. Presenting employees with a copy of the employee handbook is essential. The handbook should contain information about operations, employment policies (e.g. employee conduct, hours, leaves of absence, and compensation), and employee benefits and services.

Performance Management and Training

Often, the words “employee performance” strike a chord of dissatisfaction among nonprofit supervisors and employees. As a result, some organizations do not conduct employee reviews. However, it is essential to have a well-executed employee performance management program in place, so that employees receive consistent feedback about their efforts throughout the year.

Managers should establish and review goals with employees, and provide coaching and feedback on a continual basis to maintain an open dialogue. In addition, every nonprofit, regardless of size, should consider implementing a training program that will teach employees on all levels how to improve job performance. Any organization that invests wisely in employee training finds that it can pay off in the long run in terms of growth and financial success.


Staying on top of growing and ever-changing laws can be overwhelming and time consuming, but nonprofit organizations cannot afford to ignore them. Non-compliance can be costly, regardless of the good work an organization does.

It is imperative, therefore, to keep up with local, state, and federal laws. Many resources are available to help nonprofit directors and boards stay informed and compliant with the law. Local and national organizations, including small-business advocacy groups, provide information and support available on the Internet.

Although nonprofits may have different goals from for-profit companies, they must still adhere to quality HR practices if they are to protect their organizations and truly succeed.

Ann Geary is a human resources specialist at the Boston office of Administaff, a leading, national professional employer organization. For more information, call 800-465-3800.