Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Staffing Issues Continue To Plague Nonprofit Organizations

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NEWPORT NEWS – Nonprofit organizations have long struggled with staffing, and the pandemic didn’t help.

According to PB Mares, a CPA and consulting firm, the nonprofit sector lost 13.2 percent of its workforce in the first three months of the pandemic. At the end of 2021, it found about 75 percent of nonprofits had job vacancy rates of at least ten percent. In April 2023, the National Council of Nonprofits reported almost 75 percent of nonprofits still had job openings.

Karen Dutro is the executive director of Network Peninsula, which serves as a liaison between the community and nonprofits. Among the organization’s goals is to “provide nonprofits with tools to fulfill their missions effectively.” She is in her 16th year with Network Peninsula, having been there from the beginning, and has worked in nonprofits since 1995 so she knows a lot about nonprofits and what they have been through the past few decades.

“I think this is very different,” she said. “We have a lot of job openings right now; good, quality jobs that have been open for a while. Some part of it is cyclical, but I think this is different.”

Salaries have always been an issue, Dutro said, but she has noticed something else, also. People are responding to a job opening but not following up with a phone call or email to set up an interview. Or they go through the interview process and then drop all contact.

“I don’t think it’s salary as much as whatever is happening across all sectors right now,” she said. “I’ve heard that across the board. People are applying and then they don’t respond.”

Among her theories why is people are applying because it’s a requirement of unemployment, but there is no requirement to follow through with an interview.

Another problem she’s hearing about is people accepting positions, but then not lasting long, maybe a little as a few weeks.

“So, you’ve spent all this money on recruiting and onboarding, and then you have to start over again,” she said.

That can be costly so sometimes organizations think it’s easier not to fill the position, which causes a burden on the rest of the staff because the work still has to get done. That often leads to stress, which Dutro sees as a bigger problem than the effects of covid, although the latter has played a role in the current situation.

“What we’re dealing with now, and we do see this with all of our organizations, is the burnout,” she said. “People are leaving the sector.”

She said a lot of local executive directors were planning to retire about this time anyway, but stress is a key factor.

“It’s a hard sector to work in anyway when you’re not struggling,” she said.

So, when you are, as nonprofits are now, it magnifies the situation. One suggestion she has to combat the shortage, specifically in relation to salaries, is organizations should get creative with their compensation packages and benefits.

“If you don’t have a competitive salary, then what else can you offer?” she said.

Her organization is trying to work with companies to offer discounted healthcare benefits and extended leave. Anything that could offset a lower salary.

“It’s paid time off. It’s professional development. Those are all good benefits,” she said.

Incorporating sabbaticals, possibly for executive directors, is another option, but that can present other problems.

“Only a few organizations can really afford leave to lose their leader for weeks at a time,” she said.

Dutro’s organization is trying to incorporate fun activities for its executive directors.

“We went ax throwing two weeks ago,” she said. “That’s not anything we ever would have considered in the past, but it’s just kind of a way to relax and realize you’re not alone in these same struggles.”

Complicating the issue is that the National Council of Nonprofits’ June newsletter reports most nonprofits (70 percent) are anticipating less money and fewer donors in 2023.

“The decrease in giving … that’s harder on the development professionals,” Dutro said.

She explained many donors are in a wait-and-see mode regarding the economy.

“Are we in a recession? Are we going into a recession? No one knows either way,” she said, which leads to people holding back on donations.

Still, Dutro has an optimistic outlook. While nonprofits likely always will struggle to offer competitive salaries, they need to stress how valuable they are to local communities. She thinks the pandemic showed how vital nonprofits are, and supporting them is important.

“There are a lot of different ways,” she said. “This doesn’t always have to be financial. We have a lot of nonprofits that can benefit from skills training. We try to provide workshops, always looking for new resources, new opportunities to help them.”

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