Manage Staff

Personnel costs generally make up 60-70% of a nonprofit’s total expense budget (1994, Support Centers of America). For this reason, successful management of staff members is crucial to an organization’s success.

What is staff management?
Staff management is the management of the organization’s “human” resources. Proper staff management makes sure:

  • personnel policies and practices are applied fairly and consistently to protect and provide staff with a safe work environment conducive to productivity 
  • the organization is in compliance with local, state and federal laws 
  • the organization’s mission is supported by the employees who are hired

Why is it necessary? 

In many cases, you will need solid staff in place to carry out programs and administrative functions. While volunteers are essential to an organization, depending on the size of your budget, future donors may expect paid staff to manage programming.  

Whose job is it?

In many larger agencies, there are 3 participants in staff management: the board, executive director and line managers. Line managers are managers who directly supervise the work of other staff.

In many smaller organizations, this responsibility will fall to the board and executive director. The role of the board is governance and the role of the executive director is management. Sometimes the roles can become blurred, but the board and the executive director must always keep in mind the board's legal responsibilities and liabilities as the employer.

What is involved in staff management?

Managing staff involves two critical functions: staffing and supervision.

Staffing includes:

  • deciding what “human resources” are needed to meet the organization’s goals
  • hiring (recruiting, screening and selecting) and terminating employees
  • equipping new hires (via orienting, training, etc.) 

Supervising is overseeing the progress and productivity of direct reports, often by:

  • setting goals
  • providing ongoing training
  • conducting regular performance reviews
  • ensuring sufficient rewards (compensation, benefits, etc.)

What are some of the major staffing responsibilities?

Deciding what “human resources” are needed:

  • Often, organizations realize the need for a new employee when other staff report being short-handed, mention that certain tasks are not being done, are working overtime, etc. Ideally, planning for a new role should be done during strategic planning or when a new service is added to the organization.
  • It's critical that organizations know what they want from their prospective employees. This not only allows them to secure the best person for the job but also insures that they are hiring employees that will move the mission of the organization forward. A good place for managers to start is by developing job descriptions.
  • Job descriptions are lists of the general tasks, or functions, and responsibilities of a position. Typically, they also include to whom the position reports, specifications such as the qualifications (knowledge, skills and abilities) needed by the person in the job, salary range for the position, etc. Typically, job descriptions are used especially for advertising to fill an open position, determining compensation and as a basis for performance reviews.
  • Do not seek job descriptions from other organizations and merely adopt those. Your open position is unique and job descriptions are very important. You should develop your own; the process of completing the job description is usually enlightening.

What about hiring and terminating employees?

Recruiting Employees:

  • Advertise the position, including the job title, general responsibilities, minimum skills, education required, application deadline and whom they should send a resume to.

Screening Candidates:

  • Pay attention to a candidate’s:
    • career objective – or the lack of
    • duration of previous employment and holes in work history 
    • education and training
    • skills and expertise as evidenced by past and current work activities
  • Consider asking key employees to review and rank applications.  
  • Interview all candidates that meet the minimum qualifications.

Selecting an Applicant:

  • Send the job description to candidates before they come to the interview.
  • Interview the candidates.
  • Ask all candidates the same questions. 
  • Make sure all questions relate to performing the duties of the job. 
  • Ask candidates about their compensation needs and expected or needed benefits.
  • Ask open-ended questions, not "yes-no" questions. 
  • Don't ask questions about:
    • race
    • nationality
    • age
    • gender
    • disabilities (current or previous)
    • marital status
    • spouses
    • children and their care
    • criminal records
    • credit records
  • Before making a final decision, contact a candidate’s references, including previous employers.

Hiring New Employees:

  • Follow-up with an offer letter, specifying compensation, benefits and start date and reference an attached job description.
  • When a candidate accepts, ask them to sign a copy of the offer letter and return it to you.
  • Include the signed offer letter, tax withholding forms, job description and benefit forms in their personnel file.
  • Consider a 6-month probationary period.  (Make sure to update your personnel policies to describe your probationary conditions.) A probationary period allows you to fire an employee during the first six months if you have concerns, and it greatly decreases the chances you will be sued for wrongful termination.

Screening and Interviewing Applicants:
Selecting (Hiring)and making the Job Offer to New Employees:

Equipping New Employees: 

  • Develop an employee orientation checklist:
    • Send your new employee a welcome letter verifying the start date.
    • Meet your new employee on the first day to explain the training process, introduce staff, sign benefit and tax forms and review employment policies and manual.
    • Tour the facility.
    • Schedule content-specific trainings and one-on-one conversations with other staff.
    • Take your new employee out to lunch, and invite other employees to join.
    • Meet with your new employee during the first few days to review the job description, review specific goals for the position, explain the performance review process and provide a copy of the performance review document.

 Terminating Employees:

  • Make sure your agency has a progressive corrective action policy
  • Follow every step of the policy if you need to terminate an employee.  
  • Your corrective action policy must:
    • provide a process to notify employees in writing of performance problem(s) 
    • designate a period of time employees have to correct performance 
    • define problems (such as theft or violence) that require immediate termination
    • outline the process for termination, when employees do not improve performance
  • Ask a board member who has expertise in HR to review your agency’s policy.
  • You may ask this board member to be present during corrective action conversations.
  • Be as polite as possible throughout the process.
  • Document every step of the process as a defense against possible lawsuits.

What are some of the major responsibilities for supervising?

Setting mutual goals.

  • Establish clear performance goals:
    • provide clear direction to both managers and employee
    • form a common frame of reference around which mangers and employees can effectively communicate
    • clearly define “success”
  • Employees might want (or need) to set goals to:
    • qualify for future jobs and roles
    • give direction to training plans
    • overcome performance problems
  • Always work with your employee to identify needed/desired goals.  You must make sure your employee has a strong sense of ownership and commitment to achieving the goals. 

Providing ongoing training. 

  • Employee job training may be needed to:
    • improve performance in a specific area because of underperformance
    • prepare for a new program or initiative  
    • make sure all staff are able to fulfill the terms of the agency’s succession plan
  • There are four basic types of training: 
  1. Self-Directed Learning
    The learner decides what he or she will learn and how.
  2. Other-Directed Learning
    Other people decide what the learner will learn and how.
  3. Informal Training
    There is no predetermined form. This is probably the most common type of training and includes on-the-job training, coaching from supervisors, using manuals and procedures, advice from peers, etc.
  4. Formal Training
    There is a predetermined form. The form usually includes specific learning results, learning objectives and activities that will achieve the results, as well as how the training will be evaluated. Examples are college courses, workshops and seminars.

Reviewing performance regularly. 

  • Measuring employee performance has come a long way from the annual performance review to an ongoing performance management process. 
  • In the past, managers and employees met once a year at the annual performance review, to look back at the work done during the previous year and to evaluate what was accomplished. 
  • Managers have now shifted away from this annual performance review to a more comprehensive approach called performance management.
  • Performance management:
    • is an ongoing process where supervisors and employees work together to plan, monitor and review an employee's work goals and overall performance
    • starts with a work plan that identifies what the employee should accomplish and how 
    • follows up on the work plan with informal, ongoing monitoring and feedback on progress 
    • gives supervisors and employees a chance to summarize accomplishments and challenges at the end of each year, using a performance management form

Example Performance Management Forms and Information:

Motivating and retaining employees. 

  • Don't just count on cultivating strong interpersonal relationships with employees to help motivate and retain them. 
  • Establish organizational policies and procedures, compensation systems and employee performance systems to support employee motivation and retention and ensure clear understanding and equal treatment of all employees. 

McNamara, Carter. Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision. Authenticity Consulting, LLC. Copyright 1997-2007.
Foundation Center:

Download A General Human Resources checklist 

The Nonprofit Good Practice Guide:

“It Pays to Help New Staff Start Right”

Employment Law Guide for Non-Profit Organizations: