How Nonprofits Can Strategically Plan for the Future of a Unique Workforce



Charitable nonprofits exemplify the best of our country — serving communities, solving problems, and helping with unprecedented crises and disasters. They also champion civic engagement through volunteerism and donations. The total revenue from nonprofits in 2021 was more than $79.8 billion, up nearly 3% from the previous year — with much of it driven by the COVID-19 crisis. 


Nonprofit staff is on the frontlines, responding to the changes and evolving issues that shape our world. Charitable nonprofits employ the third-largest workforce in the country, behind only manufacturing and retail, providing over 11 million jobs and employing 10% of the population. We need nonprofit organizations more than ever, but what they do isn’t possible without a dedicated workforce.  


That’s why it’s critical to engage in nonprofit workforce planning to ensure your organization has enough of the right talent to advance your mission. In this article, we’ll explain what strategic workforce planning looks like in the nonprofit industry and how you can plan more effectively with a clear picture of how internal and external factors impact your workforce.


A snapshot of the nonprofit workforce

The nonprofit workforce is dynamic and unique in that it relies both on volunteers and employees to deliver services and carry out important work. But today’s nonprofits face a variety of workforce challenges, especially for employees on the payroll.


Nonprofits don’t have the same pay leverage as for-profit organizations. Because many nonprofits operate with limited budgets and fixed contracts, they’re less able to increase wages. During this time of significant turnover and labor shortages, nonprofits can’t compete with the wage raises their for-profit counterparts are offering to attract workers. As a result, nonprofits have difficulty hiring and retaining staff.


Limited resources also contribute to employee engagement challenges. Beyond providing for employees’ basic needs, like healthcare, making sure employees are engaged and feel like they’re contributing to the overall mission may require more training or professional development, which may not necessarily be in the budget or easy to facilitate. But if employees lack those opportunities, they can feel less motivated, making it that much harder for the nonprofit to carry out its mission. 


At the same time, some nonprofit employees are extraordinarily invested in and committed to their organization’s mission and can experience emotional burnout as a result. This is especially common when employees are dealing with people and communities in difficult circumstances. The eventual emotional toll can lead to employee turnover. 


Nonprofits of all types deal with these workforce and HR challenges, making it all the more important to conduct strategic workforce planning so you can hire, manage, and retain the best workers that align with your organization’s budget and overarching goals.


Nonprofit workforce planning for the future

Workforce planning in the nonprofit sector is about having an accurate, up-to-date view of your organization’s structure at all times. It empowers you with important data like how many workers and volunteers you have, which roles and opportunities are open, employee salary information and certification status, personnel costs, and funding sources. It’s also about planning for future workforce needs by forecasting budgets that account for changes within your organization as well as outside of it. 


Planning effectively means getting rid of manual methods and processes that take too much time and result in too many errors — such as relying on spreadsheets to record and track workforce information. It’s also critical to gather position-level data so that when employees leave or are hired, all information about the role is recorded and easily accessible, and not tied to any one person. 


Nonprofit workforce planning addresses the challenges we highlighted:

  • Budget limitations. When you’re able to compare operating budgets with your organization’s workforce data, you can make cost-effective hiring and staffing decisions that net the best benefit to the organization’s mission — while also avoiding redundant hires that needlessly drive up costs.

  • Employee motivation. One way to improve employee engagement and motivation is to offer skills training and development programs that can help employees advance within their nonprofit careers while also contributing more deeply to the organization. Workforce planning shows when, where, and how training and development can be applied to develop more skilled, dedicated, and motivated employees.

  • Burnout. Workforce planning also helps mitigate burnout and turnover by offering more employee touchpoints, better communication and transparency, more effective performance reviews, and even coaching to intervene during stressful times and help employees stay and thrive in their jobs.


Technology makes a difference

Nonprofits have an increasing need for strategic workforce planning to help them navigate change, retain talented employees, and continue to deliver critical services to individuals and communities. But relying on older methods of workforce management can’t give you the data and insights you need to make the wisest and most cost-effective nonprofit staffing decisions.


A technology solution built on a position-based architecture with a centralized database, granular reporting, and integrated training and skills assessments ensures you have enough of the right staff you need to keep pace with change and achieve your organization’s important mission


Persistent role-based data eliminates hours of busy work and frees your HR team to take a more active role in engaging with the organization on a more personal level. SyncHR is here to support you with efficient, accurate, and cost-effective workforce management solutions.


Subscribe to our newsletter for more topics like this or schedule a free consultation with one of our workforce planning experts today.



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John Cuellar

John Cuellar

John is responsible for SyncHR’s product, engineering, and system operations teams. He is focused on streamlining the business processes related to HCM and finance by distributing SyncHR to all members of the workforce and by using patented security and workflow to control these developments. John is also responsible for delivering SyncHR as a cloud based application with “extreme ratio” financial metrics.

He has a background in engineering, workplace applications, and business administration, bringing over 25 years of experience deploying strategic HCM applications. Prior to co-founding SyncHR, John was the CEO of Harbor Technologies, since acquired by Mellon Financial Corporation. Previous to Harbor Technology Group, he spent an internship with the Swiss Bank Corporation in their derivatives pricing and trading group and also worked as a senior manager for the US Navy. John received his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and his Master of Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.

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