Today, we recap NPQ’s special Advancing Practice series on nonprofit human capital from its fall 2018 edition. The three articles contained in the series complement one another to provide a conceptual framework that aligns with values of reciprocity, sustainability, and organizational excellence while attending to the important task of building future allies. This new approach is strategic, well placed in this social era, and eminently doable with a change in mental models.
If there is one ethos that is at the core of the purpose of the nonprofit sector, it is that collective action can engender change, and the spirit and experience of working together (or in common) for the common good is central to the practice of a pluralistic democracy, which protects all the parts in service of the health of the whole. This value, or set of connected values, underlies the public’s trust in us, which underwrites their willingness to give of their money, their time, and their faith. They expect us to be good stewards of the resources invested in our causes. One of those resources is the focused human spirit (and energy) involved with our work—at the staff level, but also among volunteers and active participants, and on the board.
This cluster of articles addresses human resource practices in nonprofits and the assumptions that underwrite them, starting at the very level of the transaction: what is being given for what in return, and how does that turn into the highest possible value for both the individual employee and the organization simultaneously?
The ideas contained in this section have all emanated from a transition in the larger economy that has resulted in shorter tenures of employment, and in an information and operating environment that is ever more complex and fast moving. It also draws from the increased use of networks of action within fields of practice. All of these contextual issues call out for a new reciprocal approach to “human capital.”
Not coincidentally, the practices we are presenting here are sustainably oriented, in that they serve our fields and the world as well as our organizations better in any number of ways, and—in the end—model practices that are not only aligned with sectoral purpose but are also oriented toward justice.
But none of this will matter if we do not, as organizations, address issues of internal inequities. Unaddressed, these issues will fester as an undiscussed secret until they have been resolved.
- Nurturing Renewable Human Capital in the Nonprofit Workplace
- Developing Human Capital: Moving from Extraction to Reciprocity in Our Organizational Relationships
- Emergent Coaching: Becoming Nimble in Complex Times
WHAT TO DO WITH THESE ARTICLES
- As you read, reflect on key systems or processes across your organization. Ask yourself: “Whose needs do these systems or processes center? Do they center only the organization’s needs? How can we also respond to the needs of other parties engaged in the system or process (e.g., our employees, our board members, and our volunteers)?” Also ask: “Are these essentially generic, traditional approaches we are taking? How could they better reflect our particular organizational philosophies?”
- Distribute the articles among your board and staff, and have conversations about what might need to change in order for your organization to adopt the practices described therein. Ask: “What would we hope for as results? Are there things that our leaders would need to do differently in order to enable change?” Think about the possible benefits of and barriers to managing in this way.
- Distribute the articles to colleagues, and set a time to talk about who is already implementing some of the practices the articles describe and what you may be able to learn from their experience.
While human resource systems and processes may seem the most likely places to address human capital differently, don’t stop there. There is human capital involved in all of an organization’s work (such as strategy, fundraising, advocacy, etc.), and your approaches to that work will change, too, with application of an updated lens.