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How to Build Nonprofit Talent Systems During Times of Rapid Growth

Here are four data-driven, inclusive HR systems that can help nonprofits

Over the last decade, many innovative organizations have changed their approach to human resources, moving away from treating employees like risks to be managed and toward viewing talent as an organization’s greatest asset. This shift comprises the heart of “people operations,” a way of thinking about talent that the tech industry has embraced in recent years. People operations puts talent at the center of business strategy and uses data-driven insights to invest in each stage of the employee lifecycle, including recruitment, retention, performance management and alumni engagement.

In the nonprofit sector, wise investments in people operations can propel organizational success—especially during exponential growth. As the number of wealthy philanthropists has increased, so have forms of collaborative philanthropy and individual donors providing “airdrops” of unrestricted funding for promising programs. The scale of these funds often numbers in the tens or hundreds of millions. And while unrestricted financial support can increase the impact potential of small nonprofits, this fast path to growth presents major challenges to talent management.

IDinsight, a data-driven research and advisory organization that helps global development leaders improve their social impact, was founded 10 years ago and has quadrupled in size and revenue over the last five years. We—as well as clients and peers we advise—have faced myriad talent challenges during periods of rapid growth. These include maintaining hiring and performance standards as the number of open positions balloons, moving from informal to formal management structures, retaining tenured employees’ engagement and ownership over the organization and evolving team composition to better represent the communities with whom we work.

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