Working with a mission
Shareholder returns – profits ultimately – form the basic bottom line goal of all companies in the corporate sphere.
But what constitutes as success for non-profit organisations?
“As a non-profit organisation, a key factor for success is the dedication of our staff and volunteers towards the mission of the organisation,” says Singapore Red Cross (SRC) Secretary General, Benjamin William.
Janhawi Mhapankar, HR and Administration Manager, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore, concurs.
“Employees in a non-profit organisation are extremely passionate about their work and strongly believe in the cause of the organisation,” she says.
“Money is not the primary motivation.”
HR’s place in non-profit firms
So where does HR stand in the midst of non-profit organisations’ operating frameworks?
For those who have long believed that HR structures are virtually non-existent in non-profit entities, a recent survey will put those lingering notions to bed.
According to the HR Staffing, Costs and Structures in the Nonprofit Sector Survey unveiled in 2014 by XpertHR, 49.2% of HR professionals in the non-profit sector believed their HR function’s influence had risen over that past year.
In addition, the survey found that 21% of organisations witnessed an increase in staff over the previous year. The most frequent reason cited for a change in HR staff numbers was increasing workloads (57%).
William says SRC’s HR department comprises of four staff, including the head of HR.
“In line with our policy approach to give high priority to HR management, the Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General of Administration take a hands-on approach to HR matters and all heads of departments are expected to support the HR function,” elaborates William.
In WWF Singapore’s case, Mhapankar says the organisation’s HR team consists of two people: the HR Manager and an HR Executive.
“We perform all the standard HR functions, including employee recruitment and retention, compensation and benefits, talent management and employee engagement,” she explains.
However, she stresses that the role of HR stays aligned to WWF’s passionate and cause-driven philosophy in all the strategic and operational activities it performs.
According to William, the primary HR objective in SRC is to create a work environment where each staff member can maximise their potential and make a useful contribution to the SRC mission.
“We also want our work space to be a friendly and welcoming environment in which staff look forward to and take pleasure in being a part of it,” he says.
“Hence, while handling the full spectrum of normal HR functions like remuneration packages, payroll administration, training and development of staff, capacity building and talent retention, the HR Department and senior management are always conscious of this broader objective.”
The mission-driven focus
The humanitarian and social service goals of non-profit organisations are evident when one looks at the HR scope in such organisations.
For example, the objectives of the SRC include providing “assistance in relief operations in times of disaster, and in auxiliary health and welfare services to the sick, the handicapped, the aged and the poor.”
The organisation’s website says it does this “without any distinction on grounds of race, nationality, religion or political opinions”.
A further goal is to “furnish voluntary aid to the sick and wounded in time of war, and to non-belligerents, prisoners of war and civilians”.
William says SRC has around 150 full-time staff, complemented by auxiliary (part-time) staff.
“We also have about 6,000 volunteers (including Red Cross Youth),” he says.
“A core group of these volunteers take on regular responsibilities and have key roles in running some of our services and programmes like the Red Cross thrift shop, First Aider on Wheels, Meals with Love (Food Aid), and international response. To maximise the potential of our volunteers, we also have in place a Volunteer Career Pathway that provides structured development for our volunteers.”
Meanwhile, WWF Singapore is a Singapore-registered charity, founded by WWF International – the global conservation organisation.
Mhapankar says WWF Singapore works with government, business, other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the local Singaporean community to spearhead efforts to build the region’s expertise in planning and managing natural resources wisely.
“WWF has a clearly stated mission and purpose, and all of our programmes and policies support that mission,” she says.
“In our daily lives, we try to practice what we preach by doing all we can to reduce pollution and waste, and wherever possible, use renewable and recyclable materials.”
“Our HR policies are aligned towards the WWF values and mission, be it hiring people who demonstrate and believe in WWF’s philosophy, following green office initiatives like procuring Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper products, recycling waste, and offsetting our carbon footprint.”
According to her, WWF Singapore has a core team of fulltime employees. The organisation also engages interns and volunteers to help it during high profile campaigns such as Earth Hour.
“Additionally we engage third party agencies where we deploy conservation ambassadors to help us spread awareness about conservation and perform face-to-face fundraising,” she says.
The mission-driven emphasis is also espoused by William and SRC, even from the hiring phase.
“First and foremost, when recruiting staff and volunteers, we are always on the lookout for people who are clearly dedicated to the social sector and who care for the vulnerable,” he says.
“We are constantly on the lookout for individuals whose motivations are aligned to our organisation’s mission of ‘relieving human suffering, protecting human lives and dignity, and responding to emergencies’.”
Joining the non-profit ranks
According to the 2014 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, only 15% of non-profit organisations in the US have a formal annual recruitment budget.
As such, hiring can often be less structured and more based on immediate needs and availabilities, with staff often switching from one like organisation to another. The survey found that 48% of mid-level posts were occupied by individuals coming from other non-profits (see: boxout).
William says like all firms, SRC looks for efficient and committed people to join the organisation.
“As we are dependent on public donations, we have to be frugal and our remuneration packages will generally be behind the corporate world and the civil service,” he explains.
Hence, he says the organisation faces a significant challenge in recruiting and retaining good and well-qualified people.
“A key difference in the hiring process is that we perhaps pay closer attention to how committed the candidate is to the humanitarian cause,” says William.
“This is a difficult judgement call but is useful, especially for retention.”
According to William, SRC usually advertises job vacancies through digital job search platforms.
“We also advertise on the mainstream media when there are critical posts that we need to fill urgently,” he says.
“However, a key means of recruitment is through word of mouth. Often candidates are brought to our attention through the direct recommendations of our staff, volunteers and committee members.”
William states the organisation is also happy to welcome back staff members who may have left the organisation, and who have gained useful experience and expertise elsewhere.
Operating under an armada of various functions and services, he adds SRC is always sourcing for a broad category of people, including drivers and responders, executives to manage programmes and support services, and senior managers with a greater oversight capability.
Mhapankar says WWF Singapore also operates on a limited recruitment budget.
“So we usually recruit via channels such as jobs bank, employee referrals, online job portals and social media,” she elaborates.
“We also look at lateral movements and internal transfers within the WWF network. We usually recruit for positions with functional expertise in the areas of Marketing and Communications, Digital, Fundraising, and Corporate Relations.
“We seek to hire the right profile of candidates who share our passion and commitment, provide them with the guidance and freedom to excel at their work, and develop their potential.”
Once recruited, William says SRC provides staff with a basic Red Cross induction.
“Through the induction, staff will have a greater understanding of the Red Cross history, how and why the mission was formed, and the current services we provide to the community,” explains William.
He adds the organisation then aims to get staff involved in their humanitarian services, even beyond their job function.
“One specific example is our emphasis on first aid,” he says.
“Singapore Red Cross supports the national goal of having a first aider in every home and is one of the main providers of first aid training in Singapore.”
“Our staff have to realise the importance of first aid before they can be true advocates for the cause, which is why we provide free standard first aid training for all staff.”
In addition, to broaden their perspective and to grow affiliation to the mission of the global Red Cross Movement, William says SRC tries to give staff members some exposure to its overseas humanitarian work.
“There are opportunities for staff members to participate in overseas missions where they witness first-hand on-the-ground situations during emergencies and understand how the work of Singapore Red Cross can also make a difference in the lives of communities outside Singapore,” he explains.
The 2014 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey found that 32% of US non-profit organisations believed their inability to pay competitively was their greatest retention challenges, with 19% identifying an inability to promote and advance top performing staff.
William says SRC does not try to keep pace with the corporate sector or even the civil service.
“However, we are very conscious of the fact that remuneration is important and that staff feel that they are compensated fairly,” he explains.
“Therefore we regularly review our salary to ensure that we remain competitive, especially within the social sector. A key benchmark that we refer to is the guidelines provided by the National Council of Social Service.”
William stresses that while loyalty is recognised and rewarded, the remuneration structure is such that performance is also celebrated.
“In recent years, we have restructured our management organisation to allow us to recognise talent, leadership and potential, as well as, to promote staff from within the ranks,” he says.
“As a multi-service voluntary welfare organisation, we are also able to allow our staff to move laterally to broaden their experiences.
“This in turn helps to prepare staff for higher management positions.”
William says SRC has also put in place a system for objective performance appraisals and performance-based rewards, allowing career progression to be tied to performance.
“Staff development is also a key factor for staff retention,” he notes.
“We therefore provide opportunities for junior staff to showcase their ability and potential in organisation-wide projects, sometimes outside their normal job scope. Having a common mission to work towards also helps in building cohesiveness among colleagues, which contributes to the retention of staff.”
In order to develop the next generation of leaders, William says SRC also has a scheme to talent spot and provide extra training and exposure to staff members who have the potential and aptitude to take on greater responsibilities.
“We try to test them in challenging situations and in leadership roles,” he says.
“Staff know that promotion is not merely dependant on their years of service in the organisation.”
Meanwhile, Mhapankar says WWF strives to pay its staff salaries that are externally competitive and internally equitable, while keeping in mind the fiscal realities of the organisation.
“We follow the Mercer International Position Benchmarking methodology for evaluating jobs and comparing with the market,” she explains.
“Our market is defined as the place from where we hire our staff, across sectors and geographies. It is important to ensure that our salary ranges are comparable with what other organisations in our market offer.”
Nevertheless, she reveals that most of their staff do not join the WWF for the pay, and many of them willingly take a pay cut when they make the shift from the corporate world into the non-profit sector.
Mhapankar also acknowledges that retention “is always a challenge for non-profit organisations like ours”.
“Some of the ways in which we retain our staff is via growth opportunities for lateral or vertical movements within the organisation,” she says.
“Staff can also explore internal transfers or opportunities with the WWF Network across the world.”
Championing employee engagement
While pay can vary significantly between non-profit organisations and commercial corporations, William says some things remain the same. Like most organisations, SRC crafts activities like retreats, family days and staff dinners to encourage bonding and interaction outside of work.
“We have an online feedback portal – “Brainwaves” – that encourages bottom-up communication and provides an outlet for staff to share constructive suggestions that help to improve the organisation and its humanitarian services,” explains William.
Moreover, SRC has a fun and engaging bimonthly internal circular called “Heartbeat”, which features a range of topics involving staff. William says employees get a good laugh reading and finding out interesting things they never knew of their co-workers.
“We also have a monthly staff get-together event called “On the House” where the various departments take turn to host and plan a themed party with games and food,” he notes.
“At the end of the year, everyone will vote for the best theme, game and overall champions. It really brings out the fun and creative part of the staff, and their competitiveness.”
William adds that as the Secretary General, he tries to maintain a close relationship with his colleagues.
“I take time to meet with the various departments and different groups of staff members on a regular basis, without any specific agenda,” he explains.
“No topic is out-of-bounds and the staff know I value honest feedback. This allows staff to provide feedback to the top management.”
Mhapankar also says WWF Singapore has an open work culture and a relatively flat structure, where team work is encouraged and where employees can contribute to making decisions.
“We try to provide challenging and meaningful work and give recognition where it is due,” she elaborates.
“This creates an environment that fosters trust and collaboration and leads to a higher level of employee engagement.”
Non-profit quick bites
Source: 2014 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey
HR strategy in non-profit firms
Source: HR Staffing, Costs and Structures in the Nonprofit Sector Survey