5 Myths Busted: HR in the Social Sector

Big or small, your nonprofit organization must invest in human resources to retain skilled, dedicated employees. Social impact organizations are seeing a 24% annual employee turnover, according to Nonprofit HR’s 2022 survey. Despite this knowledge, only 21% of nonprofit organizations reported having a formal retention strategy. In this myth-busting interview, our very own Human Resources Lead Elissa Mrad cuts through the fallacies people hold about working for a nonprofit organization and sheds light on changes organizations can make to strengthen the most important resource that nonprofits have – the human kind!


Myth: There is no chance for upward mobility in non-profits – once you’re hired you more or less stay in that position.

“Those working in nonprofits often do not have clear-cut, linear career paths like those in for-profit corporations: atypical tracks are in fact a strength for committed employees. In the nonprofit sector, employees have greater opportunities to take on more responsibilities, and eventually leadership roles—following much more streamlined career growth than they would have had in a corporate environment.

Not to mention, smaller nonprofits allow employees the chance to wear many hats, widening their set of skills and knowledge in several different domains. So, nonprofit workers are hardly ever stuck in one position; quite the opposite, they get to experience a glimpse of many positions in one. Like any institution, the more nonprofit organizations grow, the more they require human resources to assist its expansion, ensuring an organized environment and high quality of service. Simply put, there’s always a chance for upward mobility, especially when the non-profit organization is growing.”


Myth: The salaries in the nonprofit sector should be below market value, because the work itself is meaningful enough.

“Providing workers an environment to do meaningful work does not eliminate the organization’s duty to provide a healthy, enjoyable life for employees. It is true that working in the nonprofit sector is often emotionally rewarding as workers get to contribute in making a positive difference on the environment and in people’s lives, leaving a lasting impact. That being said, don’t these heroes deserve salaries that at least meet the market rate, if not more?

However, we can’t deny that nonprofit salaries often can’t compete with big corporations pulling from their pool of huge profits. Sometimes the private sector makes an attractive case to newly trained nonprofit professionals, vanishing them from your team in the name of an enticing salary. This is certainly a challenge, but not an insurmountable obstacle, for nonprofits in their recruiting and maintaining good employees. Our duty as HR professionals is to ensure that employees are having the best experience possible within the organization. A positive experience does not solely depend on salaries or value-alignment. Thankfully, many factors play a significant role to ensure a high quality of life for employees, and even small nonprofits can certainly work on offering more indirect, small, and non-monetary benefits such as flexible work schedules, work-leave packages, work-life balance perks, and more.”


Myth: Hiring employees in the nonprofit sector with lower levels of education and skills is a norm.

“It is not a norm, plain and simple. The nonprofit sector does tend to offer more opportunities for people who may not have high levels of education and experience but who are talented, strong-willed, eager to learn, have a great attitude, and lots of innovative ideas. As long as employees are fulfilling their responsibilities and even exceeding expectations, who cares what degree they hold or for how long they’ve been doing what they do? Well, at least here at Phil we don’t value education and experience above and beyond true character and skill set.

Besides, a lot of positions, particularly in nonprofit organizations, do not require an education strictly focused on a particular field. But, when it is absolutely needed, we can always find professionals with higher education levels and experience who are willing to offer support in projects. You would be amazed by the number of people, rich in experience, who dedicate their last active work years to give back to the community by sharing their knowledge and expertise.”


Myth: Employees’ health and wellness can be assured with workplace yoga and deep breathing.

“We hear this often as some organizations brag about offering yoga classes to their employees, and this activity surely has a positive impact on employees’ physical and mental health. However, it has a short-term effect and does not tackle all components that ensure good health.

What would a yoga class alone do for an employee who has a poor work-life balance or experiences harassment on a daily basis at work? Let us rewrite the shallow wellness narrative, and let’s start bragging instead about having a complex system formed by short- and long-lasting solutions that reinforce employees’ health and wellness all year long. Organizations serious about this topic should closely critique its practices, including reconsidering internal policies and procedures, culture, leadership style and support, employee relations, work environment, job security and advancement, performance appraisals, and more.”

Nonprofits must commit to recruiting and holding onto the employees who have what it takes to constantly strive towards the organizational mission. Take initiative and plan a retention strategy that will integrate employees’ growth, learning, and wellness into every facet of operations. Phil is here to guide you through a human resources strategy that will radiate your organizational values within your team and beyond. Learn more about setting up your team for stability and development, so contact us today!