Solve Your HR Problems

I’ve been in your shoes.  You are in very high gear on year end fundraising AND working to pass your 2014 budget.  Your program staff needs more; your development director says she will happy if revenue is flat. You push for more.

You are starting to look ahead at one or two key hires for 2014.  You have an open position or two.  And then there is the staff member who really has to go (but won’t go easy). You want to start the new year off with a solid team.

Only one big fat hitch.

You have no human resources staff. If you are lucky, maybe you have an administrator who can post jobs on craigslist.  If not, you it’s on your list.

You know, that list that already feels like a joke.

How can you possibly be expected to build a strong team? You need help.

Here’s a very practical idea that worked well for me. I’ve passed it along to others who were grateful.  Here’s hoping it will be of benefit to you.


You need someone who is:

  • A skilled human generalist
  • Passionate enough about your mission or personally connected to you to dedicate some time every week or every other week to be a very-hands on coach who can make very specific recommendations.
  • A person with at lest some flexibility of schedule who can potentially meet with you during office hours.
  • A person willing to do final interviews with you / for you for key or senior hires.
  • A person who will work closely with you in the event of a difficult termination.


Allow me to cut to the chase.  No.  First, what’s called for in this role is objectivity.  Second, this role needs to report to you.  Staff management is your purview and your board’s role is to evaluate your work in this arena each year.

The best analogy for this role is a nonprofit organization’s General Counsel.  This function provides legal advice and counsel on sticky situations, double checks on issues raising from nonprofit status (501c3 vs c4 or both, organizational liabilities, and of course, challenges raised as a function of HR decisions).

This is the model I used in building a pro bono HR role in my organization.

But far too many organizations look to an attorney on the board to fill this role.  Again, the lack of objectivity is a huge liability here.  You need your General Counsel to come to a board meeting as a credible external validator who helps the organization reach a conclusion on a tough issue, bringing no bias about how the issue has been handled to date and assigning no blame.  The job:  recommend the best fix.

Same too with a pro bono HR volunteer.  No blame. No excuses.  Just recommend the best fix.


1)   Get the word out.  Write a great email that articulates the need, the responsibility and the extraordinary value s/he could bring to building a first class staff team.  The email should go to donors, board members, staff – anyone who might know someone or who can send it to 10 friends/colleagues as well.

2)   Make it clear that the role is senior. It’s not about getting your staff to submit their annual review docs in – it is more likely to roll out a new and improved one.

3)   Make it clear that the company will get, if they so choose, corporate recognition on all organization’s materials – print and online. The recognition should appear on the page with the board members.  Following that list it should then read:

  • John Doe, Pro Bono General Counsel:  Sidley Austin….
  • Mary Smith, Pro Bono HR Counsel:  Bank of America, LLC.

4)   Make the pitch.  Steps 1-3 should go along way but fine tune # of hours, kinds of issues you are grappling with currently and may be coming down the pike.

5)   Chat about admin support for these efforts.  Be honest about what you have.  Do you have a person who is all about benefits administration?  Someone who tries his best to keep personnel files up to date?  Someone who works to crack the whip to insure that the reviews are all completed on time?

If so, chat about the relationship between these two functions,  Clearly a pro bono person can not supervise an HR adminstrator.  Agree on parameters.  Maybe the pro bono HR Counsel can provide check lists, best practices for the administrative part of the work, assist in training to do lower level first round interviews.  There are many ways to go and because of this, real clarity that is defined and documented will lead to success.

If you are too small for an HR adminstrator, is there an office manager – that jack of all trades who keeps the office running smoothly?  Your assistant?  Do remember that the pro bono HR consultant can be of great value in helping you build the case for such a role.  As we all know, overhead is hard to sell but an external validator with clear expertise who can speak to the potential liabilities of a nonprofit with no HR infrastructure could make a mighty good case.

I just offered to do some volunteer work for my synagogue – building a strategic and operational plan for building a more cohesive community outreach program.  I wasn’t asked.  I volunteered.  I understood what was expected of me and it was a project I could do largely on my own time and I know that I am uniquely qualified to do this.

Nope, I haven’t started and nope, I am not sure of the deadline date.

But I’m excited.  Something I do well can be of enormous benefit to my temple family.

As they say in the Visa commercials, that is priceless.

So protect yourself and your organization, build an added set of skills, introduce an external validator to your board.

Your 2014 team will be the better for it.