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Vicki Burkhart’s Growing Your Nonprofit With Fractional Staffing

Vicki Burkhart's Growing Your Nonprofit With Fractional Staffing

Vicki Burkhart’s Growing Your Nonprofit With Fractional Staffing Isn’t Magic – It is a Strategic Approach to Human Capital.

Let’s face it: traditional staffing models are not going to get any employer out of the current labor shortage bind. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “even if every unemployed person in the country found a job, we would still have around 3.5 million open jobs.”

Everyone is competing for talent and the nonprofit sector, where limited budgets constrain salaries and hiring incentives, is really feeling the squeeze. In a recent survey by the National Council of Nonprofits, nearly 75% of 1,600 respondents reported job vacancies. And while businesses may struggle to keep producing goods and services, the impact of inadequate staffing in nonprofits is more profound. The report points out that, “When nonprofits cannot hire enough employees to provide vital services, the public suffers.”

How will nonprofit organizations meet the growing demand for the important work they do?  Letting go of outdated staffing models and approaching human capital needs strategically would be a good start.

The nature of work has evolved.

The for-profit sector has had its eye on demographic and cultural trends affecting labor supply since the advent of widely available internet service and ever more portable devices. When the pandemic forced all but essential personnel to work from home, distanced communication kept many an enterprise alive. Most businesses have since re-opened physical locations, but the paradigm has shifted.

Remote work has entered the mainstream. According to a study from Zippia.com, about 27% of Americans are working remotely as of 2023. Here are other findings:

  • 2 million American employees are expected to work remotely by 2025.
  • 40% of workers believe they’ve been more productive while working at home during the pandemic.
  • 16% of U.S. companies are fully remote.
  • Remote jobs now make up 15% of work opportunities in the U.S.

According to an article by Forbes, “Sixty-five percent of workers desire to work remotely all the time…At the same time, 32% prefer a hybrid schedule, which combines the best of both worlds — flexibility from remote work and collaboration opportunities from in-office work.”

“Staffing out” is the new “staffing up.”

The for-profit sector is embracing the fractional staffing model. Clutch Report noted that a third of small businesses were planning to use flexible resources for functions ranging from digital marketing to customer support. There is growing interest in fractional sourcing at the executive level as well, as a cost effective way to harness high-end expertise.

I appreciate that most nonprofits are more concerned with surviving the “starvation cycle” than with being at the leading edge of human capital strategy. But the time is right for virtual fractional staffing to become the new normal.

Fractional staffing is highly effective for nonprofits of all sizes, because it is designed to be responsive. Current needs, near-term objectives and long-term capacity building can all be served, and served well, when organizations can access the right skills at the right time without committing to additional overhead costs. Fractional staffing provides the financial breathing room needed to level up.

This is more than filling in gaps in your program. It is a strategic approach to positioning human capital within your organization.

How can fractional staffing work for you?

Consider the typical development department. The struggle to build and maintain an effective fundraising team is well known. An often quoted study from 2012 found that the average fundraiser stays at their job for a mere 16 months. A 2022 study is slightly more encouraging, finding a mean tenure of 3.9 years across fundraising jobs, yet noting that of the 1,663 survey participants, 20% intended to leave their organization within the next year. Seven percent planned to leave the profession altogether.

That’s a bitter pill, especially when you consider that the timeline for raising a single major gift can range from 6 months to several yearsfor stable, well established fundraising programs. We all know from experience how staff turnover affects donor relationships and trust. Factor in the direct and indirect cost of replacing team members, which can range from one half to two times the position’s salary, and it becomes a wonder that any development program could generate revenue that exceeds costs.

Fractional staffing supports incremental growth. Perhaps you need an annual giving manager, but only for certain portions of the year; or you need a major gifts officer or data support, but only for a few hours a week on an ongoing basis. Fractional staffing can provide experienced professionals to fill those roles expertly and consistently.

Let me also make a distinction between hiring consultants and putting a fractional staffing model into play. Consultants are typically engaged to develop long-range strategy. They can point your program in the right direction, but they are not in the business of implementation. Fractional staffing professionals bring expertise as well as the ability and commitment to getting the work done. Think of it as having an extra pair of hands when and where you need them most.

Fractional staffing is a strategic choice.

Nonprofits require diverse skills including fundraising, finance, program development, technology and operations, but may have a budget that allows a very limited number of full- or even part-time hires. To again use fundraising as the example, the average nonprofit needs grant writing, database management, social media outreach, annual giving and corporate relations. That combination of skills is hard to find in a single professional, and even if such a unicorn could be found, they would almost certainly command a larger salary than most nonprofits can afford.

Unrealistic job descriptions that include every conceivable function result in burnout, rather than to efficiency or effectiveness. Staff members at small nonprofits who wear many hats are frequently pulled off-task to address the urgent need of the moment, often at the expense of routine (but important) tasks and strategic initiatives.

That tension becomes even more acute when the organization’s executive director is tasked with multiple roles. Fractional staff who are brought in for targeted needs are not asked to take responsibility for the entire organization, and therefore are better are able to dig in and produce great results in their area of focus.

Fractional staffing offers a bench of seasoned nonprofit specialists who can be engaged to join your team virtually, supplying a curated set of skills for precisely the number of hours and period of time you need them, even if that’s as little as 10 hours a month. Fractional team members hit the ground running, sidestepping delays caused by recruiting and onboarding. Plus, fractional professionals have a unique perspective from working across different organizations. They see how various challenges are being met elsewhere and can often suggest novel solutions to yours.

Keep your organization dynamic with fractional staffing.

Take a page from the business playbook. Traditional staffing models tether you to the skills of the volunteers and staff you already have. A fractional team will adapt and grow with you. As each new challenge is met, you can make quick and seamless adjustments to meet the next challenge, and the next, achieving your goals effectively and efficiently.

Vicki Burkhart’s Growing Your Nonprofit With Fractional Staffing was first posted at INSIDE CHARITY

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Vicki Burkhart
Vicki Burkhart
Vicki Burkhart, founder and CEO of The More Than Giving Company , has 40+ years of experience in the nonprofit arena as a nonprofit executive and consultant. In 1998, Vicki founded The More Than Giving Company to deliver an affordable, on-demand staffing solution to help nonprofits supplement the bandwidth and skillsets of their volunteer force. Headquartered in Boston, MA, we serve a diverse portfolio of nonprofits across the US and Canada.

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