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2021 HR Trends in Nonprofits: What Can We Expect?

2020 upended the nonprofit industry, forcing some organizations to pivot their missions. For example, Boys & Girls Club, known for providing after-school care and homework assistance, responded to food insecurity in their communities by leveraging some sites as temporary food banks. Shifting missions has not only been a challenge operationally, but from a safety and security standpoint as well. Transitioning from a youth center to a food distribution operation may mean new staff, new constituents and possibly new volunteers—some of which may come from partner organizations.

For many organizations, the primary goal for 2021 is stability and mission continuity. How can these organizations continue to operate in support of their mission and how can they grow as we hopefully transition away from some of the more challenging facets of the pandemic later this year?

The Rise of the Virtual Volunteer

One thing we anticipate seeing more of is virtual volunteerism. While vaccines have hit the market, social distancing measures are far from over. And with people spending more time at home, away from friends and family, many are looking for ways to spend their virtual time in a way that benefits their communities. According to the 2021 Volunteer Management Progress Report published by VolunteerPro, nearly 52% of organizations surveyed have begun offering more virtual volunteer opportunities because of COVID-19, while 50% have increased the number of virtual meetups and 47% have increased the number of virtual trainings.

With this shift to digital platforms, nonprofit organizations are increasingly interested in cybersecurity. More than ever, they’re prioritizing the protection of volunteer and donor information—both because there’s more of it and because of the legal and reputational risks that can occur as a result of a cybersecurity attack.

A Focus on Attraction and Retention

2020’s increase in virtual interactions has also led to even greater focus on the attraction and retention of volunteers and full-time employees. It’s like any industry today—there are so many options out there, and your goal is to ensure people find and engage with your organization. And today’s volunteer expects a quality, efficient candidate experience. Volunteers are looking for that just as much as employees—and they’re looking for development opportunities as well. As organizations improve their attraction, everyone is forced to up their game to make sure their processes, like applying, screening and onboarding, are easy to navigate and mobile enabled. And when they’re not, you experience erosion of your candidate pool—in the same way you do with traditional employees.

A Closer Look at Who’s in Charge

Finally, nonprofits are increasingly focused on risk mitigation when it comes to talent. It’s not just full-time, in-house staff that are being thoroughly background screened: Volunteers, part-time workers, executives, board members and partner volunteers are being more thoroughly investigated than ever before. Across the board, we’re seeing increased spend on volunteer screening. It seems counterintuitive after a year when donations were likely down, but many organizations are unwilling to risk their reputations—tantamount to their continued success—by attracting negative attention to their organizations.

Building and maintaining a trusted brand is essential to furthering your mission. It can get you closer to achieving your goals and translate to improved funding, increased credibility, stronger talent acquisition and better interorganizational partnerships. But a huge part of cementing that trust comes from knowing who’s a part of your organization and ensuring that everyone who represents it behaves appropriately. With the increased use of nonprofit grading sites like and, it’s more important than ever to take a closer look at those representing your organization—particularly those in leadership positions. A wealthy donor may be willing to serve on your advisory board, but your first responsibility is to your mission. Doing your due diligence on the frontend can help to save your brand and your organization’s resources on the backend.

The global pandemic as well as shifting trends in the for-profit sector are changing the way nonprofits operate. There’s a lot to think about, but one thing is certain: The most successful organizations will be those that recognize the lasting trends for what they are and make changes now to protect their brands and keep their missions top of mind for both volunteers and donors. Brand and reputation are the bedrock of today’s nonprofits, and these organizations should do everything in their power to ensure their most valuable assets are safeguarded against risk.

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