Non-Profit Organization Staffing History and Overview

Non-Profit Organization Staffing History and Overview

While the staffing of non-profit organizations is different in many ways to traditional, for-profit businesses, there are more similarities than differences. Historically, for-profit structure and staffing has been based on the needs and the drive of market factors. The history of non-profit organizations in the United States however, is rooted in both religious and educational needs. On colonizing the New World, the colonists recognized the need for an education system that would support the growing population in America. This was the start of such centers of colonial education such as Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth (Dobkin). These non-profit organizations established the framework for non-profits in America, and the United States, a framework that lasted throughout the 18th and 19th centuries (Dobkin).

Harvard’s first governing board, the first non-profit board in America, was made up of 12 overseers. These were divided into 6 magistrates and 6 ministers .These individuals served on the board with no salaries. Harvard also established a strong base of support in the mercantile community in Boston, which made excessive fund raising unnecessary for decades. Yale, on the other hand, took a different route, and established strong ties with the local government, ensuring a steady stream of public support (Dobkin). These 2 different funding models are examples of the various routes some non-profits take to financial solvency. Some focus on relationships with capable, supportive businesses, while others maintain a close relationship with the public (government) sector, depending heavily on financial support and resource assistance from the government. These varying courses of action had a serious effect on the staffing of the non-profits. Some of them exchanged seats on the directing boards, or chairmanships, in exchange for financial support. While this helped the organizations operate, the relationships often skewed the independence and objective thinking (and decision making)
required of non-profit organization board members.

In modern times, staffing a non-profit organization presents some unique challenges and opportunities for both the organization and the potential employees. Many non-profit organizations exist to perform services for a market sector that will not support a for-profit organizational structure, or an agency motivated by profit. Non-profit organizations such as museums, selected hospitals, educational or social outlets do not exist, by definition, to make
money (as profit). It therefore follows that, in general, most staff members of non-profits do not work for these organizations to make excessive salaries (Holland). Not surprisingly, many NPO staff members are volunteers. What they do not make in salary, they make up for it in significant work force experience, as well as an altruistic and personnel satisfaction from doing the right thing for people, or organizations, who then in turn benefit from their services and effort (Morton,Otting).

Motivation to work in the non-profit arena includes monetary compensation, as well as experience and training benefits (Smith, Bucklin). Obviously workers work to feed their families, but there are powerful motivations and possibilities within the non-profit section. The skills, knowledge, and abilities gained through both paid employment and volunteer opportunities can be leveraged by employees to significantly benefit their careers, and by default, any future employers (Holland). The contemporary economic environment is particularly interesting in regards to studying the history and trends for staffing non-profit organizations. Due to the current employment conditions, many non-profit organizations have laid off large numbers of employees. This has made a significant number of skilled and fully qualified workers, trained in the nuances of not-for-profit business practices, available in the potential manpower hiring pool.

These abilities and skill sets include strategy development, program management, marketing,and government operations and interaction. This is not all bad news for the non-profit professional seeking work. Between the economic down-turn and the current influx of government resourcing, new markets and opportunities are becoming open and available to many. While change is often unpredictable and disconcerting, these new opportunities will exist
for those who can weather the tough times.


Smith, Bucklin & Associates, Inc. (2000). The Complete Guide to Nonprofit Management. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: New York, NY.

Morton, Lisa Brown & Otting, Laura Gassner. (2009) Temporary Staffing: A short Term Solution to a Long-Term Problem. Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group. Retrieved 10 April 2009.

Holland, Kelley. Under New Management: Can Volunteers be a Lifeline for Nonprofit Groups? The New York Times, 25January 2009. Retrieved 19 April 2009.

Hall, Dobkin Peter. (2003) A History of Non-Profit Boards in the United States. BoardSource ebook series. National Center For Nonprofit Boards.