Human Capital Management in NGOs

To be honest I’ve researched for a while to get my hands on some useful material about Human Capital Management(HCM) in the NGO sector, especially in managing volunteers…not just staff. Yet I’ve failed to find substantial and relative material to build on. Therefore the following is a compilation of my personal experience in HCM in NGOs, specifically in Lebanon, through Aie Serve and other NGOs/Clubs that I train and consult.

To  make the discussion more meaningful I’ll separate HCM into 5 discussable stages, read on for the details:

Organization’s Structural Design

To truly create a Human Capital strategy for the organization, work needs to start on the Organizational Structure first. In this context, a lot of NGOs have a staff based structure, or volunteers structure, or simply committees or even no structure at all aside from the “Board”. This will need to change since adopting an HCM strategy, the structure will need to be redesigned to better fit the current needs and provide space for growth in the future.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • What is the current structure and is it really implemented on the ground?
  • Does the structure provide space for further growth or does it need total make over?
  • Do the positions fit in and complement each other or are there gaps?
  • Is the NGO based on volunteers, staff or both? Do they know how to interact?
  • How is the decision making done and who has it in the organization? Centralized or diverse?

Setting Roles & Responsibilities

After setting the structure, its time to know what does each and every person do exactly. The interesting and surprising part here is that many if not most of the NGOs I work with have incomplete roles & responsibilities description of the team. Many people are left without clear delineation of what tasks shall they do, what are they responsible of, who do they report to, what decisions can they make …and so on and so forth.  Therefore it is essential that each person in the organization not only knows where he/she fits in the structure but also know what role do they play. Moreover, if they wish to grow..then the path they should follow need to be clear.

 Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • Are there Duty Descriptions or Roles & Responsibilities documents for the positions?
  • Are people aware of each other’s role’s and responsibilities?
  • Is regular updating and upgrading for those documents done?
  • Who is involved in drafting and modifying those documents?

Setting & Implementing Recruitment Processes

Now that the structure is clear and so are the roles & responsibilities of everyone, the challenging part is how to get those people onboard. Having a consistent and clear recruitment process is essential to ensure that all potentials are tapped and the right people are recruited.  To do this a recruitment process needs to be designed in a way that it reflects the culture of the organization, the way people will be dealing with each other. The process should be clear for all those in the organization so that they understand what shall they do if they want to recruit more people.

 Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How do people apply for the NGO?
  • Does the NGO recruit volunteers or staff or ?
  • Do members of the NGO join by invitation only or do they have an entry point?
  • Is there a standard procedure of interviews and applications or ?

Training & Coaching

Once everyone is onboard and in place, the time comes where people need to better understand how to do what they’re supposed to do. At this point, training and coaching all the new recruits comes in place. So developing a clear and flexible training program and coaching process are necessary to ensure that the new recruits are empowered with the appropriate information, skills and tools to do their duties properly. Moreover, the coaching process shall allow the recruits to not only do their roles properly but also to excel and grow as a person, and perhaps suggest improvements to the process.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How will the new recruits know what to do and how?
  • Who will be training/coaching them?
  • Is there a training manual in place?
  • Is there a clear coaching procedure and standards?

Performance Evaluation & Enhancement

After having set everything and people are performing and excelling, it’s very important to measure the overall performance and growth of both individuals and the organization. It is important to ensure that both individual and organizational goals are synchronized for this process to work. Moreover, assessment metrics will need to be developed either at the “Roles & Responsibilities” stage or throughout the process of execution so that a clear evaluation can be done at important turning points and end of year assessments.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How would you know or measure that someone is doing their role properly?
  • Who is responsible of assessing/evaluating?
  • Can a follow up and training process be designed to build the skills and fill the gaps according to the results of the evaluation?

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14 thoughts on “Human Capital Management in NGOs

  1. Thank you Afif for sharing..If I may build on your precious ideas, I would say that first the NGO should set/review/redefine or build on(depending on where deos it stand) their vision/mission/SGs as they constitute the lighthouse on any human capital management strategy the NGO would like to adopt.

    On another level, and as you have mentionned, through defining the tasks and the JD of the staff/JD,it would be good if the NGO agrees on a set of KPIs with the concerned person (before the induction phase) in order to define clear, transparent, and participative basis for cooperation.

    And the hole process/methodology would surely increase the productivity and consolidate retention, especially if a “care for care givers” program is integrated in order to avoid burnout – a widespread phenomenon nowadays in NGOs.

    thanks Afif, and keep up the good work!


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  3. Dear Afif,
    Looking at your chart on “Human Capital Management in NGOs” I cannot fail to notice the absence of one critical first step in the NGOs structure that should, in my opinion, precede all the others. I mean by that, a clear definition of the NGO’s Mission and its objectives.
    Unless the NGO’s MISSION and the means to achieve it are, from the start, clearly defined and understood by every single member, I fear that the NGO will keep floundering.
    In 2006 I became member of an NGO whose basic Mission was to combat corruption in my country on a national level. Sad to say it, during the past seven years the following results occurred: (1) the national rate of corruption has spectacularly increased instead of diminishing. (2)Within a period of seven years the executive directors were replaced four times without bringing about any substantial improvement in the performance of the NGO. (3) The NGO’s goals and objectives were never clearly defined, nor was the NGO’s performance regularly monitored by the members and/or by the Board of directors.
    In my opinion, the one million US dollars annual budget of that NGO has been wasted, at a time when Civil Society badly needs such an amount in order to combat corruption and allow it to contribute in drawing up a national social and economic development Plan for the country.
    I attribute these failures to the following:
    1. From the start, the Board failed to clearly set the Mission of the NGO
    2. It did not subsequently clearly identify its goals and its objectives, as well as the program set to achieve them.
    3. The Board did not regularly monitor the NGO’s overall performance and its detailed aspects, nor did it require monthly achievement reports from all the members involved.
    4. But, the most serious mistake, in my opinion, remains the total dependency of the NGO’s Management to the whims and the demands of the local corrupt Public Authorities. That total absence of independence prevented the NGO’s Management team from demanding more transparency in public governance and requesting the government employees to help them in their fight against corruption.

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