A Force for Good

September 18, 2023

by Elizabeth Benson, Executive Director

(originally published in Greater Cincinnati Nonprofit News, 9/14/23)


What does it mean to have a career in the social sector? It could mean everything – to you and to the people you serve. But we have a big problem. As in almost every other employment sector, the nonprofit industry has a workforce shortage.


National Council of Nonprofits describes the situation in "Nonprofit Workforce Shortages: A Crisis That Affects Everyone”:


"Charitable nonprofits around the country are reporting significant difficulties retaining staff and filling vacancies. What was initially considered a challenge has now become a workforce crisis in need of immediate remedy and commitment to overcome longstanding problems exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While job vacancies in the government and business sectors may cause disappointment and lost profits, the lack of adequate nonprofit staffing means the public suffers delayed or complete loss of needed services."


Independent Sector found that, "In the fourth quarter of 2022, the number of nonprofit sector jobs finally exceeded 2017 employment levels." As nonprofit positions rebounded post-pandemic, phenomena like the "great resignation" and the gig economy impair our ability to fully deliver missions and services. Lack of resources for competitive pay compounds the problem.


Locally, a recent poll of Leadership Council members and other nonprofits found that only 20% reported being fully staffed, and 49% with many positions to fill.


Nonprofit employers represent a significant portion of the workforce and could be a more potent economic driver. Nationally, nonprofits are almost 7% of the workforce. A study of local economic impact is in the works, but as a sample, the 230+ nonprofit organization members of Leadership Council for Nonprofits employ 14,000+ people and represent $1.4B in revenue.


One way to increase the labor pipeline is to start earlier. How many people learn in secondary or vocational school, or even higher education that the nonprofit industry has a place for them? A perception is that it’s an either/or proposition: what you want to be when you grow up, OR a nonprofit career. The fact is that nearly every job you can imagine is represented in the nonprofit industry. We need teachers, nurses, accountants, truck drivers, event managers, attorneys, retail workers, marketers, logistics experts, musicians, hospitality professionals, and so much more.


Possible solutions lie in collaboration, career education, and advocacy. We can bring together nonprofit employers, HR experts, and educators to review current workforce gaps and identify initiatives with short- and long-term impact. We can implement public awareness activities that support nonprofit employer recruitment efforts. We can work to scale alternative labor solutions, like shared services, outsourcing, and job sharing, where feasible. We can advocate for funding for essential community services, improved access to employee benefits, and funder contracts that cover the full cost of delivering services. To be a part of the conversation, connect with us at info@leadershipcouncil.us