Getting Creative in Midst of the Labor Shortage

  • Employer strategies
  • 11/23/2021
Nonprofit professionals having discussion during meeting in open space.

Key insights

  • Nonprofits can help overcome labor-shortage challenges by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations.
  • Cross-train employees and encourage innovation; don’t constrain them to assigned responsibilities.
  • Leverage the experience of your governing bodies to help improve efficiencies, strengthen controls, and save resources.
  • Constantly evolving technology can help you navigate limited resources.
  • It may be cost-efficient to outsource certain functions within your organization.

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In today’s labor market, the competition is fierce. Companies and organizations are vying to attract the best talent. This can be a real challenge for nonprofits who work with budget constraints and limited resources. However, sometimes when the external environment is chaotic, the thing to do is focus inward.

Self-evaluation and reflection can lead to useful insights and actionable opportunities. Getting creative and finding ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your operations can help make it easier to expand options for your team. If attracting, hiring, and retaining talent is a current challenge for your organization, consider the following.

Cross-train and cross-utilize employees

Nonprofits are often constrained by their lean organizational structure. Because staffing can be limited, so can advancement opportunities. One way to combat this is by cross-training and sharing employees beyond their immediate jobs.

Leverage staff from different departments to prepare, review, and provide feedback and projects, and ask for their help in innovating. This can be a great way to empower employees, help them feel valued, and cultivate a culture that represents the mission and values of your organization.

Develop employees from within, remove department silos, and disrupt traditional organizational structure to help identify those processes or controls that are redundant, inefficient, or provide no value to the operation of the organization.

Eliminate waste to allow employees to focus on the work that brought them to you in the first place.

Leverage your experienced governing bodies

Many nonprofits have strong governing bodies that want to see their nonprofit thrive. They often include members with specialized or certified skill sets (e.g., attorneys or accountants). Work collaboratively with management and those charged with governance to find cost effective solutions and improve operations.

Leverage the experience of your governing bodies to help improve efficiencies, strengthen controls, and save resources. For example, attorneys or accountants who are part of a governing body may help with legal matters or monthly financial controls if management doesn’t have the experience or time to do so on its own — eliminating the need to hire external services.

Educate and involve governing bodies so they understand vulnerabilities and can help prioritize and address these matters in their regular meetings. The creative burden to improve operations should not rest solely on the management team. Through collaboration, management and those charged with governance can become unified and improve operations efficiently and effectively.

Embrace automation and technology

The successful use of technology and continued advancement in automation during the pandemic have allowed for greater flexibility, accuracy, and efficiency. When faced with limited employees and time, it pays to work smarter, not harder; get things done quickly, but don’t lose quality. If performing manual or paper processes, stop and ask yourself if you are using technology to your advantage or getting what you need out of your current software packages.

Make the most of software

Many business software packages (e.g., human resource information (HRIS) or financial accounting systems) can significantly reduce paper or manual tasks by leveraging electronic workflows, software integration, and artificial intelligence and data recognition tools. They allow for real-time notifications and electronic initiation, review, and approval of transactions. Embrace automation and technology to help mitigate the risk of employees breaching internal processes or controls.

Communicate with providers

Leveraging technology with your current providers can help increase the safeguard of assets and increase controls over financial resources. A great example of this is positive pay, which is a fraud-prevention system offered by most financial institutions to help protect against forged or altered checks. There is generally a charge incurred for these services; however, some financial institutions have competitively chosen to now offer these additional services, like positive pay, for a reduced rate or even free of charge. Meet with your current financial institutions and other third-party providers on a regular basis to confirm you aren’t missing opportunities to reduce financial risk.

Support recruitment and build culture

Increased use of technology can support recruitment processes by broadening the reach of your job postings and greatly improving communication with candidates. Chances are, your current HRIS/Payroll system already has an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), a process improvement tool you could potentially use to your advantage.

In many organizations, because of the proliferation of remote meetings during the pandemic, new relationships have been forged and employees have become more familiar with each other. Use video-conferencing platforms to get to know colleagues from other offices, instead of waiting for a once-a-year all-staff meeting in person.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to build culture and onboard new employees when it’s all remote. Help your human resources, senior leadership, and supervisors make the employee experience as engaging and inclusive as possible.

Technology and automation are continually developing ways to help navigate limited resources. Embrace these changes and give them creative thought at regular management and board meetings.


When increased technology and automation don’t solve the problem, and additional resources to hire more staff are not available, consider meeting your organization’s needs through outsourcing services such as IT, human resources, or accounting.

Engaging a professional services firm to assist with these functions is often a less expensive option than hiring a full-time qualified individual (eliminating the cost of fringe benefits, for example). Perhaps more importantly, it allows for greater flexibility in bringing industry-specialized professionals to your side whenever needed. See additional benefits and considerations in our recent "Nonprofits of the Future" article on outsourcing.

How CLA can help

At CLA, we promise to know you and help you. We can help nonprofits navigate today’s tight and competitive labor market and provide you with the resources needed so you can continue to focus on your mission and community. The following services can be customized to accommodate your needs:

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