Addressing the Top Operational Challenge of Nonprofits


MARCH, 2019

The 2018 Salesforce Nonprofit Trends Report: Insights from over 450 Nonprofit Leaders into the Trends Shaping the Social Sector tells us that 78% of nonprofits are finding it difficult to keep up with growing demand for programs and services. In the struggle to bridge the gap between demands and resources, the report found that finding, hiring, and maintaining staff remains the top operational challenge for nonprofits in the United States. 76% of U.S. nonprofits reported staffing as their number one challenge, particularly in the sector of health. For organizations in the education and youth development, and environment and animal sectors, staffing came as the second most significant operational challenge they face, the first one being a difficulty in maintaining the pace of programmatic demands.

Harnessing the right team has become increasingly challenging in the nonprofit sector. we can have great missions, technology, and boards, but meeting the challenges day after day requires one thing: aggregating human effort. 

The notion that people are the lifeblood of an organization is not newsworthy. What is striking is that even a tech company like Salesforce confirms that having the right people, not software to harness data and metrics, comes first in the success of a nonprofit. At RHI, we approach this staffing challenge head on.RHI is committed to helping organizations maximize their team’s talents by empowering them with the tools to raise funds and thrive. Examples include preparing executive directors to be more effective at asking for large sums, and onboarding new chief development officers. Similarly, RHI helps organizations make research-based decisions and establish best practices that spur the discovery of new connections and build accountable, long-lasting relationships with partners and donors.

RHI also operates as a team-centered firm. For us as well, our success is about our people. Mentorship is one of our four guiding values. The firm’s belief in preparing the next generation of professionals in fundraising and philanthropy has solidified my passion for development.

As Development Associate, I have been given many opportunities for learning and career development. I have been encouraged to take on new projects, participate in fundraising conferences and meet leaders in the fundraising sector. I am also proud to have been centrally involved in the firm’s work with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the largest organization in the United States that supports Historically Black Colleges and Universities. TMCF’s mission is to “ensure student success by promoting educational excellence and preparing the next generation of workforce talent through leadership development.” Their vision, “Changing the World… One Leader at a Time,” truly embodies the belief that investing in people is the key to a thriving society. TMCF, as does RHI, has mentoring and leadership development at its core. It’s more than a good coincidence that our clients enlist our services toward goals we share deeply.

Thanks to the mentorship I have received at RHI, I have become passionate about fundraising because I have understood it as a way to activate the potential that exists in our society and within us. To discover and pursue new opportunities requires the right combination of creativity, intuition and diligence – a process that cannot be automated. Despite the pressing need for nonprofits to adopt software and technologies to measure impact and orient fundraising efforts, it is crucial to remember that success depends on making human connections.

Adriana Farias, with RHI President Robin Heller, at the Asia: The New Philanthropic Frontier, a Conference co-organized with Global Philanthropic. University of Pennsylvania, September 2018.

Fundraising is ultimately a transformational and not a transactional process. As Jennifer McCrea and Jeffrey C. Walter write in The Generosity Network (2013), “Fundraising is not just ‘asking for money’; it’s not merely a step towards making the world a better place… fund-raising is a vehicle for transformation– personal, organization, social, even global.” Securing support requires fundraisers to be dynamic and effective champions of an organization’s mission in front of difference types of audiences. Fundraisers look inward at the organization, to understand its needs and goals, as well as outward to be attuned to the organization’s constituency and the global trends that affect them.

Though securing the commitment of the right people has become a daily quest for nonprofits today, at RHI we are trained to serve as a solution to the challenges that nonprofits are facing.

Adriana Farias

Senior Consultant