Nonprofits Are Short Staffed — How Long Can They Sustain Themselves?

Last week, the Columbus Metropolitan Library system announced that it will continue to be closed on Sundays because of staffing shortages. According to the press release, the library system is down more than 130 staff members compared to peak operations.

Our clients span the nonprofit field, and we are seeing challenges in organizations of all sizes and sectors. One of our clients recently told me:

“When I think it can’t get any worse, it gets worse the next day.”

This client has been creative throughout the pandemic. Consolidating programs, shifting staff responsibilities, managing public health protocols, and maintaining extraordinary levels of care for those they serve. Despite the fatigue of constantly navigating and adjusting, she loves the work.

But she’s losing staff at an unprecedented pace, primarily because of pay and benefits. It’s not just to for-profit employers, although some warehouse shifts are paying as much as $30/hour. She’s also losing staff to public agencies that are flush with cash. She wonders, though, when that money dries up, “what happens then?”

A recent New York Times article “As Workers Gain Pay Leverage, Nonprofits Can’t Keep Up” sums up the issue:

“In a Northern California school district, the superintendent is taking shifts as a lunchroom monitor. In Louisville, Ky., nonprofit groups are losing social workers to better-paying jobs at Walmart and McDonald’s. And in Rhode Island, child welfare organizations are turning away families from early-intervention programs because they are short of personnel.”

Our client can’t sustain the level of service her nonprofit provides when the organization is so short-staffed. Add the omicron surge on top of the labor market shifts, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Every day she finds out about another employee who is sick. Nonprofits as large as the Cleveland Clinic are not immune, either. As of January 3, news outlets report that 3,500 employees of the Clinic were out because of illness — that’s 5% of their workforce.

While places like hospital systems are better able to bear the weight of increased talent costs because of their business model, places like libraries and social service agencies cannot.

It’s not sustainable,” she told me. “I just want to survive this, but it feels really difficult to see our way out.”

We do not know the long-term effects of any of this — COVID-19 on our collective health and workforce pressures on our economy. But already, we are seeing nonprofits that cannot provide services, and it only stands to get worse for the people they serve.

What I do know is this — people like our client are not ready to give up, but they need help. They need funders who understand the extraordinary challenges they face and the need for extraordinary levels of commitment. With additional levels of support, nonprofits can gain the leverage to recruit and retain talent and meet deep community needs.

Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO

2022-01-13T18:53:37+00:00January 13th, 2022|