People are critical in the growth of any social organisation. It is their commitment, passion and drive that propels an organisation to positively impact its mission. In the NGO sector, investment in people management has remained minimal in India. According to a study made by Dasra, 33 percent of organisations with up to 100 employees lacked a dedicated people management team. Furthermore, only 50 percent of non-profits with over 200 employees had more than one dedicated people management team member. Investments in people management functions are typically unplanned or non-existent in this sector.
In most small or medium sized NGO in India, the focus areas are guided by the Founders’ / Boards’ vision and philosophy. These are directed more on the beneficiaries rather than the employees and volunteers who actually enable that delivery. The organisation culture, values, location and practices further influence that. We, as the Board, struggle to prioritise people management without realising that it finally endangers prospects for long term sustainable growth.
The legal framework of our country has not yet set specific guidelines for the not-for-profit sector though the new Labour Code seeks to include all employees in an organisation above a specified minimum to be treated as “employees” for the purpose of providing social security. A judgement of the Madras High Court also has made it clear that employees of this sector are to be treated similarly to “workmen” in the industry. But the ground level implementation remains poor.
So what are the areas of people management which needs serious attention? It’s no different from any commercial organisation and should focus on the following for productivity and retention:
In addition, various non-financial incentives can go a long way in motivating and ensuring employee loyalty. Treating everyone with respect, public recognition of employee performance, flexible working policies, providing growth opportunities, representation in conferences and similar forums can help boost employee morale significantly. Benefits like financial help in times of a family crisis, free medical facilities in hospitals and aid to school-going children of employees can be made available. A better work-life balance through rationalizing working hours or allowing parents of children appearing for Board examinations to take some time off can go a long way to support the team.
The challenge, however, remains in obtaining donor funding for these initiatives which are typically classified as administrative costs. Donors are keen to support direct project costs aimed towards the beneficiaries and require a significant mind shift. While the FCRA legislation allows up to 20% spend on administration costs, corporate CSR funding remains reluctant to contribute towards these costs as there is a tendency to believe that low overhead costs lead to high effectiveness.
It is time for us in Mukti to start thinking strategically on capability building as the organisation grows in leaps and bounds. To start with, we can find innovative and non-financial ways to make our people feel being developed, appreciated and rewarded. There are donor foundations that support people training and development – we need to identify them and find ways to collaborate and track the progress of desired people management objectives.