Talent and Culture: Building an Employee-First Approach

Nonprofit Talent and Culture Summit Interview with Sachin Doshi

More than ever before, impact-focused nonprofits and associations are recognizing that without keen focus on and investment in smart talent and culture systems, their missions may not be realized. It is out of this recognition that the Nonprofit Talent & Culture Summit was born.

The HR Gazette is proudly supporting the 2017 Nonprofit Talent and Culture Summit in the capacity of Media Partner. The three-day event is designed to bring nonprofit and association leaders to exchange ideas and collaborate on new ways to advance their missions and goals through talent.

Talent & Culture

The Summit draws a group of leaders, researchers, educators and talent and culture-focused social sector professionals. Attendees represent professional and trade associations, social/human services agencies, faith-based organizations, advocacy/environmental groups, arts and culture, healthcare organizations and academic institutions from across the nation and beyond.

Sachin Doshi is Financial and Systems Analyst at Mental Health America and speaker at the Summit. Sachin will be talking about some of the benefits of assimilating an employee-first approach into the heart of an organization.

Talent and Culture

Ahead do theĀ Nonprofit Talent and Culture Summit, we got a chance to interview Sachin..


Q: Why is the talent and culture conversation especially relevant now?

A: Nonprofits are everywhere now. How many people *don’t* know someone who started their own nonprofit right after (or during) college? Or even earlier? Technology and many other factors have created a generation that is more (and more publicly) excited about helping people and more willing to branch out on their own to do this. I don’t want to go as far as saying that this is a new phenomenon, but it’s certainly an amazing one.

Unfortunately, new nonprofits (or nonprofits who are reinventing themselves) don’t often have the luxury of thinking about sustainability – they’re swamped with survival. And survival while also not posting an operating loss? Even harder. They’re a lot like startups in that sense. Our idea is that culture can help drive sustainability for you when it’s a good fit for your goals and your mission. And if these nonprofits are going to have to deal with the downsides of startups – funding, exposure, long hours, sustainability – then they deserve to enjoy the upsides. They deserve to work with the best, to be paid like the best, and to be treated like the best. We may finally have a generation who demands that we reconcile the gap between how we think about nonprofit careers and how we think about for-profit careers.


Sachin Doshi

Sachin Doshi

Q: What drew you to the nonprofit sector originally?

A: By accident – I was hired off Reddit, actually! I majored in neuroscience, my honors thesis was all about neuroprosthetics research – I was headed down a defined path towards med school. Until two weeks before graduation when I finally admitted to myself that this wasn’t how I envisioned helping people.

I had no backup plan and spent almost 7 months job searching with no real idea of what I was looking for. Finally I came across this post on Reddit for a job at a mental health nonprofit in the DC area.

It seemed filled, so in desperation I created a post of my own, offering my first paycheck to anyone who would help me land a job, ideally similar to this one, so that I could get on my feet. Somehow the original poster came across my post, reached out, and now I work for her! So I came into the nonprofit sector more by accident than anything. But I’m grateful every day that I did.


Q: What is the one area nonprofits can and should improve their talent strategies? And how?

A: I want to preface this by saying that it’s all about your people. What are the qualities you value in your best staff? As a colleague puts it, do they see opportunities where others see obstacles? Are they slightly neurotic? Do they have their best million-dollar ideas over drinks on a Friday (or a Wednesday)? If you have the right people for your cultural fit, and if you treat them well, everything else follows. And part of treating them well is asking yourself if you are at capacity. If the nagging thought that your employees are burning out hits uncomfortably close to home, then my advice is that you probably need to seek new hires now – before all that wonderful talent seeks greener pastures.

Free your employees from workload stress so they can be their best selves and have their best ideas and do their best work. We’re nonprofit professionals – it’s in our nature to give and give, even at the cost of our own physical and mental health. A culture that respects this and proactively avoids this is a culture that thrives.


Q: What’s one major trend you see for nonprofits in terms of HR in the next year?

A: Nontraditional recruitment channels. Facebook just launched a jobs platform that we’ve already seen success with, and I mentioned my own Reddit story earlier. The right people for your nonprofit are out there, but if you don’t necessarily have a large recruitment budget, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others can be great low-cost options for reaching broad audiences among your constituents and elsewhere.

More importantly, they can be important pools of great talent that you may not find elsewhere. I don’t see this replacing traditional channels yet, but it’s certainly become a large area of growth. Think even more outside the box too! Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube – maybe even Snapchat – could be the source of your next amazing hire.


Q: What’s your best piece of advice for a new member of a nonprofit HR team?

A: Be clear about your roles as an HR professional and as a colleague or friend when others seek your input, especially if you have a close office culture where your coworkers might also be your closest friends. They will appreciate you for it. When people came to me wanting advice on issues, I used to find myself conflicted between giving advice from an HR standpoint or giving advice/support as a friend. So I just started asking.

Sometimes they want a polite solution that will respect all parties and let them move forward with their work. Sometimes they just want an ear to rant to, even if I might see a straightforward resolution. So just ask. Practice saying “Do you want my HR advice or do you just need me to listen as a friend?” It sounds weird at first but it works. Oh, and also – if you’re not already, start reading Alison Green’s AskAManager blog! She is a rock star and her advice columns are always entertaining and educational.


About Sachin Doshi

Sachin is a budding nonprofit professional interested in using the science of how people think to drive sustainable productivity. At Mental Health America, Sachin oversaw the development of a flexible, employee-first work environment designed to boost employee engagement and loyalty.


Author: Editor

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