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Our Perspective

Four Ways to Replenish your Human Capital after the Chaos of COVID

A colleague who works in the non-profit sector called me recently to vent, and also to ask for some suggestions. Responsible for hiring a mid-level manager for a medium–sized non-profit, he had scheduled eight interviews to ensure he could fill the role in this market.

Only four of the candidates attended their interview. The other individuals did not call, email or even text to cancel or reschedule. The no-shows simply ghosted my colleague.

He commented that pre-pandemic, typically every candidate would attend their interview – and should they be unable to attend, they usually apologized and requested another opportunity.

So this was an entirely new experience for him. And one that is being repeated across the entire non-profit sector.

Since the onset of the pandemic, job interview no-show rates have increased, candidates are more demanding in negotiating job offers, and there’s a higher incidence of job offer declines.

Concurrently, volunteers in the sector have declined since the start of the pandemic, adding to the pressures non-profits face in meeting their missions as well as the communities striving to meet critical needs.


In May 2022, the Ontario Nonprofit Network and l’Assemblée de la Francophonie de l’Ontario conducted a survey of Ontario non-profit organizations regarding their experiences related to their financial health, staffing and volunteers, and general operations. The results are sobering.
– 74% of organizations reported an increase in demand for services in 2022
– 65% are experiencing recruitment and retention challenges
– 62% have lost volunteers
Source: 2022 State of the Sector During Uncertain Times

So my colleague, like many other non-profit leaders, wanted to know what he and his organization should do to attract the qualified people they need.

Let me share the lessons we learned before, during and post-pandemic and the steps we believe non-profits should be taking now to replenish your human capital.


First, here are some recent trends and observations to put these suggestions into context.

Pre-pandemic: As the World Health Organization was officially declaring COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, the non-profit sector was already experiencing a talent shortage. There was a deficit of qualified workers not only at the leadership level but also for managerial, team, and administrative roles – paid as well as volunteer positions.

Looking into the reasons behind this trend, anecdotally, we found that only a minority of non-profits and charities had a succession plan in place. Meanwhile, the pace of retiring baby boomers (born 1946-1965) was accelerating. From 2014 to 2019 the number of new retirees rose from 170,000 annually to nearly 250,000. (1)

The result of the growing retirement trend and insufficient succession planning? Qualified job seekers were becoming increasingly scarce and were often receiving multiple job offers.

In the midst of COVID chaos: Through tumultuous COVID quarantines, lockdowns and restrictions, many workers were laid off, hiring slowed and in many cases, halted.

At same time, organizations were transitioning to remote working and virtual operations, training, communications and fundraising.

Relocations accelerated as people moved from dense cities in search of more space and less expensive real estate. From mid-2020 to mid-2021 more than 64,000 people left Toronto for other parts of Ontario, up 14% from the previous 12-month period. Montreal lost nearly 40,000 residents to other areas of Quebec, up 60% for the year. (2)

This relocation trend reduced the availability of qualified workers, especially for in-person roles.

Meanwhile, as baby boomers continued to retire, other mature workers, reluctant to deal with technology and issues related to remote working, advanced their retirements. Sometimes these individuals gave their employers short notice – as little as three months rather than the traditional six to 12 months, catching non-profit boards off guard.

While these developments were certainly not unique to the non-profit sector, with budgets typically more limited than the government and for-profit sectors, there was added pressure on the workforce.

But for stressed staff members who may have been considering a job move, many were reluctant to entertain the idea during this turbulent period.

Receding acute phase of COVID: Hiring slowly resumed. Some employers pressed for return to work. While Canada did not experience the “great resignation” the US was reporting, in this country workers began to “rethink and reflect” about what was important to them.

This rethinking impacted the availability of people for senior roles that non-profits and charities most needed: leaders and fundraisers.

It also impacted boards of directors. According to 2022 State of the Sector During Uncertain Times, 56% of organizations reported difficulty recruiting new volunteers. Yet volunteers at the board level are absolutely crucial for effective stewardship and governance of non-profit missions.


And so, as non-profits strive to strengthen your teams and ensure the stability of your organization, here are four recommendations to consider.

1. Relax the “must work in-person” mindset.

Hybrid work will continue. Accept that workers will always want this.

Key vacant roles should be the priority to address. So, when possible, offer hybrid work arrangements. Once your staffing is on a stable foundation, that is the time to negotiate in-office and remote working arrangements.

2. Prepare for greater competition for capable leaders, fundraisers, managers, board members.

Expect another wave of retiring mature workers. Many stayed in the workforce to help their non-profit employers through the pandemic. Now that the environment is less volatile, there may be more exits.

During and prior to 2020, we typically conducted searches for new roles or for those that were pre-transition. But during the pandemic we saw a marked increase in search requests for vacant leadership roles.

Such situations can be destabilizing for non-profit organizations. This is why it’s so important to develop a succession plan and to build a pipeline for leadership roles.

The board should work with the executive director or CEO to nurture talent from within your organization. Focus attention on determining leadership development opportunities for staff and board members; identifying their needs and preferences; building skills and capacity; and supporting wellness to prevent burnout.

3. Research your competition, then be competitive.

When trying to attract in-demand talent, you need to know what you’re up against. Consider your market and what organizations you must compete with to attract qualified people. For example, if your organization is located in the Ottawa area, the public sector is likely your most significant competitor for talent.

What are your competitors offering? What are their selling points? While you may not be able to match salaries or pensions, these are not always the most important considerations in a total rewards package.

Give candidates reasons to join your organization rather than the competition. Identify incentives you may be able to offer. An appealing mission, culture or brand? Flexible working hours? A hybrid work model? Job autonomy? Commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion? Opportunities for personal and growth? Professional development, mentoring, coaching? Wellness programs? Customizable offerings?

Consult widely to develop creative offerings that reflect your organization’s values. And then be sure to communicate these within the channels and groups your prospects monitor.

4. Focus on courteous communication.

Respectful communication is the heart of a positive candidate experience. Yet Indeed, the worldwide employment website for job listings, conducted a survey that found 43% of employers in Canada say they’ve been ghosted in the past two years. (3)

And the previous year the company had completed a survey that found 77% of job seekers had been ghosted by a prospective employer since the start of the pandemic. Of those, another 10% reported that an employer ghosted them even after extending a verbal job offer.

The reputation of your non-profit is critical. Never jeopardize it by ghosting job seekers or candidates. Ghost ghosting.

After the isolating and de-humanizing impact of COVID lockdowns and separations, attentive, courteous communication is critical to successful recruitment and retention.

By leveraging these four strategies, your non-profit can replenish your human capital and reinforce your ability to fulfill your vital mission.

Deborah Legrove, CFRE (2002 – 2017), is President of crawfordconnect and has more than 35 years of experience working in non-profit fundraising, marketing, leadership and executive placement. You can reach her at 1.866.647.5149 / 416.977.2913 ext. 233 or deborah@crawfordconnect.com.


1 Baby Boomers Retiring to Cause Imminent Economic Hardship for Canada, Immigration.ca, January 24, 2019
2 So long Toronto: COVID-19 pandemic hastens Canada’s urban exodus, Reuters, January 13, 2022 3 Indeed Leadership Hub, June 28, 2022