I like projects. I like doing them myself when I can but must confess that I perhaps take on more DIY projects than I should. The high cost of services that seem like ones I can do  myself—an executive search for new staff, real estate transactions, even picture framing—will get me worked up every time if I think too much about the cost vs. value added.

I find DIY is often advisable. It can be easier, cheaper, get us closer to our vision for what we need and be more rewarding. On the other hand, sometimes it can be a big mistake (think bathroom renovation). So it is with this attitude that I dove into several do-it-yourself operational initiatives, including DIY Human Resources (HR).

PAI is a medium-sized organization: too small to hire a full time human resources manager (I’m told that organizations of under 100 employees do not require one), but large enough that managing benefits, staff development, and hiring and retention for 32 employees is a chore too large to add to my plate.

Human resources requires stellar administrative skills to keep all the policy and benefit details in order—including the many legally mandated communications to staff and various filings. It also requires analysis and planning for needed skills sets at the organization, diversity considerations, staffing budget, recruitment, and retention. And finally, it requires someone who understands the organizational culture and has the patience and counseling skills to support both professional development of staff and navigating the art of “playing well in the sandbox” (you all know what I mean).

Raise your hand. How many of you are trained in human resources? And how many of you try to do all three of these all by yourself or have one person in your organization who tries? How many of you have a whole department who manages this for you?

It would be rare indeed for one single person to possess all three of those sets of skills and have the time to do them each well. Yet many of us by necessity implement all or some components of DIY HR. At PAI, we’ve tried a hybrid approach of DIY supported by select outsourcing. Here’s how it breaks down:


Since we are still mid-stream with many of these initiatives, I can say that so far it’s working—but I’ll need to get back to you on how much my DIY HR resembles that bathroom renovation in the end.

Confessions of a COO is a periodic series focused on nonprofit operations and organizational effectiveness, written by PAI Chief Operating Officer Carolyn Vogel. To read the first post in the series, click here. Got an idea for Carolyn? Email her.