January 15, 2016

Talent Assessment and Development

Creating systematic processes to identify a nonprofit's human capital needs and develop staff accordingly (also known as staff development.)

Having the right people is critical to the success of any nonprofit. Together, talent assessment and development form a connected system that helps strengthen a nonprofit's staff and leadership capacity. Talent assessment is used to evaluate and assess the organization's overall staff and leadership capacity, as well as individual employees' performance, strengths, weaknesses, and alignment with the organization's priorities. A natural follow-up to assessment, talent development is used to make organization-wide improvements and continuously strengthen employees' capacity.

How it's used

Talent assessment and development help nonprofit managers ensure that their organization has the right people necessary for achieving the organization's priorities, and has systematic processes in place to develop a strong pipeline of talent and support individuals' ongoing development. Talent assessment can provide insight into areas in which the organization needs to complement its current talent pool as well as identify places where current staff members are succeeding or need to grow. Talent development can provide pathways to fill gaps in the staff and achieve growth among individual employees. Ultimately, talent assessment and development are essential to creating an effective organization.

More specifically, talent assessment and development can be used to:

  • Evaluate the overall organization's staff and leadership capacity
  • Identify and respond to emerging staff and leadership needs
  • Diagnose individual performance, including evaluation of strengths and weaknesses as well as their alignment with the priorities of the organization and capacity for growth
  • Align individual behavior more closely with the organization's mission and priorities
  • Boost employee engagement, motivation, performance, and retention
  • Develop future leaders
  • Create a better work environment


In order to successfully implement talent assessment and development, it has to be integrated into the core culture of the organization. This means having senior leaders and managers understand its importance for strengthening the organization.

To integrate talent assessment and development into the organization's culture, nonprofit managers should:

  • Understand the big picture: Gather senior leaders and program directors to identify the organization's staff and leadership needs to manage forthcoming strategies and operations.
  • Conduct individual staff assessments: Use informal manager-staff feedback and annual reviews to gather information on employees' progress and development.
  • Determine staffing needs: Use individual talent assessments and feedback from managers to determine whether or not current staff can fulfill all staffing and leadership needs. If necessary, hire individuals to fill gaps.
  • Provide ongoing development support and systematize feedback: Consistently engage employees to set professional goals and to give and receive continuous feedback and coaching on those goals throughout the year. Set up an annual review process for more formal evaluations.
  • Provide growth opportunities: To develop a strong pipeline of talent, nonprofits can provide both formal growth opportunities (such as training) and on-the-job growth opportunities (such as managing special projects, supervising interns, leading meetings or trainings, and representing the organization at external events).

Related topics

Additional resources

Performance Assessment: Setting the Stage for an Effective Process
This comprehensive article on the importance of talent assessment and development offers examples from Teach for America and advice from experts on what steps to take to assess and develop talent.

On-the-Job Development Opportunities for Nonprofit Staff
Based on research from Bridgespan clients, this article provides tips on providing staff with on-the-job professional development and growth opportunities.

Leadership Development: Five Things all Nonprofits Should Know
This Stanford Social Innovation Review article covers the five things AchieveMission's CEO and co-funder believes all nonprofit executives should know about leadership development.

Examples and case studies

Turning the Art of Leadership Development into Science
This short case study explores how GoodShepherd's merger of two smaller organizations into its operations presented a golden opportunity to develop a rigorous and effective leadership-development process.

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