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Government-Funded Sustainable Development and Professionalisation of NGOs

Faculty of Organizational Sciences, University of Maribor, 2000 Maribor, Slovenia
Faculty of Economics, University of Ljubljana, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2020, 12(18), 7363;
Received: 16 July 2020 / Revised: 2 September 2020 / Accepted: 4 September 2020 / Published: 8 September 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Sustainable Management)


This paper addresses the first financial initiative of the Slovenian government for the professionalisation and development of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote sustainability in the third sector. The measure was the result of the Non-Governmental Organisations Act, adopted in 2018, and was followed by the Development strategy of non-governmental organisations and volunteering until 2023 (DSNGOV). The state’s contribution to an increased level of professionalisation was welcomed by NGOs because, compared to other EU28 states, which have an average employment rate of 4.18%, Slovenia is far behind, with only 0.82% of its active working population being employed in the NGO sector. In May 2018, the Ministry of Public Administration released invitations to fund projects for the development and professionalisation of NGOs and voluntary service, providing grants for 100 NGO jobs. The final project results were compiled in March 2020, and the findings were evaluated in 29 survey reports in April 2020. The research focused on the occupations for which employees were sought, legal forms of the applicant NGOs and recruitment methods. The results demonstrate that the state measure was successful, as 69% of the funded jobs were sustained. However, most of the retained jobs were filled by those who were previously employed in the NGO sector (84.6%), so the employment rate has barely risen.

1. Introduction

It is taken for granted that workers get paid for the work they have done. While this may be true for the public and corporate sector, it is not the case for the non-governmental sector, where volunteers make up most of the workforce. The professionalisation of the NGO sector remains a challenge to be dealt with in the future. Suárez and Gugerty [1] argued that managerialism provides legitimacy for NGOs by signalling capacity and accountability to donors, also increasing the likelihood of government funding.
As is the case around the globe, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Slovenia have become visible players in the social and political scene. However, despite being portrayed as professional organisations in the literature, data show that more than 90 per cent of Slovenian NGOs do not have employees [2]. Despite the Slovenian government’s ambition to increase the professional structure of NGOs, we should frankly say that the professionalisation of NGOs in Slovenia has been understudied. Thus, this paper aims to rectify this gap.
This article studies the new legislation and core strategic documents that NGOs and the government of the Republic of Slovenia (RS) have issued in the last two decades in order to promote professionalisation in NGOs. In the EU28, an average of 4.18% of the working population is employed by NGOs. In contrast, Slovenian NGOs employ only 0.82% of the country’s working population (European Economic and Social Committee, 2016). NGOs’ warnings, as well as government analyses, led to the first government tender for developmental projects and professionalisation in NGOs in the summer of 2018. The funded NGOs have tried their utmost to maintain and develop their programmes and strengthen themselves by hiring professionals, but despite this tender, Slovenia is still far behind the other EU states [3]. The article contains the results of an analysis and study of data from final reports of recipients of the government funds that have long been awaited. This government measure was intended to facilitate the sustainable operation of Slovenian NGOs.
In 2018, the Non-Governmental Organisations Act (ZNOrg) came into force. It recognizes that NGOs are indeed one of the crucial pillars of the development of modern societies [4]. One reason for this, especially where the sector is highly developed, is that NGOs contribute to the gross domestic product (GDP) of their countries. In Slovenia, the income of NGOs in 2018 amounted to 2% of GDP [5,6]. Outside of NGOs, voluntary work in Slovenia only generated an additional €98,356,373 yearly [7]. Besides generating profit, the Slovenian government also recognized the social impacts volunteering brings both to society and to the volunteer as an individual. The government’s commitment to recognizing and rewarding the value of volunteering was proven by its adoption of the Volunteering Act (ZProst) [8].
Slovenia started to strategically plan for the organisational development and professionalisation of its NGOs only in the last decade. As stated by Kolarič et al. [9], the state still plays a dominant role in Slovenia’s public support system, as it continues to occupy its primary role in the production of public goods and services. The private non-profit voluntary sector only fills the gaps in public sector services. Consequently, the NGO sector plays a marginal role and the state provides minimal funds; thus, NGOs must rely on voluntary work as an important share of their workforce. In Slovenia, voluntary work has only been evaluated since the adoption of the Rules on Voluntary Work Areas and Register [10], which was likely the result of the report entitled Volunteering: Does Volunteering Contribute to Social Welfare in Slovenia? [11]
According to Črnak-Meglič and Rakar [12], the NGO sector should be an equivalent complementary partner to the public sector, bringing competition to public service providers. The latter should eventually be reformed to reduce administrative and organisational entropy and facilitate access to and improve the quality of service. Third-sector organisations would become more professionalised, professional and organisationally developed. In a comparative project conducted at the John Hopkins University entitled Global Civil Society, Salamon, Sokolowski and List [13] claimed that the states of Central and Eastern Europe (CCE) have mainly developed expressive activities (e.g., religious, cultural and recreational) due to the regime after WWII, with the main asset of these activities being voluntary work. In these states, the development of service activities was not very evident, resulting in NGOs being only a ‘pale reflection’ of similar NGOs in the rest of the world. Low levels of professionalisation, dependence on volunteers and lack of resources are therefore typical for NGOs in the CEE region [13,14].
In the Civil Society in Slovenia publication [15], the authors suggested changing the manner and scope of NGO (co)funding and that there should be additional tax incentives and other support mechanisms. To actualise these measures, the government and NGOs should draw up a common development strategy.
NGOs ‘harness the altruistic (and sometimes non-altruistic) energies of many individuals’ [16], and we attempt to determine whether state funding is the correct measure for the facilitation of NGO professionalisation. If the NGOs can obtain and retain qualified staff to this point, they start to plan strategically. Research suggests that the strategies aiming to recruit, motivate and retain employees are of key importance for operation, survival and growth of third sector organisations [17]. At the same time, additional research demonstrates that these recruitment and retention strategies guarantee a higher quality of the staff, which in turn facilitates better quality service for beneficiaries [18,19]. As stated by Enjolras and Sivesind [20], the need for sustainable state funding, especially in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, including Slovenia [21], is acute. This is because, at present, third-sector organisation are not accepted as partners in providing public services in these countries. Structural funds should, in the opinion of these researchers, contribute to the sustainable development of the NGO sector.
Therefore, providing top-quality staff is the key to sustainable development; currently, this is hindered due to insecure and only project-based funding of NGOs. The enactment of the first state measure to provide start-up funding for the creation of employment opportunities in development-oriented workplaces is a sign of change towards the provision of sustainable NGO jobs and the subsequent rise in the number of employees of NGOs. Slovenian NGOs with fewer than 8000 employees [22] are still among the least professionalised in the EU.
Keeping in mind that overall, we face the poor quality of available data about the third sector and volunteering in Europe in general [20] including scarce research about NGOs [23], this paper attempts to make several important contributions to third-sector literature in general, especially to NGOs and their professionalisation and government funding literature.

2. Theoretical Background and Research Questions Development

2.1. History of Slovenian NGO Sector Development Strategies and Legislation

Scientists were not the only ones proposing the strategies: NGO members, as well as the government, provided their versions of sustainable NGO development documents. The strategic documents and programmes concerning NGO human resource management (HRM) and professionalisation are summarized below. They are important because they outline the main steps for NGO sector development in Slovenia.
Table 1 sums up the basic numeric data about employment in the Slovenian NGO sector. The data were retrieved from the strategic documents and programmes enlisted in Table 2 below. The low level of professionalisation in the Slovenian NGO sector proves that volunteers are the driving force of the Slovenian NGO sector.
On 16 October 2001, the European Affairs Service initiated the establishment of the Centre for Information Service, Co-operation, and Development of NGOs (CNVOS). It was founded by 20 NGOs. The purpose of establishing the Slovenian NGO centre was to strengthen the NGOs, to bring the findings of NGO observations to state and other institutions so they could work in cooperation to prepare and execute policies, and to connect NGOs to international organizations. The centre was expected to ensure NGOs a more important position in Slovenian society, raise public awareness of the importance of NGOs and provide support to NGO developmental projects.
In all the strategic documents [8,10,24,25,26,27,28,29], the need for professionalisation was frequently expressed; consequently, especially after the NGO Act was adopted, the government had enough factual documents to form the basis of tenders for development projects and professionalisation of the NGO sector from the Public Administration Ministry (PAM). The NGO department of PAM published the first tender in the same calendar year, and the results of this tender are the focus of this study.
The purpose of this study is to find out whether the state was successful in the implementation of its first measure to fund overhead jobs in NGOs that respond to the needs for professionalisation so frequently expressed in all the strategic documents considering NGOs.

2.2. Public Tender for (Co)Funding the Development Projects and Professionalisation of Non-Governmental Organisations and Volunteering

In May 2018, PAM published the Public Tender for (Co)funding the Development Projects and Professionalisation of Non-Governmental Organisations and Volunteering, which ensured grants for 80 sustainable employments in NGOs (Set A) and 20 sustainable employments for mentors and coordinators of volunteer work in volunteer organisations (Set B).
In Set A, the grants were intended for jobs ‘in the area of organizational development, fundraising, (digital) marketing, communication, social innovation, etc.’ [30]. These jobs were intended to facilitate NGOs’ ability to develop activities and services that would enable sustainability, stability and innovation, as well as the development potential of the non-governmental sector in Slovenia.
The jobs in Set B are necessary because ‘for organised and quality volunteer work and to provide the adequate capacity of volunteers there is a need for volunteer organisations that organize the volunteer work and gear the process of volunteering and skilled mentors and coordinators of volunteer work’ [30].
The goals of the public tender are predominantly focused on the sustainability of the NGO sector. NGOs should be capable of responding to the needs of society and work on professionalisation to engage in public service and manage volunteer work well. In short, the grant intended to create sustainable workplaces in the NGO sector.
The detailed conditions for obtaining the grant differ according to the set. Set A comprises the NGOs, as defined in Article 2 of ZNOrg [31], which have to prove in several ways that they can ensure a sustainable workplace (based on tradition, yearly income, previous employments in NGO, settled tax liabilities). For Set B, the applicants are supposed to be volunteer organisations, as defined in Article 9 of ZProst [8], fulfilling similar conditions as NGOs in Set A.
Each organisation could ask for a maximum of two full-time jobs for at least 15 months. In one project together with partners, all the NGOs involved could ask for a maximum of six employments per project. The person to be hired needed to have a university degree and at least 5 years of work experience in the NGO sector or in the area of work to be carried out in the project the NGO described in the application. The grant was EUR 20,000.00 for each workplace, totalling EUR 2 million for co-funding of the projects—EUR 1.6 million for Set A and EUR 0.4 million for Set B.
On 1 August 2018, the PAM published the proposal of the list of projects for co-funding grants from the mentioned tender [32]. In Set A, the proposed projects had to achieve 68.5 points out of 72; in Set B, 65.5 points out of 72 sufficed.
In A, 23 applicants and 47 project partners were successful, totalling 70 NGOs and, as planned, 80 workplaces. In B, 6 applicants and 11 project partners got enough points, together 20 workplaces that were created in 17 NGOs.
From an internal report of the Department for NGOs at PAM [33], it is clear that one more organization with four project partners was added to the list. In total, 24 applicants and 53 project partners were successful, resulting in 75 NGOs and creating 86 jobs. In Set B, one more applicant with four project partners joined later. Altogether, seven applicants and 15 project partners of the participating NGOs have realized jobs for 25 employees total.
Both organizations that were added due to the later start of their project have not finished the 15 months of co-funding and have not reported back at the time of this study. As a result, only data from those organisations that have been selected from the start will be included in the following sections of this report. These organizations started their projects in September or October 2018 and finished by 31 January.

2.3. Research Questions

The third sector is important to the welfare of many communities all over the globe, be it local or global [34,35,36,37]. Consequently, throughout the world, efficient and effective management of NGO, volunteer and not-for-profit organisations seems to be crucial, particularly in challenging situations, war-torn areas and during natural disasters [17]. Above all, NGOs have a relevant role in stressing the concept of intergenerational equity and sustainable development, including environmental, social and economic elements [38]. Within the same work, Pacheco-Vega [38] asked, ‘how can NGOs best achieve their aims in furthering the sustainable development agenda?’
Caligiuri et al. [39] found that ‘employees’ volunteer assignments are most valuable when they are international when the volunteers perceive that their projects contribute meaningfully the NGO’s functioning when volunteers have professional skills (and are able to use them), when there are opportunities for skills to be developed that can be applied in the volunteers’ regular work role, and when the NGOs have tangible resources to sustain the volunteers’ projects’.
In accordance with the abovementioned findings by Caligiuri et al. [39], the financial initiative of the Slovenian government for professionalisation and development of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) seems to be more than reasonable. In May 2018, the Ministry of Public Administration issued invitations to fund projects of development and professionalisation of NGOs and volunteer work, providing grants for 100 NGO jobs. The state contribution to a higher level of professionalisation was highly welcomed by NGOs, as Slovenia has only 0.82% of the active working population employed in this sector, far behind EU28 states, in which the rate is 4.18%
It is also important to remember that this was the first financial initiative of the Slovenian government for professionalisation and development of NGOs, and consequently, there exists a substantial research gap in the field.
Moreover, even though government funding (among other resources) constitutes an important funding source to the NGOs [40], the impacts of the government funding on the NGOs in terms of advantages (like stability) and disadvantages (like underperformance) have received a mixed response from the scholars: the impacts of government funding on NGOs depend upon several factors such as age, size, sector, demography, and political, economic and social environments of an NGO [40,41,42]. Even greater professionalisation, which may go hand-in-hand with governmental funding, can cause NGOs to gradually diverge from being well integrated into their communities and largely voluntary towards being bureaucratised organisations that deliver services on behalf of the government [43].
Thus, the current study aims to check how successful the financial initiative of the Slovenian government was by providing answers on the following research questions:
  • RQ1: What is the number of retained workplaces according to the set and legal form of organisation?
  • RQ2: What is the number of retained jobs according to the set and legal form of organisation?
  • RQ3: Has the recruiting method influenced the retention of the job of the employed?
The first (RQ1) and the second research questions (RQ2) arise from the main aim of recent Slovenian government funding of NGOs, which was providing grants for more NGO jobs.
The third research question (RQ3) arises out of the fact that the HRM in NGOs has gained significant importance in recent years (see, for example, [44,45,46]), mainly by influencing employees’ motivation, job satisfaction, commitment and intention to quit [47]. Recruiting method (involved within RQ3) falls into HRM practices in this sense.

3. Methodology

3.1. Questionnaire and Available Data

Following the specifications of the Public Tender for (Co)funding the Development Projects and Professionalisation of Non-Governmental Organisations and Volunteering, PAM has demanded the final report from all the applicants that received grants. All the applicant organisations delivered the reports by 18 March 18 so that the data processing could start. They also had to report for all the partner organisations. The questionnaire included a series of 9 main questions with several sub-questions. The applicant organisations had to report on their project activities, the indicators they set in the application and the measured progress by each indicator on spending of funds and, in question 4, all about the people employed on the co-funded project. Question 5 regarded Workplace Sustainability and Question 6 Job Sustainability. In Question 7, the NGOs described the development and professionalisation of organisation and staff by stating all the educational and capacity-building opportunities their employees took to improve their job performance. Question 8 inquired about the troubles organisations might have during the execution of the co-funded project, and in Question 9 the organisations were invited to write their own recommendations and suggestions on how to improve future tenders for development and professionalisation of NGOs. The majority of the questions were semi-open. This was an effective solution for universal reports because the organisations and their activities are very diverse and their leaders use different reporting styles. On average, the reports were 20–30 pages in length, while the most in-depth report was 144 pages long.
We focused on the following questions of the questionnaire in the report, which are of key importance for our research. The original numbering from the questionnaire was retained: 4. Employment on subsidised workplaces; 4.a Report on realised employment on subsidised workplaces (name all the employees in the subsidised workplace during the project; job title and the period of employment); 4.b State the recruitment method used to hire the person for the subsidised workplace; 5. Workplace sustainability; 5.a. State whether you retained the subsidised workplace after the project; 6. Job sustainability; 6.b. State whether the person hired in the subsidised workplace will keep their job in your organisation.

3.2. Sample

The final reports were submitted by 29 applicant organisations on which our sample is based. The applicant organisations applied together with from 1 to 5 partner organisations and together they co-operated in one co-funded project. This was one of the conditions of the tender. All in all, 87 organisations received the funds (see also Table 3), although only a total of 29 reports were processed. Each report contained data about all the employees that filled the new job positions within the co-funded project. The number of employees per report was from 1 to max. 6 according to the criteria of the tender. Data analysis was done in April 2020.

3.3. Methods

The data analysis of a case study was a gradual and continuous process, which makes it ‘disorderly’ compared to other research strategies [48]. The 29 final reports of the Public Tender for (Co)funding the Development Projects and Professionalisation of Non-Governmental Organisations and Volunteering contain a lot of quantitative data. The reports were written based on a questionnaire that was formulated as a form. The co-funded NGOs had to fill out tables, listing the employees’ names and other significant data. Most of the tables had written suggestions of possible answers, and these were used most of the time. Other questions were semi-open questions.
In this research, only data about the retained job positions, jobs and recruiting methods in organisations that received funds from the tender were analysed. These data are discussed in the following sections. All of the data were analysed using IBM SPSS—Statistical Package for the Social Sciences ver. 24 software (IBM Corp., Armonk, NY, USA). The results are presented below.

4. Results

At first, we conducted cross-tabulations for the studied variables. The data were anonymised because such information is not important for this research. We focused on the data about the legal form, job titles and recruitment methods according to the two sets as foreseen by the tender specification. Set A addressed professionalisation and organisational development, and Set B addressed professionalisation and voluntary work development. Even though the ZNOrg [31] declares only three legal forms of NGOs, some NGOs declared themselves as social enterprises. No foundation applied for the grant.

4.1. Legal Forms of Recipients

As seen in Table 4, of the 100 subsidized work positions, 58 were made in associations, 29 in private institutions and 13 in social enterprises. In Set A, there were 39 (48.8%) new workplaces in associations, 29 (36.3%) in private institutions and 12 (15%) in social enterprises. In Set B, associations created 19 (95%) workplaces, and only 1 (5%) was created in a social enterprise.

4.2. Sought Occupations

The frequency Table 5 below contains the occupations that were sought to be filled in NGOs. To process data efficiently, we grouped the occupations into five main fields of work: leader, coordinator, content expert, mentor and overhead worker. We present a series of professions that organisations mentioned, which were split into groups accordingly: leader—director, president of the association, project leader and the like; coordinator—coordinator of sustainable development of projects and programmes, programme coordinator, unit coordinator, project coordinator and the like; overhead—executive secretary, communication officer, fundraiser, digital marketing specialist, marketing and fundraising manager, event organiser and fundraiser; professional for content work—consultant, professional for social work, professional for the circular economy, occupational psychologist and the like.
In Set A, NGOs mainly sought overhead workers (40.0%), followed by coordinators (22.50%) and content experts (21.25%). The leaders were least searched for (16.25%). In Set B, the NGOs primarily looked for coordinators of volunteers (75%), and mentors (20%) in the rest of the cases.

4.3. Number of Retained Job Positions

To answer the first research question (RQ1—Number of retained job positions according to the set and legal form of organization), we will again use the cross-tabulation technique, for which we begin by presenting the retained job positions in the set (Table 6).
In Set A, where 80 grants were available, 51 job positions were retained, which is 63.75%. In Set B, only 4 out of 20 (20%) of the job positions created for the grant were retained.
With cross-tabulation, the following results, which are also presented in Table 7 below, were retrieved. Of all the retained job positions in both sets (55), the associations retained 25 (45.45%), private institutes 20 (36.36%) and social enterprises 10 (18.18%). If we measure how many work positions of those granted were retained, the results show that social enterprises had the highest job retention by percentage: of all 13 granted job positions, they managed to retain 10, which is 76.92%. Social enterprises are followed by private institutes, which kept 69% of job positions, then by associations, which retained 43.10% of all job positions created with the grant.

4.4. Job Retention

The goal of the tender was to create new job positions. In this section, we discuss the second research question (RQ2—What is the number of retained jobs across each set and legal form of the organizations?). However, as the below results show, in some NGOs the created positions no longer exist, the employee(s) continue their employment in the NGO with another job position, usually bearing a new job title. Similar to our method for the first research question, we use cross-tabulation of variables according to the set and legal form of the organisations to analyse job retention in Table 8.
The analysis of final reports shows that 69 (69%) of all the employees kept their jobs in the applicant NGOs or its project partners. In Set A, the number of employees retained was the same as the number of job positions. Meanwhile, for Set B, the results are encouraging, as job retention in this set was 90%, meaning that 18 people kept their jobs even though only four job positions were retained. Staff were recruited to other job positions that included volunteer coordination and mentoring tasks.
Of the 69 employees that kept their jobs across both sets, 41 (59.4%) remain in associations, 20 (29%) in private institutes, and 8 (11.6%) in social enterprises, as presented in Table 9. Again, the question of how many of all the employed kept their jobs in each legal form arises. The associations lead with 70.7% keeping their jobs (41 employed out of 58), followed by private institutes with 69% (20 out of 29) and social enterprises with 61.5% (8 out of all employed).

4.5. Recruitment

Firstly, the frequency Table 10 demonstrates all of the methods of recruitment used for the newly created job positions and the number of employed according to the method.
Therefore, the remaining research question is RQ3—Has the recruiting method influenced the retention of the job of the employed?
In more than half of cases (52 out of 100), NGOs found their employees among those already employed in the NGO. These employees were reassigned to the subsidized projects dealt with in this article. Fifteen individuals were hired because they were previously volunteering for the applicant NGO. In eight cases, the NGO made use of Employment Service of Slovenia, and in the same number of cases, they advertised the job online or on social networks. Only two employees were recommended by other NGOs. According to our research, e-newsletters of NGOs did not appear as an important recruitment method, as only one person applied this way. One person also joined the NGO having seen an ad in print.
In 13 cases, the NGOs chose the answer Other; these respondents additionally explained how they recruited their employees. Five people had been previously trained, and their career path previously developed. Other respondents stated they employed previous independent workers paid in fees (five cases), or acquaintances based on previous work experience.
To discover whether the recruitment method influenced the retention of the job, cross-tabulation was used.
As Table 11 (below) shows, the results undoubtedly demonstrate the fact that the jobs were more likely to be retained when NGOs recruited or reassigned their previously employed workers. Of those already employed, 84.6% kept their employment.
The situation with volunteers shows a murkier image, as only 7 out of 15 (46.7%) kept their jobs. Even worse are the results of those hired with the help of the Employment Service, as only about a third (37.5%) remained employees of the NGO. However, it is encouraging to see that in 62.5% of cases, the jobs were retained by people recruited through the internet and social networks.
We also investigated whether the field of work influenced job retention (RQ3—Has the recruiting method influenced the retention of the job of the employed?). To the greatest extent, jobs were sustained for leader positions: 76.9% of leaders remained in their positions, which is very positive. Jobs were also highly likely to be retained for mentors (75%) and coordinators (72.70%), followed by expert workers (64.70%) and overhead (63.60%), as presented in Table 12.

5. Discussion

In this research, we strove to examine whether the state’s long-term efforts for arranging the NGO sector were successful in improving the development and professionalisation of NGOs. The research focused on the number of retained sustainable job positions and jobs according to the legal forms and recruitment methods for employees hired in these subsidized workplaces.
In Set A, made up of non-governmental organizations seeking organizational development employees, 63.7% of job positions were retained. In Set B, made up of volunteer organisations seeking volunteering development employees, only 20% were retained. This indicated the unpreparedness of volunteer organisations to work on sustainable volunteer coordination and mentoring jobs. In September 2019, Slovenia also experienced an unemployment rate of only 7.2% [49], which may have affected these results as it could have meant less inflow of new volunteers in need of mentorship; additionally, in the period of the grant, the professional coordinators and mentors could have already reaped the benefits of having new mentors and coordinators of voluntary work. Another interpretation of these results could also be that NGOs are still not accustomed to planning human resources in the field of volunteering, as these grants were the first to be granted for volunteer management development. Again, the results demonstrate that NGOs do not have the competence for planning and implementing the human resources that would be necessary to perform the tasks of volunteer training, mentoring, and coordination with full-time employees.
The results of retained jobs are more encouraging. Based on the high percentage of retained jobs (Set A, 63.7%; Set B, 90%) compared to retained positions, it can be claimed that NGOs have understood the sustainable goals of the tender and in several ways provided further funding of these jobs, created with the help of the government instrument in question.
The recruitment method heavily influenced the sustainability of employment, as 84.6% of reassigned employees kept their jobs. Lesser percentages with other methods prove that NGOs, when proposing new projects that were successful in securing the grant, carefully selected human resources such that the important projects would be carried out by reliable, qualified and competent employees. This will help assure the sustainability of these employees’ jobs after the end of the government grant period.
Through its grants, PAM has successfully encouraged numerous organisations to hire in overhead, administrative and development-oriented workplaces. The structure of the human resources sought proves that the NGOs in the first place need professional leaders, coordinators and mentors, as these job positions were most frequently retained (leaders in 76.90% of cases, mentors in 75%, coordinators in 72.70%). These employees are expected to be the connecting link between the overhead or administrative staff and the content and programme workers in the organisation.
The goal to create sustainable workplaces seems to have been well understood, as the organisations have recruited workers to those workplaces that will allow for sustainable development of organisations. The retention of 69% of the newly created jobs is a promising result. However, other less encouraging results indicate that thought should be given to how to improve the next tenders.

5.1. Implications

The findings of this research show that the government measure to convert funds from income tax into new NGO sector employments was generally successful. It is clear that in the future, by making minimal changes in the tender criteria, better results can be ensured. That is, if NGOs were not to hire staff by reassigning them from other projects, which was not prohibited by the tender in question, the state would subsidize totally new jobs and directly influence the NGO sector employment rate. In our case study of the results of public tenders stemming from the adoption of ZNOrg and DSNGOV, only 25 (36.2%) of all the jobs created from these grants were taken by newly hired employees. Reassigning staff, in this case, was the fastest and the most convenient way to comply with the tender criteria.
New criteria requiring NGOs to hire from outside their organization would motivate NGOs’ decision-makers to strategically plan the recruitment, retention, and development of human resources to fulfil their organizations’ missions and strategic goals [44]. To promote sustainable organisational and individual staff development, NGOs should reflect on competences, values and personality traits of sought human resources that would fill the void in the staffing of NGOs [50]. As the human resources in NGOs are prepared to work for lower pay despite their numerous well-performed tasks [51], governing bodies face an important challenge in finding the solution for non-monetary payments, be it constant learning opportunities [52] or other initiatives that boost the intrinsic motivation of employees [47].
The strategic documents adopted on the EU, national and regional levels considered in this study call for strategical thinking on an organisational level. Therefore, we suggest a five-year organisational strategic plan as an entry condition for future tenders aimed toward the development and professionalisation of NGOs. As the majority of NGOs have retained employees recruited for leadership positions, it is clear that state funding was crucial for these NGOs. Within strategically oriented organisations, the leaders play a key role in setting strategic goals and strategy implementation. We posit that with the suggested entry conditions, the funds would be allocated to NGOs that operate sustainably based on strategic plans for operation, staffing and financing. These NGOs would, in our opinion, use the grants most efficiently.

5.2. Limitations and Future Research Proposals

This research had some limitations. First, the sample size was not very big, even though all the funded organisations that reported back to PAM in the time of this study were considered. Although the two applicants that started the project on a later date would not significantly affect the results, the addition of their data would make the image more complete. Second, to better assess which occupations were in fact sought by NGOs, further research should be conducted to analyse all the applications for the tender. In this study, only the reports of grant-receiving NGOs were analysed. Finally, this research was the first of its kind, as there were no such government tenders in the past; as a result, there is no research that would allow us to compare data and findings.
In the future, we suggest additional research on the sustainability of jobs. Additional data on such employment are available (full-time/part-time, months/years of employment after the end of the grant). We also suggest the analysis of the challenges the NGOs face when recruiting new people who have not previously worked in NGOs. The data allow for analysis of sought occupations in comparison with occupations that at the end of the project proved to be the most needed. Additional analysis and research would make an important contribution to this study.
We also call attention to the fact that not one of the strategic documents or programmes considered in this paper contained measures that would initiate training or capacity building of the governing bodies of NGOs (e.g., board of directors, institute councils). These would be vital if we want to promote the professionalisation of NGOs. From the processed and unprocessed data in the reports, it is not clear who decided on job retention. Following the statutes of each NGO [31,53,54], the managing or the administrative body decides on the allocation of finances as well as recruitment of new staff and, finally, acceptance of the strategic plan of the NGO. Future strategic programmes considering NGOs should focus on this problem.

6. Conclusions

In the present article, we investigated whether the state was efficient in the co-funding of the overhead jobs in NGOs. With 69% of jobs being sustained, the results of our study are promising. They prove the suitability of the state’s first promotion of NGO employment in overhead professions. Taken together, the research offers a novel perspective on human resource management in NGOs that should be focused on the staffing of the managerial as well as the programme workers.
Despite this tender, Slovenia is still lagging behind the other EU states. The research results demonstrate that NGOs are still not accustomed to planning human resources in the field of volunteering. They lack the competence for planning and implementing human resources that would be necessary to perform the tasks of volunteer training, mentoring and coordination with full-time employees. Here, we need to be aware of the fact that these grants were the first ones granted for volunteer management development.
However, based on the high percentage of retained jobs compared to retained positions, it can be claimed that NGOs have understood the sustainable goals of the tender and in several ways provided further funding of these jobs created with the help of the government instrument. As the majority of NGOs have retained employees recruited for leadership positions, it is clear that state funding was crucial for these NGOs. Namely, the leaders play a key role in setting strategic goals and strategy implementation. In addition, leaders also play a challenging role in developing different monetary and non-monetary rewards and initiatives that boost the intrinsic motivation of employees.
The application of our findings and research implications in future tenders of PAM, as planned in the DSNGOV, may significantly contribute to the general understanding of the importance of human resource management among Slovenian NGOs. Consequently, this would encourage educational and capacity-building programmes for NGOs to improve the job performance of their leaders and managers. With stronger governance and visionary leadership, NGO leaders would secure the long-term sustainability of their organisations and positively improve the employment rate in Slovenia NGOs.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, L.R.Š., J.Ž. and M.M.; data curation, L.R.Š. and M.M.; formal analysis, L.R.Š., J.Z. and M.M.; investigation, L.R.Š.; methodology, L.R.Š. and M.M.; resources, L.R.Š.; software, L.R.Š. and M.M.; supervision, L.R.Š., J.Ž. and M.M.; validation, L.R.Š., J.Ž. and M.M.; visualization, L.R.Š., J.Ž. and M.M.; writing—original draft, L.R.Š.; writing—review and editing, L.R.Š., J.Ž. and M.M. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.


It was an honour to operate with the results of the first state tender for professionalisation and development of NGOs. This state measure is the result of long-term effort on the non-governmental as well as governmental side to acknowledge the precious work NGOs do and to take NGOs into account when preparing public policies, as their work influences individuals as well as the entire society. This study was done to thank all of those who contributed to the adoption of the Non-Governmental Organisations Act and the following first Development Strategy for NGOs and volunteering.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Table 1. Numeric data about employment in the Slovenian non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector [8,10,24,25,26,27,28,29].
Table 1. Numeric data about employment in the Slovenian non-governmental organisation (NGO) sector [8,10,24,25,26,27,28,29].
NGO employment/working population0.30%0.40%0.54%0.74%0.76%0.82%
No. of NGOs without employees85% 91% of associations
81% of foundations
40% of private institutions
Table 2. The list of governmental and NGOs’ strategic documents in the last two decades [8,10,24,25,26,27,28,29].
Table 2. The list of governmental and NGOs’ strategic documents in the last two decades [8,10,24,25,26,27,28,29].
YearTitle of the DocumentInitiated byKey Points
2003Strategy of systemic development of NGOs in Slovenia for the period 2003–2008Slovenian NGOsSlovenia was a candidate for EU accession
The authors point out the untapped employment potential that could be prompted by certain governmental measures and consequently influence the reduction in the high unemployment rate in Slovenia.
2003Strategy of Government of RS for cooperation with the non-governmental organisationsGovernment of Republic of Slovenia (RS)No suggested measures to boost professionalisation, but clearly stated that NGOs should cooperate with the government and provide for their own sustainability.
2008Operational Programme for Development of Human Resources for the period 2007–2013Government Office for Local Self-Government and Regional PolicyFinanced by European Social Fund, the support environment (horizontal and content networks as well as regional NGO junctures in all statistical regions in Slovenia) was established. This offers NGO consulting services, education opportunities to fulfil the goals of the operational programme.
2011Rules on voluntary work areas and RegisterGovernment of RSRules provided the tools for evaluation of volunteer work and introduced the register of volunteer organisations and yearly reporting to the Agency of the Republic of Slovenia for Public Legal Records and Related Services (AJPES)
2014Operational Programme for the Implementation of the EU Cohesion Policy in the Period 2014–2020Government Office for Development and European Cohesion PolicyThe programme predicts the continuation of the measures of promoting the support environment for NGOs that will be oriented towards the rise of professionalism in NGOs.
2018Non-Governmental Organisations ActGovernment of RSSlovenian NGOs legal forms and functions clearly defined for the first time the status of public interest clearly defined as well as the support environment for NGOs.
Budgetary fund for NGO development from 0.5% income tax.
The act predicted a 5-year strategy for the first time.
2018Development strategy of non-governmental organisations and volunteering until 2023 (DSNGOV)Government of RSThe first NGO strategy published in Official Gazette of RS.
The government analyses show that the main reasons for low professionalisation lie in staff outflow, poor financial condition, unstable financing and unfair competition among sectors (DSNGOV).
In its Goal 3, the government expects the publishing of three public tenders for the employment of professional staff, offering a paid NGO job and additional training with the goal to transfer staff into sustainable employment, ultimately strengthening the development of NGOs.
Table 3. The results of tender in numbers.
Table 3. The results of tender in numbers.
No. Successful ApplicantsNo. of PartnersNo. of NGOsNo. of Workplaces
Set A23477080
Set B6111720
Table 4. Legal Forms of NGOs That Created Workplaces, Within the Set in Numbers and Percentages (Cross Tabulation).
Table 4. Legal Forms of NGOs That Created Workplaces, Within the Set in Numbers and Percentages (Cross Tabulation).
Private Institution2936.2500.002929.00
Social Enterprise121515.001313.00
Table 5. The Field of Work According to the Set (Number and Percentage).
Table 5. The Field of Work According to the Set (Number and Percentage).
Set ASet BTotal
Leader13 (16.25%)0 (0.00%)13 (13.00%)
Coordinator18 (22.50%)15 (75.00%)33 (33.00%)
Content expert17 (21.25%)0 (0.00%)17 (17.00%)
Mentor0 (0.00%)4 (20.00%)4 (4.00%)
Overhead32 (40.00%)1 (5.00%)33 (33.00%)
Total80 (100.00%)20 (100.00%)100 (100.00%)
Table 6. Cross Table: The Retained Job Positions (JP) in the Set (Numbers and Percentages).
Table 6. Cross Table: The Retained Job Positions (JP) in the Set (Numbers and Percentages).
Title 1Set ASet BTotal
Total retained JP51 (92.72%)4 (7.28%)55 (100.00%)
Retained JP within set51 (63.75%)4 (20.00%)55 (55.00%)
Not retained JP29 (64.44%)16 (35.56%)45 (100.00%)
Not retained JP within set29 (36.25%)16 (80.00%)45 (45.00%)
Total80 (80.00%)20 (20.00%)100 (100.00%)
Table 7. Retained Job Positions According to Legal Form (Numbers and Percentages).
Table 7. Retained Job Positions According to Legal Form (Numbers and Percentages).
AssociationPrivate InstituteSocial EnterprisesTotal
All retained25 (45.45%)20 (36.36%)10 (18.18%)55 (100.00%)
Retained within set25 (43.10%)20 (68.96%)10 (76.92%)55 (55.00%)
Not retained all33 (73.33%)9 (20.00%)3 (6.66%)45 (100.00%)
Not retained within set33 (56.90%)9 (31.03%)3 (23.07%)45 (45.00%)
All retained JP58 (58.00%)29 (29.00%)13 (13.00%)100 (100.00%)
Table 8. Retained Jobs Based on Set (Number and Percentage).
Table 8. Retained Jobs Based on Set (Number and Percentage).
Set ASet BTotal
Retained jobs51 (73.9%)18 (26.1%)69 (100%)
Retained jobs within set51 (63.7%)18 (90%)69 (69%)
Not retained jobs29 (93.5%)2 (6.5%)31 (100%)
Not retained jobs within set29 (36.3%)2 (10%)31 (31%)
Total80 (80%)20 (20%)100 (100%)
Total within set80 (100%)20 (100%)100 (100%)
Table 9. The Retention of Jobs Based on Legal Form of NGO.
Table 9. The Retention of Jobs Based on Legal Form of NGO.
Legal FormTotal
AssociationPrivate InstituteSocial Enterprise
Retained jobs41 (59.40%)20 (29.00%)8 (11.60%)69 (100.00%)
Retained jobs within the set41 (70.70%)20 (69.00%)8 (61.50%)69 (69.00%)
Not retained jobs17 (54.80%)9 (29.00%)5 (16.10%)31 (100.00%)
Not retained jobs in the set17 (29.30%)9 (31.00%)4 (38.50%)31 (31.00%)
Total58 (58.00%)29 (29.00%)13 (13.00%)100 (100.00%)
Total within the set58 (100.00%)29 (100.00%)13 (100.00%)100 (100.00%)
Table 10. Recruitment methods.
Table 10. Recruitment methods.
Recruitment MethodFrequencyPercentage
Employment Service of Slovenia (ESS)88.00
Ads in Print11.00
Ads Online/Social Networks88.00
NGO e-newsletter11.00
Recommended by other NGO22.00
Table 11. Job Retention According to the Recruitment Method.
Table 11. Job Retention According to the Recruitment Method.
ReassignmentVolunteerOtherAds Online/Social NetworksEmployment Service of SloveniaRecommended by Other NGONGO e-Newsletter
Number of retained jobs44795310
% within the method84.646.769.262.537.550.00.0
Number of non-retained jobs8843511
% within the method15.453.330.837.562.550.0100.0
Table 12. Retained Jobs According to the Field of Work.
Table 12. Retained Jobs According to the Field of Work.
LeaderCoordinatorExpert Content WorkerMentorOverheadTotal
Number of retained job10241132169
% with the method76.90%72.70%64.70%75.00%63.60%69.00%
Number of non-retained jobs39611231
% within the method23.10%27.30%35.30%25.00%36.40%31.00%
% within the method100.00%100.00%100.00%100.00%100.00%100.00%

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Rojc Štremfelj, L.; Žnidaršič, J.; Marič, M. Government-Funded Sustainable Development and Professionalisation of NGOs. Sustainability 2020, 12, 7363.

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Rojc Štremfelj L, Žnidaršič J, Marič M. Government-Funded Sustainable Development and Professionalisation of NGOs. Sustainability. 2020; 12(18):7363.

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Rojc Štremfelj, Livija, Jana Žnidaršič, and Miha Marič. 2020. "Government-Funded Sustainable Development and Professionalisation of NGOs" Sustainability 12, no. 18: 7363.

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