A month ago, I wrote about a topic raised by colleagues at a small gathering, finding a good development director. My colleagues reported this problem as one of the most pressing for their clients.
At the meeting, I spoke up, passionately, and explained why so many organizations might be having the problem. My piece, sharing the same information, received strong responses from nonprofit people – especially fundraisers – across the country and even the world.
Organization leaders often hesitate to do what’s necessary to find, hire and keep the right person. And I understand money is a huge issue. Increasing a salary to attract the right person is a leap of faith, especially in smaller organizations running just ahead of closing doors.
So I asked an online group of colleagues for their thoughts: are there things, other than money, that help keep them at their organization and at least reasonably happy? What else does it take?
The answers were broad and sometimes eye-opening. They fell in a few larger categories. So with thanks to these hard-working nonprofit pros, here are some ideas. They don’t replace decent salaries, but they might help a bit.
Food and beverages
Feeding people rarely hurts morale. Small things (budget-wise) like decent coffee and bagels or muffins at meetings make life a little more civilized.
As important as the food is the thought behind it. After all, hospitality has been valued since the beginning of history.
But let’s face it, many in this sector are just barely making it. If lunch is taken care of, that can be a big deal.
So spend a few bucks and feed your folks!
Insurance and related benefits
Leaving your staff to fend for themselves in the insurance realm makes work much more stressful.
Do all you can to alleviate their health insurance worries. And yes, this may become much more important this year. It could be catastrophic for many – and I have no answers. But keep ears to the ground and factor in the value of loyal employees.
This category could also include paying for cell phones (are employees expected to take or make calls when they’re not in the office? Don’t expect them to foot the whole mobile bill.)
And even nonprofit organizations can think about retirement benefits. Perhaps if more organizations thought about having employees long enough to need those benefits, attrition would be a smaller problem.
Include maternity/paternity leave in this category. You may be required to provide unpaid leave. But consider providing paid leave as well.
A simple way to have happier employees: focus less on how they dress and more on how they work. Unless someone has a meeting that requires business attire, does it matter what they wear? “No jeans” rules are pointless. Trust employees to wear what they need to wear to do the job. One colleague mentioned their dress code: wear clothes.
Office temperature and condition matter, too. I worked in a freezing building once. We had to buy space heaters and get heaters for our feet, too. I also worked in a building that obviously had a mold and mildew problem. People shouldn’t need to work in those conditions.
Space also matters. If an employee’s job requires lots of time on the phone, do all you can to give them private space. Nothing like a confidential donor call with half the office listening!
Then there are extras that say you care – like chair massages and yoga breaks.
Pets and babies
This is a difficult one. While many people would love to work with their pets by their side, others might not like to work that way. Pets can lower stress – unless you’re like me, in which case, they cause it. (No, I don’t want to walk your dog.) And if anyone has allergies, pets could be a real issue.
On the other hand, I’m someone who has had to bring a child or even baby to the office on occasion. Again, it was terrific for me and meant I could get work done. But on occasion, it caused coworkers stress.
So I’ll call this is a case by case situation. If all agree, it works. But no guilt if someone objects.
Learning and service
Our work is serious, so we should be learning every day.
Taking advantage of opportunities to be smarter and better informed shouldn’t only fall on the employee’s wallet. Instead, pay for the conference. Then ask your employee to share what she learned with everyone else. That’s a win for everyone.
The connections employees make at conferences or other educational events can also help the organization.
Nonprofit employees often volunteer at organizations besides our own. That helpful impulse is a wonderful thing. Time off to volunteer rewards employee’s generosity – and may also return new skills or knowledge that will benefit your organization.
Gratitude and recognition
Sometimes, something as small as sincere thanks goes a long way.
Good bosses make sure to acknowledge their staff every day. One executive director I worked for gave every employee a special Christmas ornament every year, along with a personal note. I think of him now every year when I put up my tree.
Treat staff with the same care you treat donors or board members. Write a personal note to show you notice their good work. Praise them publicly – not just in front of staff, but in front of board members.
Show the world you think they’re important.
Some uncommon benefits
One colleague’s organization markets benefits to other nonprofits. One offering is a savings fund or emergency fund for car repairs. How many staffers are squeezing the last miles out of an old car? This could help.
And John Scott Foster wins the unique benefit award. He works with an organization that manages the deer population on a preserve. So once a year, each employee gets a deer, dressed and ready to be processed. Maybe not something your organization could do!
Time and flexibility
If there’s one thing everyone wants more of it’s time.
Paid time off can be very affordable for even a small organization. Build generous vacation time into your calendar – taking that time away is good for productivity. A culture where excessive hours are necessary and expected means you will constantly be dealing with burn out. Value employees’ time.
Find ways to let staff focus on getting the job done, not on counting the hours they’ve worked. Policing those numbers is a chore. And it forces staff to shift their focus from accomplishments to time served. Hire good people; trust them to do good work.
We’re fortunate now – working remotely is quite possible for many organizations. (I can remember trying to work via a dial-up connection… I think it took 30 minutes to get a couple of paragraphs of information!)
Allowing employees to work from home when needed – even if needed is more often than not – means employees can manage work and home. Do you care if the work is done at midnight so long as it’s done well?
Authority and respect
Nothing is as frustrating as having responsibility without authority. This is an issue of trust and respect.
If you run an organization, it’s your job to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your employees. Decide how best to deploy their skills. Then give them what they need to do the job and let them do it.
Micro-managing hurts. be sure training is sufficient. Then take off the training wheels and hand the work to them.
Titles are inexpensive. If a better title will make an employee happier, it’s worthy of consideration. (I know there is always juggling – if Jane gets that title, John will need a new one, too.)
Titles can also make a difference in how successful a staffer is. When you’re dealing with people outside the office – like donors – having a title that’s perceived as more authoritative helps employees succeed.
Money still matters, of course
You can’t pay the rent with a nice title.
Investing in your staff – especially staff leadership – is crucial. And if you run the organization, it’s your job to make that case to your board and your funders.
We all have work to do educating the public about “overhead” and what limiting it does to effectiveness. We also need to stop confusing nonprofit employees with volunteers. Yes, we’re passionate. But that shouldn’t be an excuse to pay skilled people low wages.
So if you’re a board member, or funder, or executive director of an organization, make a plan to get salaries where they need to be.
But in the meantime, all of the ideas here can help make yours a workplace that people want to be part of. Many cost little or even nothing.