How to Retain the Best Talent for Your Nonprofit

  • By Vivien Hoexter
  • Published June 5, 2016
  • Tagged

Excessive staff turnover, in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds, just won’t go away. In the search to retain talent, nonprofits would seem to be at a disadvantage because most of them pay lower salaries. This is particularly true of jobs that are common to both worlds, like controller, executive assistant, and human-resources manager. Since workers do not reach peak efficiency and effectiveness until the third year on the job, there are many advantages to improving staff retention.
What can you, as a nonprofit leader, do to retain talent at your organization? There are at least three steps you can take that do not have to cost a lot of money.
1. Bring Your Mission into the Daily Life of Everyone on Your Staff
Most people who come to work for a nonprofit do so because they care passionately about a cause. This is an area where nonprofits have a distinct advantage over most corporations. You may have staff — for example, social workers, camp counselors, or health-care workers — who interact with your clients daily. But there are always staff members who do not.
Make it easy for your staff to meet clients, either by bringing them into your meetings or by using Skype if they are far away. Circulate great stories, letters, e-mails, and tweets not only to your program staff but also to your finance, information-technology, human-resources, and facilities employees. If you do this every day, employees may begin to ignore the messages. Intermittent communication is often best.
2. Be Nice to Your Staff
This may sound like Mom and apple pie. It is not. If you have time to feed the hungry and educate the underprivileged, you have time to smile and say hello to your staff.
In her New York Times article “No Time to Be Nice,” Georgetown University professor Christine Porath chronicles the rudeness that has overtaken the workplace in the past 10 to 20 years. Porath argues that rudeness hurts profits, health, and happiness. And she has the studies to prove it.
3. Listen to and Act Upon What Your Employees Say About Their Workplace
You may think that salary is the biggest determinant of whether an employee stays or goes. And, of course, sometimes it is. But you might be surprised. Perhaps implementing summer Fridays or providing some tuition reimbursement is more important.
To find out what employees want, you have to ask them. And then you have to act on at least some of their suggestions and explain why some were adopted and some were not. If you start this process, you must follow through, even if you are able to give them only a small fraction of what they’ve requested.
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