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Treat your employees like the valuable assets they are

May 2, 2012


Smart hiring is key, but keeping good employees is also vital

When asked to list their organization’s assets, not-for-profit leaders are likely to leave personnel off the list. But without a knowledgeable and committed staff, there’s little chance of delivering program services or raising enough money to fund them. This article discusses how to find and keep good staff. This starts with smart hiring, but staffers also need to buy in to the nonprofit’s mission and support its programs. This article also covers nonmonetary ways to let staffers know they’re valued.

Jill, a development director at a small community hospital, approached her boss, Michael, about a raise. A salary freeze had been in place for the past three years, but Jill’s hard work had played a big role in the hospital’s survival during the economic downturn. Michael, however, didn’t want to increase expenses by raising anyone’s salary. Besides, he reasoned, Jill wouldn’t be able to find another job in this economy.

He was wrong. When Michael denied Jill’s request, she took a development position at a new medical center on the other side of town. And she took her relationships with donors, grantmakers, community leaders, journalists and other key constituents with her.

Although this scenario is fictitious, it illustrates a common mistake made by not-for-profit leaders: failure to recognize staff members as significant assets.

Defining assets

When asked to list their organization’s assets, not-for-profit leaders are likely to name investments, facilities, real estate, cash and other tangible assets. Too often, personnel is left off the list.

But without a knowledgeable and committed staff, you stand little chance of delivering program services or raising enough money to fund them. And when you consider the cost of hiring, training and mentoring staff, not to mention the losses your nonprofit incurs when an experienced employee leaves, it’s easy to see why you should assign a high value to your people.

Start with hiring

Finding and keeping good staff starts with smart hiring. Just as you wouldn’t buy a mutual fund without researching its performance and strategy, you need to thoroughly vet staffers for potential rewards and risks.

Experience, education, skills and employer recommendations are just a starting place. Good hiring requires employers and job candidates to honestly assess their respective objectives. Don’t hire someone simply because you’re desperate to fill an empty position. Similarly, don’t court a candidate who seems likely to jump ship when a “better” offer comes along — no matter how impressive his or her resume. Shaky starts rarely lead to long-term success.

Let staffers participate

When a new employee comes aboard, ensure he or she receives comprehensive training — not only related to job responsibilities, but also about your organization’s culture and ethics. Staffers need to buy in to your mission and support the programs you’ve established.

This doesn’t mean employees should rubber stamp every decision you make. Encouraging constructive criticism and “out of the box” thinking is essential to a nonprofit’s health and growth. But if an employee consistently disagrees with your methodologies and solutions, that person probably isn’t a good fit for your organization.

Also ensure that staffers understand your evaluation and compensation system — and feel like full participants in it. Often, employees leave a job claiming their employment expectations weren’t met and the employers are left scratching their heads about what went wrong. Staffers need to be able to voice perceived obstacles to their successful long-term employment without fear of reprisal. If you want to keep them, listen and try to find ways around such obstacles.
In the scenario described at the beginning of this article, Michael fails to consider the merit of Jill’s request for a raise or her value to the hospital. He wagers that the weak economy will keep her from quitting, no matter how disgruntled she is. Instead, he should have discussed Jill’s concerns with her, praised her past successes and tried to find a way around the hospital’s salary freeze — with, for example, a bonus system pegged to donors’ gifts.

Deserving employees

Budgets at most nonprofits remain tight. So you may not always be able to give deserving employees what they want, when they want it. By valuing and investing in the employment relationship, you’ll retain a higher percentage of key staffers, which is good for your bottom line and the mission of your organization.

Reward without a raise

Though financial compensation is generally the best way to reward and retain people, there are other ways you can let staffers know you value them — without busting your budget. For example:
•    Write a personal “thank you” note and enclose a small gift card.
•    Recognize the employee at a staff meeting or in your nonprofit’s newsletter.
•    Provide new opportunities — for example, ask the staffer to sit on a committee or represent your nonprofit at an industry conference.
•    Give the employee a new job title that reflects his or her importance to your organization.
•    Award him or her an extra vacation or personal day.
•    Offer more flexible hours, such as earlier starting and leaving times or the option to telecommute.

All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a Clark Schaefer Hackett professional. Clark Schaefer Hackett will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.


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