Non-Profit Leaders: Show the Team Some Love!

Me with Helius Foundation ED, Geraud Staton, one of the Durham non-profit leaders with whom I love to share ideas.

Lately I have had the opportunity to work with Executive Directors of non-profits on the local, statewide, and national level on everything from organizational assessments to creating shared organizational values to redefining their structure in order to achieve more efficiency and better results. This has given me the opportunity to have confidential conversations with staff at these organizations at all levels – from long-term volunteers turned staff members to people of color and/or queer folks who have felt marginalized in an organization to those who have been on staff for 20+ years and were feeling resistant to change. Across these diverse circumstances, what do they all seem to appreciate the most about their roles and their executive directors? 

Non-Profit Leaders: Please take a moment out of your day to read this and remember how you can help your staff achieve these things. One of the best ways to ensure staff retention and satisfaction is to show them how much you value them. Here some important ways you can do that!

1)   GIVE RECOGNITION – not everyone wants to be recognized in the same way, but we all need to hear when we are doing a fine job via a quick card, an email, a shout out at staff meeting, or a public-facing award. Don’t forget how necessary this is and it is FREE! It is great to ask people pretty regularly HOW they like to be recognized too.

2)   PROVIDE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES – Build money into your budget for professional development. Or, use unrestricted money for it. Just because we are non-profits DOES NOT mean we do not need to prioritize growing individual team members. In fact, I see this is one of the most critical things you CAN do. If you don’t have professional development money, here are some free ways you can build in these opportunities. Encourage your staff to join community committees, professional gathering spaces, and informal professional groups. When I ran a shelter for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, I started a monthly regional peer meeting because that particular job is so unique (and stressful but rewarding). Having that small network was critical. Another effective strategy: have a brown bag “skill share” over a potluck staff lunch quarterly. You will love what people come up with. Not having any opportunity for professional growth makes you feel stagnant; personally, it was the reason I have left two positions.

3)   PROVE YOU VALUE DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION – Leaders who truly walk the walk in this area are the most respected. We know that diverse teams are the most successful ones. People have and implement great ideas when they are coming from different places. Corporations know this, we know this – so what is this field waiting for? Why would you want to make decisions without subject matter experts in the room? You hired a group of experts, so use their expertise. Value it. Non-profit boards have a LOOOONG way to go in this area too (PLEASE READ THIS AWESOME PIECE BY NONPROFIT AF and check out all of their resources). Think about both your board and staff and feel free to ask us about some great tools for analyzing board and staff needs in this area.

4)   PROVIDE REGULAR FEEDBACK AND HONEST COMMUNICATION – I once stayed at a job for four years and was not EVER evaluated. Nor did I have regular supervision. Not only did I feel like I had no idea what I was doing well, I also didn’t know what needed to improve. I was starving for feedback and it took leaving there to figure that out. I truly believe that experience made my next supervisory experience harder, and kept me from growing as much as I could have during that time. So where did I learn this skill when it clearly wasn’t being modeled for me? Practice giving feedback in real time. Don’t put it off. One of my favorite books and podcasts about this is Radical Candor by Kim Scott (check out her podcast archive here, which links to one of my favorite episodes on hiring the right people).

I could add so many more to this list – but I like to start with the ones that glare. So think about the best boss you ever had – which of these things did they prioritize? And then think about the worst boss you’ve ever had – chances are, they did NONE of these things. What would you add to the list? Please share them with me!