How Nonprofits Can Create a Flexible Work Environment That Works for Everyone
Nonprofit organizations are seen as the innovators of the social impact sector. Yet when it comes to workplace norms and policies, they can be surprisingly old-fashioned. This could be a by-product of having to justify the way they do business to board members, donors and community members who may see for-profit workplace models as the norm.
The pandemic changed not only staff expectations regarding work-life balance and flexibility; it spurred major employers in the for-profit world, including Microsoft, to adjust expectations regarding which workplace arrangements and accommodations will and won’t fly.
As nonprofits nationwide gear up to hire new staff when fresh 2023 budgets come into effect this January, they’d be wise to pause and think about why a candidate would choose their workplace’s culture over another’s culture.
Creating a flexible work environment that works for employers and employees alike is square one. It's not a five-minute task and will require employers to perform some soul-searching while adopting new leadership behaviors.
Here are a few simple things employers can implement to create a flexible work environment that works for everyone:
1. Make Quality and Quantity of Work — Not Time on Task — Your New Normal
“Getting work done well is what matters.” This mantra empowers staff with the decision-making power to tackle tasks when and how it best suits them.
This runs counter to the virtue signaling that unfortunately runs through some nonprofits, where working hours above and beyond a normal workday is seen as positive or a sign of deeper commitment. To create a more flexible and equitable workplace, focus on each team member achieving a sufficient quantity of high-quality work results for the organization, not policing hours on task.
Of course, this means your organization must have clear guidelines for what constitutes high-quality work and the appropriate quantity of work. If you don’t have such guidelines, now is the perfect time to discuss and develop your organization’s expectations for each staff position.
Though the majority of the team may find a traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule meets their needs, others may desire alternate schedule. One staff member can work 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., another can log in from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., while a third can be online 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
2. Make Coaching a Key Supervision Strategy
Self-motivated staff members with appropriate position guidelines don’t need to be micromanaged or surveilled. They need to be coached.
Encourage managers and leaders within your organization to adopt coaching as their modus operandi. Check in with staff members; offer encouragement, support, and honest and constructive feedback; provide expertise and make judgment calls when needed; and be there to ask questions and troubleshoot when issues arise and solutions are needed.
Key to this is understanding that sooner or later, every staff member — even the best and most experienced — will make a mistake. When they do, treat it as a learning opportunity, and move on.
3. Invest in Training and Professional Development
It’s pennywise and pound-foolish for nonprofit organizations not to commit sufficient resources for staff professional development. Yet this is precisely the line item that commonly gets cut first when times are tough.
If your fundraising team is only one or two people in size, they will especially benefit from networking and training events. Their time out of the office will help them learn from others and prevent their work from becoming myopic. Your fundraising success rests on their shoulders. Give them access to the latest learning to set them up for success.
Your people want to learn, grow and reach their potential to best serve your organization. Give them the means to do it. Providing a regular and dependable source of funding for professional development opportunities, such as conference attendance and professional certifications, is something that everyone in your organization — from your front-desk staff to CEO — should be able to count on.
4. Hold Your Organization’s Team-Building Activities and Celebrations During the Workday
Not every staff member has the flexibility (or financial resources — remember child care costs money) to squeeze in work-related activities outside of work time.
Do yourself and your team a favor. Don’t schedule social and enrichment opportunities for mornings before work, evenings after work or weekends. Your staff will enjoy a celebratory holiday luncheon during the workday more than they’ll enjoy an evening event they need to pack into already overfilled schedules.
There is no magic wand for navigating a professional landscape that feels constantly in flux. The good news is there doesn’t have to be.
At root, the shift is about empowering nonprofit employers and employees to get away from non-essential trappings of the workplace and focus on what has always been most important — quality work that changes the world for the better by improving lives. That’s something we can all get behind.
Eva E. Aldrich is president and CEO of CFRE International, the first globally recognized fundraising credential. Prior to joining CFRE International, Aldrich was associate director of public service and The Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Before that, she was a member of the consulting team at Johnson Grossnickle & Associates and was assistant professor of English and director of the Writing Center at Franklin College.
Aldrich has been widely published in fundraising journals and is one of the editors of “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising,” Third Edition. She holds a Ph.D. in philanthropic studies from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.