Overcome Staffing Challenges by Focusing on Your What and How
Beyond the constant quest to source donations, nonprofits have their own additional business challenges. Some years, that means accommodating rising expenses while trying to overcome budget shortfalls. This year, according to the 2022 Nonprofit Industry Pulse Survey, many nonprofits named staffing shortages as a top issue — and they’re not alone in this.
It’s no secret that we’ve recently seen an awakening among employees across every sector. They’re looking to take on roles that are personally and globally meaningful. They are looking for purpose-driven organizations. Last year, McKinsey research led to the insight that nearly two-thirds of U.S.-based employees said COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. The study went on to say that employees expect their jobs to bring a significant sense of purpose to their lives and that employers need to help meet this need or be prepared to lose talent to companies that will. At the same time, past engagement studies have shared that when employees, evaluate whether to stay or leave an organization, they ask themselves: “Does my leader and organization care about me? Do they care about my role?”
So, if people are more inclined to stay with an organization when they feel connected to its purpose, and know the organization and its leaders care, the nonprofit industry and its purpose-driven work should have an advantage in recruiting and keeping great employees, right?
As a volunteer and nonprofit board member over the years and now in my time working in the nonprofit sector, I’ve noticed that recruiting and retention of great employees (especially in 2022) is challenging for everyone in every sector, including nonprofits. But why? Nonprofits are all about purpose and leaders of nonprofits care deeply about their teams.
Many nonprofits are like startups with people wearing many hats with so much to do. There is little time to take a step back and look at the big picture as there are clients to serve, donors to connect with, grants to write — the list is endless. But taking a step back is exactly what is needed right now to increase engagement, retain teams and attract new team members. Taking a step back also can lead to increased prioritization. Here are four suggestions for overcoming staffing challenges.
1. Focus on the Big Picture
During a tour at NASA headquarters in 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked a janitor holding a broom what he was doing. The man responded, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” Talk about understanding the big picture. Do your employees understand your big picture?
A great way to engage your team is to ask them what your organization’s vision, strategy and values mean to them. If any of them are in need of a refresh, why not engage your team in a brainstorming session? Involving team members, pausing to listen to their ideas and concerns, is a great way to drive engagement and reinforce that you care about their opinions. Getting input from those closest to the work is also a nice complement to board input in these areas. Consider your vision and strategy aligning with what you’re solving — your “what” – and your values aligning with the behaviors that will help ensure you get there — your “how”.
2. Reinforce What’s Important
Vision, values and strategies can sometimes be forgotten. You may see them on a website or a poster. These are helpful reminders and set expectations. To reinforce what’s important, these should be infused into your day-to-day operations. The language from your vision and values should be woven into everything you send out — whether it’s to your employees, your clients, your donors or your board. Your purpose is embedded in your vision and values, and that is what we need to remind people of every day. By connecting the dots between your results and your strategy and vision — and by telling stories of your values in action — you can remind everyone what makes your organization special.
3. Leverage Technology to Improve the Employee Experience
Employees are consumers, which means they expect processes to be easy. Think about how much we can do on our phones today — ordering food, looking up the weather, getting news from around the world, checking email and more. We are expecting ease. Manually tracking donations on Excel spreadsheets takes time and when reports are needed, all other activity can come to a screeching halt. Technology not only drives data-driven insights for better decision-making, but it also frees up the bandwidth of your teams, so they can work on those activities that only humans can do. Your team is what makes your organization special.
There are moments across the employee experience that matter quite a bit to employees. Those moments reinforce whether your organization is the right place for them or not. We need to pay special attention to these moments, so we create the best possible experience for people. The employee experience begins when someone is a candidate and ends when they are alumni. The hope is that every employee leaves as a promoter of your brand.
4. Tap Into Early Career Talent
The McKinsey study also mentioned that millennials were three times more likely than others to say they were reevaluating work. Early-career employees have so much potential and when you combine potential with passion and purpose, it’s a powerful combination. Pairing up early-career employees with a mentor from other organizations and ensuring they have a strong network outside of your organization is a great way to help ensure they are successful as you tap into this new talent pool.
Staffing challenges may seem insurmountable, with so many external factors influencing employee recruitment and retention. Assuming employees are getting paid fair compared to your peer groups for like roles, I truly believe that nonprofits are poised for staffing success given their significant advantage of making purpose-driven impacts on the communities they serve. By taking these four steps, nonprofits will be able to not only overcome staffing challenges but also create a great place to work where employees can do the best work of their lives.
Terilyn Juarez Monroe is the chief people officer at Bonterra, a social good software company focused on powering those who power social impact. Terilyn was formerly chief people officer, senior vice president of people and places at Varian, and chief people and culture officer, senior vice president human resources at Acxiom. Before that, Terilyn spent time at Intuit in a variety of HR and communication leadership roles, including chief diversity officer. Terilyn is a thought partner and leadership development professional focused on building inclusive cultures and reimagining HR functions to drive transformational change.