In my last blog 5 Key Ways to Prevent Burn-Out When You Work for Non-Profits which you can access here, I mentioned some key ways that individuals workers can limit the stressful impact working for a non-profit may bring them. In this blog, I would like to take the other side and suggest that there are also a few things that non-profit organizations can do from a leadership viewpoint that will help retain team members and foster morale among workers and volunteers.
#1: Provide Key Feedback Early On
Many people who work for non-profits truly care about the cause they are supporting and thus want to do the best they can for the organization. Thus, many individuals not only desire, but thrive off of feedback. Nevertheless, when feedback is given, it must be weighed carefully and delivered in a way that does not impact a worker’s morale. Remember that if the people you work with are volunteers (and this also includes those on a tiny stipend) they may be more likely to quit and look for other volunteer opportunities and/or jobs which would actually pay them in cash. My advice would be not to shy away from perceived “negative” or “critical” interaction, but to do so in a loving way that promotes the ethos of your organization (especially when you are a Christian charity). Do so in love, as a way to build the other person up to be a better version of themselves, and also mention at least one or two positive things about their character. In my experience of being a supervisor and leader, I have found two approaches that work the best:
The first approach includes a survey. Twice a year, I asked my workers to fill out a survey about themselves and how they felt their role was going. This allowed them to openly state the areas in which they were struggling, felt they needed more support, or were unsure about. If I had a serious concern about anyone of them, I would meet and ask them using an open-ended question format about it. Instead of condemning them “why don’t you work harder? Why are you always late? Why don’t you clean up after yourself in the staff room?” I would bring it about as a discussion: “how do you feel work is going? Are you happy here? What can I do to make it better?” I found that once I opened it up for their own personal response, individuals were often aware and did not hesitate to point out the very things I was going to gripe over. But when it came from them, not from me, they felt more in-control and more likely to change. When they knew I wanted to partner with them, rather than against them, those desired results were brought about.
The second approach that I like to use is the sandwich approach. I will mention a few things that they are doing well and sincerely thank them for it. Then, I will move on to a few key areas of improvement and collaborate to come up with a strategy together (step-by-step ideas and solutions rather than mere complaints). I will end my time by thanking them for being willing to receive the feedback and for being a valued member of our team. Once again, when feedback is delivered in this way it minimizes hurt and maximizes potential and growth.
In my experience, I have also found it best to provide feedback early on and throughout the process rather than waiting until the last minute. I have witnessed the hurt and devastation of many wonderful workers when their contracts were not renewed without warning. Many of them became resentful because they thought that if the organization were to raise these issues to their attention sooner they might have done something to change it, but as it is, they now have no power to fix anything. People do best when they feel in control and empowered of their own decision making rather than slighted or “left for dead” after giving so much to an organization with little in return. That’s why if you see a recurring pattern early on, best to nip it in the bud before it becomes too strong. And if you absolutely must ask someone to leave or you cannot extend their contract, make sure they know specific reasons for your decision, have an opportunity to defend themselves, and have plenty of time to make other arrangements.
#2: Find Opportunities to Encourage Your Workers
Many people crave a sense of belonging and of feeling “part of something.” This is why it is of utmost importance to foster a genuine team spirit and commitment amongst your volunteers. Encourage them in what they are doing by giving compliments. If you see someone going above and beyond in their work, mention it. If you see them staying much later than usual, offer to buy them a quick coffee before you leave. If this is generally the person’s character – where they are always going far above and beyond, recognize it. Perhaps repay them with another random act of kindness, buy them a Starbucks gift card, or make a cute personalized card to show your appreciation. Let them know how much they mean to the organization… don’t let them leave feeling invisible and unnoticed.
#3: Say Thank-You
Within non-profits it is paramount to genuinely show appreciation to your workers. Since workers are often not being compensated monetarily (and if they are, it is usually in the form of small stipends) intrinsic rewards must come from other places. While some Christians dismiss their need to be validated and respected thinking that they should just do things without expecting anything in return, the truth is that we do need some incentives to keep us going. This is not wrong or bad, it is simply the way things work.
That’s why THANK YOU may just be the two most powerful words in the history of non-profit organizations. Find ways to thank your co-workers regularly, but make it genuine. Not over the top or too often lest it seems “fake.” Some examples could be: a simple line at the bottom of a company email saying “while many may overlook your contributions, rest assured, I do not”, giving out Christmas cards or small token gifts, recognizing exemplary years of service (such as having a “Silver Tea” for those volunteering 25 years or more), or even posting sticky notes around the office that will make people smile.
#4: Work Towards Providing Stability in Scheduling
A lot of people (whether volunteers or paid staff) have extremely busy lives. Although work may be a huge part of that, it is not the only thing. Therefore, having some type of consistent scheduling allows the person to know when they can engage in other activities and have a “life outside of work.” Work together with your team to create a solid plan, then stick to it as much as possible. Periodically check-in with your workers to see if their days off still work for them or if they need it switched. Try your best to be flexible with specialist appointments and family emergencies. If your organization works on a “rotating-schedule”, please try to give your employees at least one weekend off a month (as the majority of social interactions happen on weekends). And if possible, allow time off for religious services and holidays which may be important to your employee.
#5: Allow Your Team Members to Also Give You Open, Critical, and Honest Feedback
In my experience as a leader, I have found that teams work best when there is a sense of ownership, approachability, and clear communication rather than when things are dictated from the “top-down.” People want to know that their opinions and feelings are being valued and listened to, not just that management is asking to tick another box off the list. One of the best ways that I have discovered to do this is to allow my team mates to write up reviews about me. Twice a year (at the same time as I ask them to do self-reflections, I also ask them to fill out a short survey about me). To rank me. Am I also following my job description? Am I providing what they need to thrive? And if not, what would they like me to pay more attention to? Am I providing enough training and if not, what type of training might they need? When people see that their leader is also being put into a vulnerable position, they generally become more relaxed about receiving their own feedback. While I have not always received positive feedback from my workers, as much as possible, I have tried to improve on the areas that seem to be a general trend, and in most cases my second yearly report comes back with much higher scores.