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Want to engage staff? Go to the source

Retaining your people requires competitive compensation packages, dedicated attention from managers, and – perhaps most importantly – deliberate efforts to keep staff engaged. 

If you’re serious about retention, it's critical to solicit employee involvement directly, and give them a voice in the organization's retention initiatives. Not all nonprofits make that effort. Nearly three quarters of nonprofit executives make a conscious effort to engage employees, but only 37 percent report that they've recently updated their employee engagement plan. 

This reveals the underlying issue: Many nonprofits fail to formalize their engagement plan schedule as much as they formalize other routines in the organization. 

Set a formal schedule to ask, listen, and respond to your staff members, and you're more likely to raise employee engagement, overcoming a major barrier to retention.

A culture of action

Dialoguing with your staff is important, but it can also be risky. If employees share their ideas but nothing is implemented – there's no active response – they will disengage altogether, and quickly. You can prevent that disaster by moving forward efficiently with a culture that supports communication and action. Organize their input into four distinct areas for a coordinated response:

1. Leadership

  • Schedule regular informational sessions with various team leaders to explain the organization's status and opportunities for the future.
  • Create opportunities for employees to share their understanding of the organization's values.

2. Enablement

  • Create a transparent resources report so staff members can see and discuss openly where funds are allocated.
  • Bring clients in to share their success stories, and allow coworkers to share successes that were dependent on the help of teammates.

3. Alignment

  • Ask employees to write their own job descriptions when hired, and then annually. Look for changes in the descriptions, let manager and staff member work it out, then update HR if changes have occurred or if original descriptions were incorrect.
  • Use an Intranet to encourage staff/leadership communication. Leaders can pose and answer questions online.
  • Schedule a quarterly awards event that recognizes staff for their achievements. Avoid rewarding the same people repeatedly at the expense of quieter employees.

4. Development

  • Offer personal or professional coaching. Set up a budget and allocate a set number of sessions, but allow each employee to maintain control regarding the content.
  • Create a peer-tutoring program where workers can share extracurricular or work-related skills with their fellow employees while improving public speaking skills and honing leadership abilities. Note responses to various topics.

You shouldn't throw everything at all four engagement areas at once. Don't risk chaotic and failing programs, especially when funding is tight and time to devote to these initiatives may be short. Organizations that report the most impactful results carefully select one or two projects at a time.

Go beyond

While your for-profit competition is trying to align their company with a purpose, your nonprofit has made a mission of it. Now, build on that with ideas that go beyond the usual:

  • Healthy snacks. Fewer than half of employers make healthy snacks or a healthy cafeteria available, yet three quarters of employees want access to healthy foods onsite. Rethink the choices in your vending machine, and take a vote for options to increase staff input.
  • Vigorous health and wellness programs. Robust health and wellness programs make a significant draw for employees. Help build health, relaxation, and fun by offering on-site yoga or dance classes.
  • Have fun. Set aside Friday afternoons for a staff activity that's just for fun and team-building. Host a scavenger hunt for animals in the local zoo, take a group bike ride, enjoy a frozen yogurt social, or take a group painting class. Find something fun for everyone.
  • Make it visual. Create and share a flowchart that demonstrates how certain tasks performed by an employee ultimately help to fulfill the organization's mission.
  • Let them explore. Create paths that help team members move laterally within the organization. A transferred worker can explore a new passion while you keep that person in the building.
  • Make leaders approachable. Have the organization's leader host weekly office hours, two hours a week, where employees can explore ideas and concerns that keep them engaged.
  • Pay attention online. Watch for patterns in Glassdoor reviews to spotlight areas that need improvement.
  • Reward coursework. Offer points or tangible rewards for those who take work-related courses. Online classes and tutorials abound. Encourage your workforce to learn.

Think creatively, proactively, and prudently, and you'll discover a multitude of affordable ways for your team to become involved in developing their own reasons for engagement.

Unemployment Services Trust (UST) provides workforce solutions for nonprofits, reducing their unemployment costs and helping remove back-office burden so they have more time and money for their missions.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the ebook Innovative Strategies that Overcome Nonprofit Retention Barriers, produced by Unemployment Services Trust (UST).

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