If the pandemic didn’t totally change the way you work, it hastened transitions that were already happening or brought them to a head. Not-for-profit employees have long been at high risk of burnout, but the last few years have taken it to an entirely new level. In Wipfli’s new Nonprofit Benchmark Priorities Report, 62% of survey respondents said workforce issues were a top challenge. In 2018, it was only 8.5%
Three Challenges at the Top
Burnout isn’t the only serious challenge identified in the geographically diverse report. Fundraising was the second-most identified challenge, followed by recruitment. Here’s more about these concerns for nonprofit organizations:
1. Employee Engagement
Burnout is real. Organizational culture, engagement, and morale suffered as nonprofits switched to remote work environments and, in the case of performance venues, prolonged closures. For organizations focused on human services missions such as medicine, public health, and social services, increased demand underscored employee exhaustion.
Nonprofit executives identified several leadership and management development challenges related to engagement, with communication ranked at the top by 46 percent of respondents. Employee safety ranked second, with 44 percent of respondents naming it as a priority for the upcoming year. Both of these priorities have clear links to the pandemic.
Because remote work arrangements will likely continue for many organizations and safety concerns are still relevant, renewed thinking is required for employee engagement. The survey suggests several steps to building a new, strong culture.
• Assess your current situation. A culture “audit” will let you know how your organization is faring today and which issues demand prioritized action. Consider an employee survey and focus groups followed by assessment and recommendations.
• Use the right tools. Everyone who works remotely must have updated technology and training to be productive offsite.
• Be clear. Be explicitly clear about what you expect from your employees in terms of hours, reporting, work product, and interaction.
• Create a water cooler. It’s hard to overstate the importance of casual interaction. For all employees—remote and in-office—end-of-week check-ins or social hours offer a way to get to know and learn from each other.
• Respect schedules. Just because people are working remotely doesn’t mean they’re available at all hours. Be respectful of workers’ life balance.
It’s no surprise that fundraising was the survey’s top financial concern for nonprofit executives. Fundraising is always top of mind for these leaders, but the past two years have created special challenges. With appealing, reliable events like galas and fun runs off the calendar, nonprofit organizations have had to try new ways to attract attention and wallet share.
Among other financial priorities for the year are identifying additional grant opportunities, implementing operational efficiencies, addressing employee compensation and benefits, and improving program metrics and results.
To meet these financial challenges, the survey suggests several steps:
• Use technology. Technology has never been so important to fundraising. A slick website with an easy-to-use donor portal, social media links, and proactive database management can make the difference between financial success and a so-so financial picture.
• Tap the board. Your board has a lot to offer in terms of financial analysis, donor experience, and fundraising innovations. Use them as a sounding board and as fundraising ambassadors.
• Get the right people. As your fundraising needs evolve, so must your team. Think about restructuring or hiring to optimize skills and talents.
• Focus on process. Small changes can have big impact. Consider how your team works and tighten up any loose connections and processes.
According to Pew Research Center, 30 million baby boomers retired in the third quarter of 2020. This “Great Retirement” comes in tandem with the “Great Resignation,” which saw 4 million workers leave their jobs just in July 2021. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of these workers are in the 30-45 age range, so they represent seasoned employees who carry a significant amount of institutional knowledge.
How can your organization find and keep the talent you need? Try these approaches:
• Cast a wide net. Of course, you can use the typical online resources to post your job openings and attract candidates, but don’t overlook other sources of referrals. Your team of trusted advisors—CPAs, attorneys, board members, and insurance agents—know a variety of people with a range of skills and talents. Depending on the breadth of your search and mission, you can also turn to the nonprofit industry, chambers of commerce, and even neighborhood websites for candidates. Think out of the box.
• Create good job descriptions. Be as specific as you can about the experience and skills you’re seeking while leaving the door open to different types of workers. A candidate doesn’t necessarily have to have done the same job before if his or her skills are transferrable to your circumstances.
• Onboard aggressively. Wow your new hires with a great experience. Get the whole team involved in welcoming, educating, and assisting new workers. Make your expectations known and offer plenty of support.
• Refine succession plans. Create a strategic document that covers next steps if an executive, board member, or key worker leaves your organization. Be aware of how you can grow and develop in-house talent into leadership positions.
Make a Plan, Take Heart
Every year millions of young people enter the workforce, and many are the hardworking, civic-minded types that thrive in not-for-profit roles. Challenge them with responsibilities and opportunity, and they’ll reward you. And burnout works two ways — there are plenty of opportunities to recruit talented, experienced workers who have grown tired of corporate America and want to give back to their communities.
Dembo Jones’ team of not-for-profit experts can help you effectively manage and grow your organization, from assisting with state and federal oversight to helping you present financial information to your stakeholders and donors. Contact us today.