Attending to Retention

While the worst impacts of the pandemic may be subsiding, the so-called Great Resignation seems to be going strong. Nonprofits are feeling this at least as much as any other employer. Your people are your greatest asset in delivering on the promise of your organization. How can you keep them?

For many nonprofits, retention via better compensation is not an option. One key may be to better connect the mission of your organization to the people who work there. Working for a nonprofit often is a choice partially motivated by an individual’s identification with what your organization stands for and accomplishes. If you can’t pay people more, aim to build a culture that makes it easy for them to take personal pride in the work and your value proposition because they are part of something that is making a social impact.

Building culture and connection have become even more important with many workplaces operating in hybrid on-site/remote fashion permanently, naturally heightening a sense of disconnection.

Here are some tactics to strengthen your organizational connective tissue:

COLLABORATE

The hybrid workplace for many organizations is here to stay. This brings with it a natural tension – and potential resentment – regarding being in the office setting. But this also can be leveraged as an asset. Consider being intentional in terms of expectations about when your team must be in the office, so that those times primarily are dedicated to collaboration that works best in person.

Collaboration certainly is possible via Zoom. But different dynamics are in play when people are together in person which can spark deeper interactions. Rather than requiring someone to go into the office mostly for the sake of showing up to sit at a desk, make sure that those in-person times for your team are planful and include productive collaborative time together to exchange ideas and move projects forward.

Collaboration also is stronger through inclusion. A Capacity Partners client who is in the middle of a strategic planning exercise realized the pandemic and hybrid work environment produced a morale issue: those required to come into the office felt it was an unreasonable obligation to fill in for those who are working from home. The Executive Director decided to involve all the senior staff in the strategic planning process, who then in turn involved the rest of the staff. What began as a discovery of low morale actually became a strategy for inclusive collaboration. Together, they realized there is much work to be done in order to build a positive, forward-reaching organization. The outlook brightened for a renewed, transformed organization.

COMMUNICATE

Are changes coming up in your organization? Make sure those are communicated early and well. You want to give your team the sense that changes are happening with and perhaps even because of them (see previous bullet point on inclusive collaboration), rather than happening to them.

ELEVATE

Your team can help tell your organization’s story. In addition to validating their work, you will be emphasizing their importance in delivering on your organization’s mission. Consider featuring staff members and their mission-driven successes in fundraising pieces and general communications (social media, newsletters, short video interviews shared on social platforms).

ACKNOWLEDGE

The documented reality is that different generations view work and their relationship with it very differently. Recognize that a one-approach-fits-all is unlikely to satisfy a workforce that is diverse in terms of age, and adapt. Here are some ideas from LinkedIn on tailored approaches for Millennial employees. Acknowledgment also means recognizing people are dealing with many types of stress that can affect their commitment level and productivity. Show your colleagues your humanity by checking in with empathy and grace. During the pandemic, an Executive Director of one of the organizations that CP serves became a father. He readily acknowledged how his new role in the family dramatically transformed his ability to show empathy for his staff’s personal lives and commitments.

CP Vice President Michael Feinstein led a large nonprofit organization in the Washington, DC, area for more than a decade. When COVID hit and remote work became the norm, “I changed the cadence of my one-on-one, team, and staff meetings to check in more frequently and focus on how they were feeling in addition to what they were doing.” He notes that a key to being available to others “was managing my own stress, which meant regular exercise for me.”

EMPOWER

If you’ve hired the right people, give them the freedom to do their jobs. Let them know they have your trust to get the job done even when they aren’t sitting in the same place you are.

BUILD CONNECTION

In a hybrid environment, managers must be far more intentional about creating a sense of connection and belonging. Tactics can be simple but meaningful, such as every Monday morning sending out a message to your team asking how their weekend went and sharing a bit about yours. Intrusive? Perhaps. But people can share as much or as little as they like, and it will help them connect with each other too, especially at a time when they may no longer be bumping into each other in the breakroom. Make it easier for them to feel like they belong to a team.


Big challenges and big opportunities for the arts community

The arts have never been more important than they are today. They bring joy, act as a healing force, and educate the young and old. The arts are a key component of the economy and an important community partner as we recover and reinvent our world after the pandemic.

On May 22, Capacity Partners Founder and President Mary Robinson was honored to join Anne Corbett of Building Creative and Linda Sullivan, President & CEO of ARTSFairfax  for an ARTSFairfax webinar focused on planning for what’s next in the Fairfax County arts community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenges that organizations have faced over the last two months are extreme.  Arts organizations, and really most nonprofits, are losing revenue, facing staff layoffs, and shifting strategies in how work gets done.  However, with every challenge comes an opportunity.

As Mary Robinson noted during the webinar, to maintain organizational viability over the long term, organizations should use Dynamic Planning to create three, six, and twelve-month plans. Starting with the formation of a Dynamic Planning committee, organizations would then use the iterative Dynamic Planning process to reaffirm their mission, asses their strengths and weaknesses, and conduct scenario planning, identifying multiple scenarios and solutions.

For example, Capacity Partners client Arts for the Aging was committed to keeping their teaching artists on salary during the pandemic, despite cancelling all in-person workshops. The team of teaching artists has now activated multiple distance and virtual programs to continue serving their audience of older adults and their caregivers. Although the method of program delivery has changed, Arts for the Aging’s mission remains front and center.

Anne Corbett stressed arts organizations have a unique opportunity to be leaders in community resiliency and reinvention, utilizing multiple partnerships, audience engagement, and advocacy opportunities.

Some of the ideas discussed on the webinar include:

  • Partnering with a food bank to include art kits in food boxes
  • Partnering with real estate developers to bring outdoor art or performances in a socially distant and safe manner
  • Producing virtual theatre or art shows and partnering with a restaurant or catering company to deliver a meal to patrons participating at home. (This would also work for virtual fundraising events.)

Webinar participant Lisa LaCamera, Senior Director, Communications & Marketing at Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, said, “People are realizing the healing nature of the arts in times of crisis. People all over the world appreciate the need for the arts to get through this.”

Capacity Partners encourages arts organizations – and all nonprofits – to embrace the opportunities, confront the fear, create the plan, and move ahead to our next normal. The canvas of opportunity lies in front of all of us, and Capacity Partners stands ready to support you if you need a jump start.


Nonprofit Success Starts with a Clear, Compelling Vision

Recently, a development director for a community-based nonprofit approached me for help. Her boss was pressuring her to come up with a clever, cutting-edge way to raise money – some trick they hadn’t tried. She asked me for a “new” idea.

My first question was this: “Does your nonprofit have a clear vision of what your community will look like when you achieve your goals?”

Her answer was no. They know their mission. They have great activities. They offer innovative programs. They have a dynamic team that can talk eloquently about what their organization does.

However, they cannot describe to others – at least not those beyond their passionate inner circle – how their nonprofit is making a difference for everyone in the community. They aren’t effectively communicating to potential donors why the organization’s work really matters and thus merits support.

I suggested that they start by creating a clear and compelling vision of a better future for the community that their nonprofit supports – a vision that is easy to explain and that immediately resonates with those outside the organization.

At Capacity Partners, we specialize in helping nonprofit leaders move their organizations from vision to action. For us, vision is at the very heart of effective strategic planning and fundraising. In our experience, it’s nearly impossible for nonprofits to achieve sustained success without a vision for the future that motivates and inspires.

Yes, I also ran through some basic development strategies with the development director. For instance, her nonprofit might benefit from a leadership club or a membership program.

However, fundraising tactics like these will fall flat unless they are linked to vision that makes people say, “Yes! – this is the kind of world I want, I believe in your capacity to make it happen, and I want to invest in you.”

People invest in people – and in their vision.