What's Missing from Your Nonprofit's Strategic Plan - Part III: Talent Retention
What's Missing from Your Nonprofit's Strategic Plan Part III: Talent Retention

What's Missing from Your Nonprofit's Strategic Plan - Part III: Talent Retention

08/07/2023 by Andrew Fretwell
The final installment of this series covers growing great teams.

The nonprofit industry has traditionally had a uniquely difficult time attracting and retaining the talent it needs to exceed. The easy answer to that has been that without stock options we just cannot compete with other industries for the best and the brightest. So many nonprofits have accepted this as a fait accompli it has stunted and hemmed in the conversation around how to attract and retain better talent. 

Times have begun changing and nonprofits have shined a bright light on ways to encourage upward career mobility within the field instead of conceding to simply be a farm system for other industries. Cohort programs, focus on better pay, and valuable thought on professional development opportunities have become frequent subject matters in strategic plans. But turnover is deeper than that. Often, employees will leave a nonprofit because they don’t have the tools in place to enable them to spend time love doing what they actually love, positively collaborating with colleagues, and being properly rewarded for their contributions.

A teacher of mine once told me when evaluating whether or not to commit to where you currently work. Am I proud of what I am accomplishing? Am I learning from those with whom I work? Am I being compensated fairly for what I do? I believe each of those questions has an equivalent question that informs major factors to turnover - and each question has a crucial technology element to its solution.

How proud are our team members of the work they show up every day to do?

Very simply, —organizations with the right tools around their impact management and tracking will have an advantage in empowering their team members to feel good about what they are in fact accomplishing. Most organizations know how to track and measure on the macro - how many dollars they raised, and how many constituents they directly served. The more robust and comprehensive your tools allow you to measure, the better your team members can find ways to recognize their own contributions. Investing in the right data visualization tools can also turn checked boxes and numerical fields into a story. Viewing a graph that shows year over year growth of 20% in donations under $1,000 will release all sorts of happy dopamines than just written out in an annual report. The visual gamification of your team’s goals will make fulfilling those goals more satisfying. If you can’t do that, it might be a good time to think about a tool like Tableau to help you get there.

Even with bells and whistles, there are more systemic blockers: terrible processes. If your case workers or development team members spend lots of time toggling between Word Docs, Excel sheets, email, and any other number of systems to capture, sort, and report on basic data - that will consume time that should be spent on clients and donors they serve. Very few of your team members will adorn their walls with plaques for the number of Excel Lookup tables they’ve created. Organizations must maximize their teams’ time and energy for the kind of work they got their degrees and certifications to do: enthrall supporters and solve problems with constituents. That is where the secret sauce of your organization lives, and the more time they spend there the more accomplished they will rightfully feel. But if your tooling forces your magic-makers into the mud of manual data management, feelings of accomplishment will be replaced by exhaustion without fulfillment, ie burnout. 

Are we an organization of interdependent individuals or of collaborative team members?

Human beings, if nothing else, are social creatures - introverts and extroverts alike. While you strive to make the world a better place, what makes the uphill battles tolerable to climb every day is being surrounded by fellow climbers you respect.

Part of this is obviously a matter of values and vision alignment across a team, as well as simple personality chemistry. But that is not all. A defining factor for cohesion across a team is how they collaborate. Tools like Slack make it far easier for employees to leverage each other for knowledge and thought partnership asynchronous, as well as find the right channels to also connect with each other over their hobbies, interests, and similarities in their personal lives. Here at Arkus, one of the best ways I have forged soft connections with coworkers is the channel dedicated entirely to people just posting Spotify and Apple Music playlists and albums they happen to be listening to. Not only is it a resource for me to find some new tunes when in need, but it’s also a great way for me to find my fellow Bruce fans because that’s always how I start my friend searches at a new job!

The beauty of Slack is its ability to create these types of channels so people can feel like whether they need to ask a complex business question, get some sympathy about their inability to get their 3-year-old to go to bed, talk trash about football, get some information on an internal process, or celebrate a big win for the organization - it can be addressed to the right audience and provide a new opportunity to hear from someone you’ve never interacted with before. That is a great way to build a culture where people are comfortable sharing with each other and open to learning from one another. When that kind of culture has taken hold, people will view their coworkers not just as fellow travelers, but as collaborative partners.

Do your employees love working for your organization? This is not the same question as “do they love what they do?”  Your team members are with you for a few reasons beyond the basic need for a livelihood. They are drawn to your mission. They are connected to the populations you serve. They crave infusing their day-to-day work with meaning and validation that they are part of solving challenges that have yet to be solved in society today. 

Do we recognize how different individuals contribute to our organization’s objectives?

When it comes to compensation, nonprofits have an uphill climb. We must continually make the case that doing good doesn’t mean taking an oath of poverty, and we don’t have the financial equity to attract and retain talent. But like any other field, performance, and compensation must share a tight relationship. Mapping an individual’s quantifiable goals against organization-wide objectives creates transparency around how team members contribute to your organization’s health and impact. Linking those goals to promotions and annual raises is the natural extension of that process and creates a clear relationship between individual success, organizational excellence, and internal career advancement. Additionally, while stock options are out of the picture, many nonprofits use more targeted and creative financial incentives to reward high performance. This proves to be a powerful form of recognition and employees’ feeling that their work is valued. Because like any gift, as nice as it is to throw something expensive at someone to say thank you, it’s always the thought that actually makes it meaningful.

There are specialized HR and performance management systems out there, but if you’re not looking to add another ingredient to your organization’s database stew, Salesforce can do it too. It not only excels at tracking meaningful organization-wide KPIs but also allows managers to create transparent divisions of those KPIs into individual goals and forecasts. Whether team members are responsible for generating revenue, delivering on case plans, launching new services or products, or engaging new partners, Salesforce can track individual performance against individual and organization-wide goals. 

So if your organization is still struggling with the lagging effects of the Great Resignation and are formulating a grand strategic plan to slow turnover and increase your talent funnel, make sure you consider what data platform/s will make it easy for your employees to continually be reminded why they love working for your organization.

Does your organization have a data strategy to meet its strategic goals to increase the quality of your team while decreasing turnover? I want to hear what you’ve learned about it, or if you have not, what’s been holding you back. Either way, I’d love to hear from you on Linkedin.