Embrace Flexibility at Your Nonprofit to Stop Employee Turnover

Category: Executive Search

About 15 years ago, we expected a mass exodus of Babyboom leaders to leave their executive positions for retirement. Then, the Great Recession rocked our world and many stayed put.

Fast forward to today. As we are recover from the seismic shock of the pandemic, not only are Baby boomers leaving the job market, employers and boards are now grappling with the new demands by employees for greater flexibility to perform their work recognizing that if they don’t “adjust,” there could be a mass exodus.

We know that the average fundraiser only stays at their job for 16 months before leaving. And this doesn’t even take into account how the pandemic has affected retention. So how can you ensure your valuable employees stick around? How can you avoid the “revolving door” of turnover within your nonprofit organization?

By embracing a new model of work flexibility.

What is an employer to do?

Just two short years ago, we rarely were asked about job flexibility when we conducted searches for Executive and Chief Development Officer positions. Sure, there have always been some organizations that offered telecommuting. Today, however, there’s an expectation to be able to work anywhere but at “the physical” office – at least some days of the week.

These past 17 months have clarified, for many, work/life balance – those things that bring daily enjoyment and achievement in each of our four life quadrants: work, family, friends, and self.

Focusing on the work quadrant, daily enjoyment and achievement fluctuates depending upon the demands of the work, interaction with our colleagues and/or clients, and the boss. Those fluctuations can and do affect productivity. Reaching a “balance” produces increased productivity, lower absenteeism, greater employee loyalty, commitment and motivation — an all-around happier, less stressed workforce.

It is our experience that employers are sensitive to how the workplace culture is changing, and they are addressing them in a variety of ways such as:

  • surveying their employees to gain an understanding of their employees’ desires;
  • forming task forces, comprised of employees and managers, to think through the various workplace scenarios; and
  • then making the adjustments that fit the work the employees are expected to perform while recognizing that during these periods of “adjustment” and “experimenting” there will be some grumbling about, cheering for, the “new normal”.

Further, our experience is that many nonprofits are implementing a hybrid approach:

  • allowing for remote and onsite office work;
  • meeting with donors in person and electronically—nodding to the preference of the donor;
  • holding some events in person and virtually; and
  • following their local health department guidelines when making their decisions about employee, volunteer, and client safety.

As Benefactor Group contemplated “return to work,” we formed a task force, surveyed the team, and shared the approach with all before committing to it.  We decided on a hybrid approach:

  • all employees who live locally will be in the office twice a week: Thursdays for all-staff meetings and another day of their choice.
  • changes to the office to ensure it’s a place our team wants to be with flexible workspace, modern video meeting equipment, and expanded amenities like a coffee upgrade.
  • experimenting with our version of a flexible workweek by offering all staff a  three-day weekend each month in addition to their PTO to allow for those “personal” activities such as errands, doctor’s appointments, connecting with friends/family, sleep-in — to restore some balance.

Just like in the “old work world,” the new work reality won’t be perfect. Employers and employees will have to reach a compromise—and employee handbooks will be updated with new policies. Retirements will continue, and those not happy with the new changes will move on. In the spirit that employees and employers have the common motivation to do their best work and meet the mission of the organization, we encourage our clients to be open-minded; make accommodations where reasonably possible, and embrace the working world of change.