Richard Branson once said, “If you look after your staff, they will look after your customers. It’s that simple.”
While I agree with Branson’s assertion, I recognize it’s not ‘simple’ in the nonprofit sector given the majority of sector organizations are small charities with teams of less than 10 people, they face intense fundraising competition, hold insufficient financial operating reserves and they continually balance the need for their service with the reality of limited resources. Nonprofit employees traditionally have a variety of unique challenges and expectations that are not found in the for-profit sector, nonetheless it is imperative the executive leaders and governance volunteers invest in their employees to maintain a healthy, sustainable and client (customer) centered organization.
6 tips for executive leader:
- Start with responsible self-care while leading by example. The value you place on work-life balance through your actions gives the team permission to do the same without fear of failure or retribution.
- Be mission driven from the inside out. Your nonprofit exists to improve the lives of others so mirror this with the staff. Undertake regular reviews of how the organization executes on its mission and core principles as they relate to the employee team(s).
- At times it can feel like you are the last to know what your employees are feeling. Take the time in your busy daily schedule to learn something about the personal lives of your team, seek suggestions from individuals, observe the dynamics and behaviors of the group and act on the feedback so to create safe spaces for staff to excel in. By valuing their contributions as you value your own the team will respond in turn.
- Design employment policies to serve the balanced and best interest of the organization and the employees. Engaging staff to contribute to policy design can demonstrate a valued team approach in managing the organization and ensure staff are keep informed of the policy rationale and expectations.
- Looking after your staff is built on the principle of equity in the workplace. Ensuring you have an updated policy, promoted through education and inclusive activities, demonstrates the expectations of yourself and others to respect each asindividual members of the team.
- Advocate for your team with the Board, including engaging staff in Board activities and social events.
6 tips for the board chair:
- Encourage fellow board members to actively engage with staff while listening and observing the group dynamics. Board members should seek to understand the challenges employees face as individuals and as a group so to gather insights that can be shared with the executive director in an appropriate forum.
- Review the organization’s policies and practices on a regular basis to ensure they are relevant and support the employees. By having policies executed as they are intended ensures the board is acting on its fiduciary responsibility and can avoid employee grievance or litigation down the road.
- Insist that the executive director implement initiatives to maintain a healthy, vibrant workplace (e.g. recognition programs, social events, feedback sessions, flexible work schedules).
- Boards can become micro-focused on their work resulting in undue pressure on the executive director and the team. Be mindful of the time and support a board requires against that of the client needs and mission-driven priorities the staff are working through each and every day.
- Establish a human resource committee with a competent lead who has a deep understanding of organizational behavior, employment law and possesses a genuine interest in the wellbeing of the staff and the working relationship with the executive director.
- Ensure your board hires an executive director who is emotionally intelligent and can demonstrate the organization’s mission through leading and developing staff. Appointing a leader who has strong values and beliefs that support the wellbeing of employees is as important as technical skills and professional attributes.
The lists above can serve as important conversation starters between the executive and chair as well as the chair and fellow board members. If after reading this article you decided that it was helpful, share it with your network and/or reply with a comment below. Thank you!
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