How to Manage Employee Turnover in Your Nonprofit

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: August 29th, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 12th, 2023

When you seek resources on how to manage employee turnover in your organization, you’re likely to find resources for how to stop turnover. That makes sense—if employees leave your nonprofit frequently after short tenures, it can be a sign that something is wrong in the organization and needs investigation. But not all turnover is bad, even when a number of people choose to move on from your organization at once. That might be the moment in your nonprofit’s life when a lot of employees’ journeys diverge from the organization’s. Still, anytime valued employees leave, it’s hard for everyone. Here are some strategies for managing through periods of high turnover at your organization.

Gather your emotions around an employee departure before you announce it. If you try to deliver an upbeat message while you’re still struggling to process the news, your body language will show your emotions, and your team will get anxious. But don’t wait more than one business day to share the news, as the employee has likely told or is telling work friends that they plan to leave.

Celebrate the people who leave. Hold a staff gathering to honor the contributions of departing employees. Talk about how they made a difference for your nonprofit. Be specific. Laugh about inside jokes. This process helps employees find closure around colleagues’ departures and conveys that it’s normal for people to move on.

Document standard procedures and top priority tasks and assignments for each position on your team and keep them in a set location. This will help employees who unexpectedly have to cover someone else’s duties for a period of time.

Be honest, without being overly gloomy OR gleeful about a staff departure. Give employees space to voice their feelings and concerns about employee departures, and don’t negate their worries and perceptions. Never gloat about the departure of a troublesome team member. Focus on the future and how you and the organization plan to move forward.

Hold regular check-ins with employees. Keep the check-ins frequent, but make sure they aren’t a heavy lift. The check-ins should center the employee. Managers should communicate priorities clearly and help employees decide what tasks can wait until later. Managers should ask a few open-ended questions:

  • What are your priorities?
  • How can I help?
  • How are you feeling?

Provide helpful resources. When people get frustrated or anxious about employee departures, they’re most likely to express those feelings to their manager. Make sure managers understand what support is available to employees for help with workload and stress—and how much leeway they have as managers to unload team responsibilities. Help managers brainstorm ways to respond to common worries that employees might express.

Be realistic about how much work you can do as a leader. You can cover some tasks or responsibilities for your team in the short term, but set limits to avoid burnout.

Seek candid feedback. Ask departing employees to take part in an exit interview. Ask a trusted team member—someone other than the employee’s direct supervisor—to conduct the exit interview before the employee’s last day. Take time to process what the employee shares about their experience. Ask your team how your organization can continue to become a better place to work. Seek ways to put suggestions into practice, and when you can’t make changes based on your team’s feedback, explain why.


How to Create a Concierge Experience for Job Applicants

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: August 22nd, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 12th, 2023

Most of us have been “ghosted” by a prospective employer—even after a promising interview. It’s not cool, and it’s totally avoidable. The time and effort your nonprofit invests to give all job candidates a great experience will produce results. Your top candidates will be more likely to want the job, and those who aren’t selected will have a good impression of your nonprofit. Here’s how to improve your job candidates’ experience.

Write concise, informative job descriptions. Don’t throw the kitchen sink in there. Require only the skills and experience truly necessary to do the job. Clearly state the job’s regular duties. Communicate essential information like salary and benefits; any schedule or travel requirements; whether the role is remote, in-person, or hybrid; and any management responsibilities.

Make applying easy. Simplify your application form—but don’t pare it down so much you have to ask for piles of additional information if candidates advance. Provide clear application instructions. And for the love of whatever you believe in, don’t make candidates fill out the same information on multiple platforms (e.g., submit a resume and also fill out all the individual resume fields on a website).

Acknowledge applications promptly. A note from a human, even a one-sentence email, is always nice—but an automated reply at least lets the applicant know their information was received.

Communicate next steps and a reasonable timeline. Yes, hiring usually takes longer than expected, but you can easily say something like: “We hope to fill the position by May. Candidates who advance will take part in two interviews and a skills test.”

Carefully evaluate whether to use algorithms in your hiring, and if you use them, disclose it. Many hiring software providers use artificial intelligence to help select candidates from applicant pools. But AI can pick up biases of the humans running the job search, or exacerbate bias by basing algorithms on past criteria. If you use AI, tell candidates so, explain why you feel the benefits outweigh the harms, and give them the chance to share thoughts or concerns.

When you decide a candidate is not a fit, let them know right away. Don’t wait until you’ve filled the position to let people who weren’t selected know they didn’t advance in the application process. 

Let candidates who advance know what to expect. Tell them who they will meet with for the interview, whether it will be virtual or in-person, and what format the interview will take. If the interview is in-person, share information about the office dress code, how to access your office building, and where candidates can park.

If you ask candidates to complete an assignment as part of the application process, make certain your request is reasonable. Candidates may already be working one or more jobs, so limit the scope of any interview projects to something candidates could complete in a few hours or less.

Thank candidates who aren’t selected for their interest and let them know how they can stay in touch. Share upcoming events or opportunities to interact further with your organization. If you’re open to hearing from them in the future, invite that and share your contact information.


How to Ensure Your Nonprofit’s Culture Lives Up to Its Promise

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: August 17th, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 12th, 2023

You probably love to talk about the strength of your organization’s culture with job candidates, donors, and your board. But do employees and clients experience your organization’s culture the way you intend them to? If not, they may question whether they want to work for or with your organization. Culture might seem like a squishy concept, but there are ways to ensure your organization lives up to its professed values more often than not.

Pretend you’re starting from scratch. How do you want things to get done in your organization? How often should you hold meetings? How do you want managers and their teams to interact? How do you want meetings and the office environment to feel—lots of rapid-fire conversation, or a quieter environment where people work more independently? How should individuals and the team respond when someone makes a mistake? Identifying your organizational goalposts will help you measure whether you’ve hit them or missed the mark.

Gauge employee engagement. Conduct an anonymous employee survey. Ask questions about how well team members believe your organization lives up to its values in different areas. Pay attention to the areas where employees express the most negative sentiments, and focus your energy on those areas.

Be honest and invite employee input. Talk about the areas where your nonprofit has challenges living up to the culture you profess. A workplace where leaders can admit things aren’t perfect will be more effective at retaining top performers than one where employees feel leaders are dishonest. Ask team members for their thoughts and opinions on how your nonprofit can live out its values. Every individual in an organization can help shape culture, and yours will evolve as your nonprofit and its team changes.

Show why your values matter. Many organizational value statements offer no clue as to how the values help their organization succeed. Spell out how your organization’s values shape how you serve the community and deal with challenges. People will be more likely to make choices that uphold organizational culture if they have a sense of why it matters.

Define the behaviors that demonstrate your values. Say one of your nonprofit’s values is integrity. Different people might interpret that in very different ways. Define how you want team members to demonstrate integrity. Should they always prioritize finding the best solution to a problem above the quickest solution? Should they always get a second opinion from a team member when an ethical dilemma arises?

Reinforce your values. Make sure to praise and reward employees when they act in accordance with your values, and share these stories with the rest of your team. And hold people accountable if they consistently don’t act in accordance with your values. Regular reinforcement of your cultural values is one of the most effective ways to make sure they’re put into practice.

Train managers. Managers set the expectations for how work gets done and set the tone for how employees interact with one another. Make sure managers have a full understanding of the organization’s culture, the behaviors that culture encourages and discourages, and how to give constructive feedback and initiate disciplinary action when needed.


I Just Got Promoted. Now What?

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: August 15th, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 12th, 2023

Many nonprofits pride themselves on promoting leaders from within their organization. If you’re reading this because you recently got promoted at your nonprofit, congratulations! Here are some tips to help you adjust to your new role.

Ask lots of questions. You might be tempted to pretend you know everything there is to know about your new role. But that will likely lead to mistakes, and it won’t help you grow your relationships with colleagues. Ask your team members what their daily workload looks like, what projects they currently juggle, and how you can best support them.

Create a transition plan. You may need to cover your old role’s duties as your nonprofit hires to fill the job or find an existing team member or multiple team members to assume your former duties. Communicate with your boss so you understand your responsibilities for handling duties during the transition to your new role. And don’t hesitate to negotiate for what you need, like a definite end date for your old responsibilities. A clear transition benefits everyone.

If you’re managing your former peers, spell out what’s changed. Explain to your team members what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. Do this as soon as possible after your promotion, so old habits don’t persist and create problems. Let your team members know you want to communicate clearly and treat them fairly. Those are two of the main things any employee seeks from their boss, no matter what your relationship with them looked like before you became their manager.

Take time to plan. Your new role may include executing task that rely on other people. Find out the specific goals your team is expected to accomplish and determine how you will measure success. Work with team members to learn their likes, dislikes, strengths, and areas for improvement. For each goal, determine how team members will contribute to it. Set deadlines and regular check-ins with team members to monitor progress, address challenges, and celebrate wins.

Your job is to get interrupted; prepare accordingly. You have tasks you must complete as a manager. But when a team member comes to you in need of assistance, you should prioritize working with that person if at all possible. Anticipate these kinds of interruptions, and include enough time in your schedule to get tasks done even with interruptions.

Show you care. Set aside time to connect personally with your team at the beginning of group meetings or one-on-one check-ins. When they share something that’s important in their lives, listen, and ask them about it later. Communicate that employees can ask for help when they need it, and model that behavior. Give them feedback to help them complete their tasks well. Don’t wait to address problems, and make sure to give lots of positive reinforcement.

Manage up. Make sure to have regular check-ins with your new boss. Ask for specifics about how the team’s work supports the nonprofit’s overall strategy and mission. Ensure you understand the team’s short-term and long-term goals. Bonus: Find out what your boss’s biggest challenges are, and consider how you could help them meet those challenges.

Understand your HR responsibilities. If you’re now managing people, you’ll need to understand expectations of supervisors. Re-read the employee handbook and make sure you understand your responsibilities for reporting issues and managing conflict, as well as who to turn to if you need help.

Connect with other leaders. Networking might feel like too big of a time commitment as you adjust to new responsibilities. But you’ll think more creatively and feel more inspired if you find peers to connect with. A fresh perspective on a challenge you’re facing can help you get unstuck. Connecting with people who are also navigating leadership issues can give you needed support and help build your confidence.


How To Offer Employee Tuition Reimbursement

  • checklist [Icon]Checklist
  • Created: August 10th, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 20th, 2023

Offering employee tuition reimbursement can demonstrate your nonprofit’s commitment to professional development and help you recruit and retain talented employees. Creating an employee tuition reimbursement program takes some work, but can pay great dividends. Here’s a four-step checklist to help your nonprofit launch a tuition reimbursement program.

Step 1: Set the financial foundation

  • Create a budget for the employee tuition program that provides a generous benefit while keeping your organization on sound financial footing.
  • Determine how much tuition reimbursement you could afford to pay if all your employees took part in the program. Not all will, but if more people than you expect decide to take advantage of the program, you’ll need to have room in the budget.

Step 2: Determine the program parameters

  • Will everyone in your nonprofit have access to this benefit, or will you make it available only to certain employees, such as those who have been with your organization a certain amount of time?
  • What types of education programs or courses will your nonprofit cover?
  • What percentage of tuition will your organization reimburse?
  • What will happen if an employee who’s taking part in a tuition reimbursement program is laid off or resigns?
  • Will you require a specific grade level in a course for reimbursement?
  • Explain these parameters in an employee meeting and add them to your personnel handbook.

Step 3: Understand the program’s tax implications

  • Decide whether you will reimburse employees more than the deductible amount.
    Employers can reimburse employees up to $5,250 annually without the employee being taxed on the amount. Your nonprofit could offer more in tuition reimbursement, but any amount above $5,250 per employee annually will be subject to taxes. Employers can also deduct up to $5,250 per employee from their taxes each year. The money must be used toward tuition, fees, and school supplies like books; otherwise, it will be subject to tax.
  • Work with your accounting and benefits providers to set up the administrative capacity to meet the program’s tax implications.

Step 4: Roll out the program and iterate

  • After a year, give your team members a short survey to gauge the effectiveness of the program and how you might make it even better. Use the feedback to continue to improve your tuition reimbursement offerings.


How to Be a Great Mentee

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: August 8th, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 12th, 2023

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably found a mentor, or are working to do so. Congratulations! Mentoring can help you grow as a professional and open new doors in your career and even your personal life. Here are some tips to make the most of your mentoring relationship and be a great mentee.

Know what you’re looking for. Give some thought to your strengths, challenges, and values. Have a few goals in mind that you’d like to achieve and would appreciate a mentor’s help with. Consider what kind of help you’d need from a mentor to get there.

Be proactive and prepared. Bring ideas for topics you’d like to talk about to your mentor meetings. If your mentor likes to receive those ideas in advance so they have time to ponder them, make sure to share your ideas well before your meeting.

Let your mentor know when they’ve helped you. If you try an idea that came out of your mentoring discussions and it goes well, tell your mentor! People can’t always tell if they’re having an impact, and your mentor will want to know if the information they are sharing with you is helpful.

Honor your commitments. If you tell your mentor you’ll do something before your next session, make sure you do so. Show up to your meetings prepared and on time, and in the rare event that you need to cancel, give your mentor as much of a heads up as possible.

Express appreciation. Thank your mentor for their time after each meeting and every time they help you with something.

Listen actively. When your mentor speaks, just listen. Don’t do anything else. Don’t rehearse how you will respond. Allow yourself to take in their feedback before you speak.

When you’re struggling, tell your mentor. Sometimes it feels intimidating to tell a mentor, with all their knowledge, that you don’t know what to do or you made a mistake. But everyone messes up or feels uncertain sometimes. That’s why we have mentors! Opening up to your mentor can help build your bond and allow them to share perspective that will help you find a path forward.

Be open to all perspectives, including constructive feedback. If your mentor says they think you handled something the wrong way, it can be hard to hear. Remind yourself that your mentor wants to help you learn and grow. Listen and thank them for the feedback.

Ask questions. If you’re struggling to understand something your mentor is telling you, don’t hesitate to ask more questions. This relationship exists to help you learn and grow, so don’t be embarrassed to share that you don’t know or don’t understand something.


How to De-Escalate Conflict

  • infographic [Icon]Infographic
  • Created: August 3rd, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 17th, 2023

Violence has increased in America, and people’s tempers may flare even in routine interactions. Here are some strategies nonprofit employees can use to assess the level of conflict in a situation, bring down the heat in difficult conversations, and respond if an action does escalate.

Assess: How Escalated Is the Conflict?

Observe the conflict from a safe distance.

Gauge the level of conflict, whether you have the emotional resources and any needed support to respond, and whether your intervention could increase the potential for harm.

If the individual’s behavior or the situation is escalating and you believe violence may occur, leave the situation, go to a safe location, and seek help.

  • Agitation, the lowest level of conflict, is indicated by signs such as aggressive body language, sighing loudly, and eye-rolling. (Note: at times, some neurodivergent individuals may display gestures such as eye-rolling without aggressive intent.)
  • Escalation, the middle level of conflict, includes signs such as pacing, finger-pointing, using an aggressive tone of voice, raising one’s voice, or arguing.
  • Peak conflict, the highest level, includes verbal abuse (like shaming, humiliating, or harassing someone); spitting or inappropriate touching or gestures; physical aggression; or the display of weapons.

Take Action to De-Escalate Conflict

Take a few deep breaths to ground yourself before you act.

Change the setting. If you can, remove people from the area. This could mean asking some of the parties in a conflict and onlookers to leave.

Respect personal space. Maintain a safe distance, and do not touch the person who is upset.

Listen. Give the person your full attention. Nod. Ask questions when you can. Do not change the subject or interrupt.

Empathize. Show genuine concern and a willingness to listen without judgment.

  • Speak calmly to show empathy.
  • Monitor your volume and do not raise your voice.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Be aware of emphasizing words or syllables, which can escalate a situation.

Language and Actions to Use and Avoid in Conflict

Avoid: “Calm down.”

Say: “I can see that you are upset.”

Avoid: “I know how you feel.”

Say: “I understand that you feel…”

Avoid: “I can’t help you.”

Say: “I want to help, what can I do?”

Avoid: “Come with me.”

Say: “May I speak with you?”

Avoid: Standing rigid directly in front of the person

Try: Keeping a relaxed, alert stance slightly to the person’s side

Avoid: Pointing your finger

Try: Keeping your hands down, open, and visible at all times

Avoid: Faking a smile

Try: Maintaining a neutral, attentive facial expression


How to Be a Great Mentor

  • quick-tips [Icon]Quick Tips
  • Created: August 1st, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 12th, 2023

Mentoring a colleague or intern can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both parties; the lessons and learning from a mentorship can be beneficial to your nonprofit’s mission as well. If you’re a mentor, here are some ways to build a great relationship with your mentee.

Get to know your mentee. Ask about their professional interests and goals. Listen with no agenda except to learn more about your mentee. Find out what kinds of things they want your help and guidance on. Tune into areas of shared interest, but also resolve to discover and explore areas of difference and unique interests and experiences.

Set expectations collaboratively with your mentee. Consider:

  • How often will you meet?
  • How available will you be to your mentee between meetings?
  • How will you know if the mentorship is fruitful?
  • How will you work together? Will you give your mentee “homework” between meetings, or simply have free-flowing discussions?

Celebrate their achievements. Mentor-mentee discussions can get heavy, as mentees often seek help or guidance on issues they struggle with. Make sure to highlight and cheer your mentee’s accomplishments, too. When you see your mentee excel, name it and congratulate them.

Honor your commitments. Treat your meetings with your mentee as you would any other professional responsibility; work to make every meeting, and if you ever need to miss a meeting, let them know as soon as possible. Accountable means doing the things you agree to do. When you tell your mentee you’ll do something, do it.

Look for ways to help them grow. As your mentee shares their goals with you, keep an eye out for opportunities that could help them reach those goals—like a conference on a subject they want to learn about, or an introduction you could make to a potential future boss.

Ask thoughtful questions. When your mentee shares a struggle or a dream, ask questions to learn more about why something’s important to them or why they reacted a certain way in a conflict. A mentor can provide valuable outside perspective to help their mentee see patterns in their behavior, both strengths and challenges.

Avoid assumptions. It can be easy to jump to conclusions about what your mentor might be thinking or feeling. But if you’re ever unsure about their reactions to something you say, ask. You’ll learn more about your mentor and glean information about how best to work with them.

Share your own struggles. Your discussions should principally center on your mentee, not on you. But if you have relevant experience to share, especially about setbacks and challenges, do so. When you’re vulnerable, you will encourage your mentee to be vulnerable. This can show your mentee they’re not alone in facing professional difficulties and help build their confidence.

Prepare to learn. Mentoring is a two-way relationship, and many mentors in successful pairings learn a great deal from their less experienced mentee. Open your mind and heart to learning from your mentee. If you’re struggling with a work-related decision or fork in the road, ask your mentee: Would it be ok if I asked for your advice? What would you do?

Don’t make decisions for your mentee. Help your mentee see multiple sides of a situation and explore the possibilities, but resist the temptation to make decisions for them. A great mentorship helps the mentee get new perspectives and solve problems for themselves.


How to Create an Employee Professional Development Plan

  • checklist [Icon]Checklist
  • Created: July 27th, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 12th, 2023

Studies regularly show that one of the most effective ways to recruit and retain great employees is to support their professional development. Many professional development opportunities cost money, but many others cost nothing. Use this checklist to create professional development plans for each member of your team that will show how much your organization values them.

Consider creating an organization-wide professional development framework. To do this, you’ll need to know:

  • What skills and abilities your organization seeks in its employees
  • What skills your employees need to improve to deliver the mission
  • What resources—including money, time, and information—exist to invest in skills development
  • How your organization will offer professional development (e.g., will you hold your own programs quarterly, cover employees’ attendance at an annual conference, etc.?)
  • How you will communicate professional development opportunities to your team

Ask team members to assess their own skills.

  • Create a survey that asks them to identify strengths they bring to the role and challenges they face.
  • Find out what skills, career paths, and competencies interest your team members.

Review the skills assessments with an eye to your team’s needs.

  • Compare your assessment of each individual’s skill level and their work record with their self-assessment.
  • Look for opportunities where individuals’ skills and interests align with the goals of your team.

Build resources for professional development at your nonprofit.

  • Seek nonprofit discounts from third-party providers.
  • Include pitches for training funds in your grant applications.
  • Consider peer-to-peer coaching opportunities (can one employee train another on a key skill?)
  • Explore mentoring and skills training options through professional association memberships.
  • Ask board members for referrals who could provide pro bono training in needed areas.
  • Use the “train-the-trainer” approach; ask employees who develop a new skill to train others

Collaborate with employees to build their professional development plans.

  • Consider where the employee needs support to make the most of their strengths and address their challenges.
  • Revisit job descriptions. What skills and competencies can the employee improve that will impact their job performance?
  • Revisit your nonprofit’s mission and strategic plan. Are there organizational gaps that professional development could help close?

Guide employees to monitor progress, celebrate wins, and navigate challenges.

  • Ask employees to record the professional development steps they take, what they learned, and how they applied lessons and takeaways.
  • Review progress regularly with employees.
  • Discuss challenges and additional opportunities for learning.


How to Stay Calm in Tough Situations

  • factsheet [Icon]Factsheet
  • Created: July 25th, 2023
  • Last Updated: July 12th, 2023

We’ve all faced challenging situations at work. Sometimes we can step away to pause and collect ourselves, but sometimes conflict surfaces in the middle of a tense meeting or a challenging interaction with a client. Here are some things you can do in mere seconds to stay calm during a difficult interaction at your nonprofit.

Before conflict arises

Nourish yourself. Make it a regular practice to get enough exercise, eat nourishing food, drink plenty of water, and replenish your system with sleep. The more mental and physical resources you can draw on when conflict arises, the better off you’ll be.

During conflict

Breathe. Even in the middle of a tough conversation, you can take deep breaths, which activates the calming capacity of your parasympathetic nervous system. Inhale for four counts and exhale for six. When your exhales are longer than your inhales, it primes your body to leave fight-or-flight mode and enter a more relaxed state.

Cool down. Literally. To change your physiological response to conflict, bring down your body temperature. Take a sip of water, touch a cool surface in the room, or put an ice cube from your drink in your mouth.

Ask questions. Give yourself time to respond in a constructive way. Ask questions like “I’m hearing that you’re unhappy with how our app is working for your benefits. What else do you need me to know about the problem?” This will help you process your emotions and consider what to do next.

Distract yourself. You need to listen to the person who’s upset you, but at the same time, give yourself something to think about besides your emotional response. Dig your feet into the floor, feel the sensation of your hips in your chair, or focus on the eye color of the person you’re talking to.

Have some go-to responses. When you’re not in the middle of conflict, take a moment to come up with a couple of things you could say in a heated situation. Examples include: “Thanks, I need a little time to think about that” or “Can you tell me more about that?” This approach keeps you in the conversation while giving you precious time to calm down.

After conflict

Take time to process. The strategies outlined here will help you navigate difficult situations with poise. But you’ll still need to take time to understand what happened and your reaction; if you don’t do so, mental and physical stress on your body will mount. Take time to explore your feelings about the conflict alone or with someone you trust. This will help you determine if you need to revisit the issue with your manager or the person who triggered you.