It’s time to get serious about keeping top performers on your team. That is the takeaway message from a new report from Nonprofit HR, a Washington-DC based research and consulting organization.

The 2019 Talent Retention Practices Survey chronicles staff retention strategies and practices in over 350 nonprofit organizations from across the US (and some from Canada). Respondents were evenly distributed across the spectrum from small employers (fewer than 10) to large (more than 500 employees), and across budget sizes, from less than $1 million to more than $40 million. The report is one of the first (if not the first) to identify and quantify the challenges around employee retention in nonprofits.

The Center recently published an article in its 2019 Nonprofit Agenda about the cost and downside of employee turnover. As a supplement to that article, here are some steps that key leaders in your organization can take to keep your top performers from leaving. 

What CEOs need to know and do

Know where your organization stands when it comes to retention: What’s your turnover rate, particularly among your high performers and first-year employees? Where are your turnover hot spots? What’s driving those hot spots? And more important, what can you do about them?

  • Recognize that whether you’re aware of it or not, your nonprofit has a reputation as an employer. If you don’t have a listing on Glass Door or one of the other employee rating sites, that won’t last long. Word on the street is rapidly being replaced by word on the web. And it’s not just prospective employees who are checking out those sites—it’s prospective donors as well.
  • Recognize that the three main drivers of employee retention—culture, leadership and career quality—are things under your direct control. What changes do you need to make to your leadership style or organizational culture to improve employee retention? How can you enhance your employees’ career quality?
  • Consider implementing “skip level” conversations. These are periodic conversations with front-line employees about how you can make your nonprofit a great place to work and what staff need specifically to stay with your organization.
  • Use programs like TINYpulse to gather direct, unfiltered information about how your employees are feeling about your organization and their jobs, and what’s enhancing or hindering their performance.
What nonprofit boards need to know and do

While your chief executive is your board’s only employee, the board is responsible for the stewardship of the entire organization. That means making sure that your organization’s culture and practices foster the development of the organization’s human and reputational assets. Implementing that is the executive’s responsibility, but holding the CEO accountable is the board’s job. Ensuring your nonprofit is a stellar place to work starts with your board members.

What HR managers need to know and do

An organization’s HR professionals should be keenly aware of turnover rates and what’s influencing employee retention. CEOs are responsible for a multitude of things, and employee retention, while terribly important, is just one of those things. Here’s what HR staff can do to elevate the importance of employee retention and get the resources and leadership attention needed to do something about it:

  • Gather good data about the factors that are influencing your organization’s retention rates. Continue using the retention strategies outlined in the article, including exit interviews, but consider incorporating retention or “stay” interviews if you’re not doing that already.
  • Make a compelling case to your CEO to help address the areas for improvement. Is it culture? Leadership practices? Or career quality? Help your CEO understand the ROI and the fact that strategies for improving employee retention are usually free or cheap. And those that cost have a big payoff.
  • Help the CEO understand that creating a great place to work can be one of his/her enduring leadership legacies.

It doesn’t matter if your nonprofit’s mission is to inspire, support, educate or transform, it’s your people who are the power behind that mission. Are you doing all you can do to prove to them that they have invested their career and their life energies in the right organization, the right mission, and the right leader?

Contributing author: Don Tebbe, Leadership Succession Consultant, Author and National Speaker, Center Faculty

To learn more, see “It’s time to get serious about employee retention” in the 2019 Nonprofit Agenda.

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