Nonprofit | Labor Force Management

CEOs/Executive Directors. Nonprofit staff members keep the machine moving forward. It's hard to balance all of the unlimited wants with the limited resources of a not for profit including time with your staff. Burn out is prevalent in the NPO world especially for NPO leaders.


JPG's recommendations for managing a NPO staff:

  • Outsource Non-Core-competencies. Before we even get started on this list, I recommend that you outsource as much as you possibly can for a number of reasons. Outsourcing certain functions helps tremendously with cost savings especially if there is no reason to have functions like bookkeeping, accounting, Human Resources, and other operational functional done in house. You always want to use dollars wisely whether you are a nonprofit, a small business you are bootstrapping it or a public company that has the goal of creating value for the shareholder. Stretching your cash as far as possible is not only wise but it’s your fiduciary responsibility. Put these firms under contract and manage the business function under a contract. You then manage a contract instead of managing individuals in-house which comes with more than just an investment of basic salaries. Outsourcing usually allows you to have access to a team vs one person too. This allows your few core essential employees to keep eyes on mission success versus finding themselves in the business of employing people instead of carrying out the mission. Furthermore, outsourcing allows for a neutral third party to provide objective feedback especially when you are dealing with problem board members and/or staff members. You want the liability shared and you want to risk mitigate. Many NPOs are like holding a ticking time bomb…just waiting for it to go off to then have that bomb go off and then be required to deal with costly lawsuits.

  • Set Metrics. Set annual metrics with your staff members. Ensure that both you and the staff members understand expectations.

  • Provide Feedback. Provide feedback at least quarterly but require staff members to setup 1:1 meetings at least bi-weekly for checkins. No surprises! Each staff member owns their 1:1 meetings. Do NOT micromanage. If they do not set up the meetings, discuss in the next quarterly review or sooner if they are experiencing performance issues.

  • Recognize & Reward. Give your staff member kudos publicly and to the board. The work is hard. complex, thankless many times and endless. A little pat on the back goes a long way. The board MUST know who is doing the heavy lifting and working those long days and carrying the heavy burden.

  • Exercise Performance Compensation. Setup annual performance compensations (“bonus” is an icky word in the NPO world). Performance compensation should be directly linked to agreed upon metrics---performance based compensation only.

  • Conduct Performance Reviews. Never miss performance reviews. Document the review and ensure the staff member understands the good, bad and ugly. Require the staff member to formally acknowledge the memorialized performance review.

  • Allow Open Communications. Allow for open feedback from staff members. 360 feedback reviews are instrumental in improving performance and your organization. Remember never sacrifice many for one!!

  • Include Staffers. Allow staff members to be part of the annual goal setting process. Listen to them. They know what's going on. They understand their bandwidth. It should be a negotiation exercise.

  • Turn the Tables. During coaching/counseling sessions, ask the staff member how they would handle the situation if the roles were reversed. I've done this during a final counseling session and the response was "what, Jen, do you want me to say I should fire me" after the staffer was asked what she would have done if she had a subordinate behaving so poorly and unprofessionally. She knew she was not doing her job and actually being counterproductive and hostile to others. A firing is the last thing you want but it happens and if you don’t do it when you should, you are as good as stealing from the foundation and you, too, need canned or counseled at the very least.

  • Be consistent. Managing a staff is exhausting. Why can't people have as much passion for the mission as I do?!! They don't. It's your life and it's their job. Understanding this is instrumental in successfully managing your staff’s productivity and morale levels. With that being said, we recommend nipping poor behavior and performance in the bud immediately and professionally. Remember what I always say, “Hire Slow. Fire Fast”!!!

  • Be Accountable. Whatever you do and whether you are resource constrained or not, be careful of falling into the trap of being "friends" with your staff members. You are the boss. There is a difference. You are accountable for their mistakes. You are accountable for your mistakes. You get all the mistakes and problems! Ensuring you keep professional and personal separate is imperative. This doesn’t mean you are the wet blanket but when you walk in the door, your staff should understand that the heavy just showed up. Hopefully, the staff is professional and productive but we’d be lying to ourselves if we ignored the fact that there is always one or two bad apples in the group. As the saying goes, “one bad apple can spoil the bunch” and they do.

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