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Nonprofits are not exempt from the current labor market shortages associated with the “Great Resignation.” The pandemic, social and political events, and the relentlessness of navigating both personal and professional priorities created a perfect storm. Professionals in every sector feel burned out, disenfranchised and are seeking a new normal which goes beyond remote work. While there is not a silver bullet solution, there are tangible steps that organizations can take to revitalize their culture and mission.

Much of the “new normal” discussion continues to focus on remote and hybrid work models. However, today’s professionals seek a work transformation far greater than the location of their laptops. Providing and allowing remote work is now a given; nonprofit leaders must think bigger.

Work, life balance is often talked about as a key driver of employee satisfaction. The problem with traditional thinking, however, is the notion of balance which suggests there is a magical mathematic equation that will work for everyone. Work is part of our lives and for our work to be meaningful, our lives must be part of our work. For nonprofits to successfully navigate the demands of today’s workforce, they must have the courage to rethink, re-engage and reimagine how and why we work.

On the surface, the “why” for most nonprofit organizations seems simple. Nonprofits were mission-driven before it was fashionable in the commercial world. Inherently, the people working in nonprofit organizations have an alignment on mission and a passion that drives them and the organization. However, that connection was lost for many during the pandemic. Daily interactions with like-minded and motivated people, services to beneficiaries, and the way we deliver our missions transformed to adapt to a COVID-19 environment. Instead, these critical and uniting elements were replaced with seemingly countless conference calls and virtual events.

Reengagement is essential. On the path forward, consider the following steps:

  1. Define the professional values that drive your organization. Every nonprofit has unique needs and must take steps to address its individual challenges and opportunities. Ensuring your organization has clearly defined values understood across the organization will build a strong foundation for your mission driven work.
  2. Double down on your mission. Having a clear mission is key to engaging and attracting impassioned talent whose values align with your nonprofit’s unique goals. The impact of your programs will reflect your employees’ satisfaction.
  3. Support candid, open and frequent dialogue. Employees already face enough uncertainty in a COVID-19 environment. Don’t let your organization be another source. Regularly communicating operational changes can help boost employee trust and morale, and ultimately, employee retention.
  4. Encourage human connection. With many organizations going remote or transitioning to hybrid work models, it’s easy to lose track of those driving your mission forward. Counteract this by offering virtual meetups between coworkers or planning COVID-safe, in-person activities.
  5. Lean into flexibility. To support a work, life balance for your staff, it’s important to understand the challenges they face beyond your organization, especially in a COVID-19 environment. Meet people where they are, one conversation at a time.

While every nonprofit is different, there are commonalities in the strategies available to support an impassioned and engaged workforce. At their core is the human element. In a remote and digital environment, it’s critical to revitalize your staff with open communication, new connections and professional values to sustain your mission-critical work.

By Andrea Espinola Wilson. This article originally appeared in BDO USA, LLP’s “Nonprofit Standard” Blog (December 20, 2021). Copyright © 2021 BDO USA, LLP. All rights reserved.

If you have questions about nonprofit organizations, please reach out to Sarah DeVoe for more information.

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