Employee Engagement: 5 Strategies for Growing Organizations

Melissa White
October 30, 2019

Employee and Donor Engagement: 5 Strategies for Growing Orgs

Like many nonprofits, there’s a lot of effort that goes into the mission of the organization. You and your team spend months planning and organizing events, and coming up with creative ways to cultivate and retain donors. Not to mention working on your corporate gift programs, grant writing, and building relationships with community partners. Nonprofit work can be fulfilling, yet tiresome, sacrificial and emotionally draining. 

According to the Engaging the Nonprofit Workforce Report from Opportunity Knocks (now Work For Good), greater than 50% of nonprofit employees feel “used up”, tired and run down at the end of the day. Additionally, 62% of nonprofit employees that are engaged in emotional work hide their feelings, which can lead to burnout and turnover.

What’s more, burnout and low employee engagement can negatively impact donor engagement. There’s some truth to happy employees equaling happy customers, or in this case, donors.

Employee Engagement: Understanding the Basics

According to the Gallup organization, work units that score in the top half on employee engagement “nearly doubled their odds of success compared with those in the bottom half.” Organizations in the highest percentile for employee engagement saw a 10% increase in customer (aka donor) satisfaction, as well as 22% greater profitability, and 21% greater productivity. 

And if you think low employee engagement is bad for donor engagement, employee turnover is even worse! With fewer employees to spread around the work, things can easily start to fall through the cracks. 

You may notice that thank you notes and deadlines for appeals start to slip, donor communications become more scattered and infrequent, and other telltale signs that your fundraising programs needs help. After time spent sourcing, recruiting and training a replacement, how much time and attention can you reasonably give to the mission or to donors? 

So what’s an Executive Director to do? Often times, you’re so busy running your organization that you fail to recognize the signs of disengagement and burnout in your employees. Those signs could include:

  • Apathy about tasks or the work
  • A decline in good communication, or an increase in poor communication
  • Lack of participation or no longer providing feedback 
  • Not appearing to be mentally “clear” 
  • Not being as approachable, or more easily upset by small issues or obstacles
  • Being more reserved or quiet
  • Absenteeism or calling out more often
  • Simply getting by doing the bare minimum
  • Displaying more negativity than usual or becoming more cynical

Retain More Employees (and Boost Donor Engagement)

For most nonprofits, the departure of an employee can create quite the headache. Remember the saying, “an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure”? When it comes to employee engagement, a little time and effort can go a long way in preventing employees from leaving for greener pastures. 

Here are a few tips and tricks that you can put into play that will increase employee engagement, and ultimately decrease burnout and turnover:

  • Check in regularly. Regular one-on-one meetings with team members can be invaluable. By checking in frequently (once a week or bi-weekly) it allows you to talk casually and find out what keeps them up at night. By knowing what roadblocks they’re facing, both personally and professionally, you can work together to find solutions that work for everyone.
  • Encourage your employees to provide feedback openly, and actually value their opinion. It’s important to create an environment where employees feel they can express themselves and share creative ideas. Be sure to listen without being critical or shooting down suggestions. By making them part of the solution, employees become more engaged in the mission.
  • Make sure employees have a chance to recharge. This can mean ensuring they take time off and vacations throughout the year or giving season, or allowing them a few mental health days, no questions asked. Equally as important, make sure your employees know their work will be taken care of while they’re out. Nothing kills a vacation more than knowing you’re coming back to a full inbox and a too long to-do list. 
  • Provide mentorship and coaching for professional growth. Employees want to know that they can grow within your organization. By providing training, coaching, or allowing them to take on additional responsibilities within the organization, it provides an opportunity for professional growth. Stagnation can be a morale killer, but having a path forward can lead to greater engagement. 
  • Give praise for a job well done. Kudos doesn’t have to come in the form of bonuses or gift cards. Simply saying “thank you” and “great job” goes a long way in letting your employees know that their work matters. We often spend time focused on goals and deadlines that we fail to give recognition when major milestones, goals or deadlines are achieved. Make recognition an organization-wide priority - it doesn’t just need to come from managers.

Second post in series: Drive Donor Engagement by Mastering Employee 1x1s at Your Org

Third post in series: Giving Season 2019: 5 Ways to Boost Employee Retention

Melissa White has 8+ years of HR experience, with a focus on recruiting and talent acquisition. She has a Masters in Human Resources and her PHR (Professional in Human Resources) certification.

Topics: Nonprofit Marketing
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