Tag Archives: EmployeeRetention

Let’s Talk About Compensation – Broadly Speaking

By David A. Mersky

I have written a lot these past few months about the importance of employee retention, in large measure because the process of hiring somebody is so expensive and time consuming.

We have talked about employee onboarding and about corporate culture, both of which are critical to enhancing the self-worth of your new hire by helping them feel you are truly invested in their success and longevity with the organization.

One thing we have not yet covered explicitly is today’s topic: compensation.

I suppose one might think that nobody goes to work at a nonprofit in order to make a lot of money. That may be true. However, nonprofit organizations compete against one another for talent. Some of these, depending on their location, mission, and prominence, may seem more attractive to potential staff than their counterparts.

Compensation is one area in which nonprofits with lower profiles, or that do not operate in major metropolitan areas, can compete effectively for the best and brightest. Focusing on performance-based compensation — not commissions — is one way to compete for talent.

More Than Just Money

I am well aware and endorse the point of view of fundraising professional associations that argue against paying commissions to fundraisers. The media is replete with stories of consultants who charge based on dollars raised and who end up taking more in compensation than whatever incremental benefit they provide to the organizations that hire them.

Fundraising is, after all, a relationship-based field, like financial services or real estate. Fundamentally, it is designed to have one person advise another as to how best to advance the mission of an organizationabout which they both deeply care. Donors need, and want, to know that the money they give goes to support the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the scholars, the athletes, the doctors and researchers, etc. — and does not simply line the pockets of the fundraisers themselves.

All that said, and provided it is not budget-busting, we often recommend performance-based incentives (for development or fundraising staff in particular) as a means of both hiring and retaining quality staff. Here are some things to keep in mind when structuring such a program…

#1. All for one and one for all.

Compensation should be focused on team or department achievement, as opposed to that of the individual. By prioritizing success in this way, you will create an environment where everyone is more likely to work collaboratively and to support one another in their respective roles. In this way, it is never about the individual gift itself, but about the collective work of the team.

#2. Involve staff in the setting of metrics and targets.

Resist the urge to dictate goals from on high. Rather, engage staff — across all functions — to create goals that are both meaningful and achievable that advance the work of the organization. You are much more likely to motivate the team if they are heavily involved in whatever targets are set.

#3. Look beyond the numbers.

Many of the metrics developed will no doubt be quantitative in nature— total cash raised for the college’s annual fund; rate of alumni participation by class; number of face-to-face visits (virtual or in person); percentage of increased gifts in the portfolio versus decreased gifts; to name just a few. Fundraising is numbers-based and quantifiable goals are appropriate.

However, not everything that matters can be put into a spreadsheet. Many of those who contribute significantly to the overall effort do so in non-donor-facing roles. Supervisors, record-keepers, researchers, and those involved in accountability and stewardship are also essential parts of a successful effort. Be sure you find ways to measure and include the work of these important players.

#4. Compensation is a broadly defined term.

A healthy work culture is one in which team members feel supported;that encompasses much more than just financial compensation.

For example, it may mean helping staff strike a balance between professional requirements and personal life by providing compensatory time off when evening or weekend work is required.

Or, it might include your investment in their professional development, whether that means encouraging attendance at workshops and conferences, internal mentoring programs, or more formal educational programs.

Supporting them with quality, up-to-date technology so that they can perform their jobs effectively and with a minimum of hassle is another area that can play an important role.

“Compensation” is whatever you do to invest in the skills, experiences, and work satisfaction of your hardworking staff.

Your Employees Have Choices

As a nonprofit, you operate in a competitive environment. Just as you compete for the attention and resources of donors, you also compete for the time, energy, interest, and commitment of those who work and may one day work within your organization.

Are they there solely for the money? Rarely. But, in most cases, they are also not there solely for the mission. They are evaluating the entire package of what it means to join and stay in your organization.

A well developed, generous compensation plan can offset structural aspects of your organization that are more difficult to modify (size, location, prominence, etc.), resulting in a well-functioning, long-serving group of development staff at every level. This is how you enhance revenue and achieve the mission, vision, and values that are the hallmark of your enterprise.

Retention Begins on Day One

By David A. Mersky

Our firm conducts many searches; you see them listed here every other week when we publish this newsletter. We are proud of our success identifying candidates and helping them integrate into their new positions across the country.

However, in doing this work, we witness a great inconsistency, one that occurs regardless of an organization’s size: the nonprofit spends months to get the right candidate and only a couple of days onboarding new hires. The results range from spectacular to abysmal, with much variation inbetween.

Recently, I saw data that terrified me: 22% of turnover occurs within the first six weeks of employment. Further, 4% of new hires leave a job after a disastrous first day! With onboarding missing, it’s not surprising.

That’s expensive. Some estimates put the cost of quick turnover at three times the employee’s salary — in lost opportunities, productivity, and retraining. And while we do not charge for redoing a failed search, the indirect staff and volunteer leader costs in terms of time spent screening, interviewing, and onboarding yet again are onerous for the organizations.

That’s why we say, to use a familiar phrase, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Avoiding Onboarding Disasters

Onboarding is a critical point in the talent lifecycle. It is that process which bridges the gap between the candidate’s previous experience and the new employee experience. A quality onboarding program is a catalyst for employee satisfaction and retention.

Sadly, many organizations — of any size — devote minimal resources and leadership support to an employee’s first day, week, or month. Some don’t give it even a single thought, opting instead to just toss the employee into the deep end, as if they already know how to swim in that organization’s unique pool.

Do better. What follows are some suggestions.

Before the new employee arrives…

  • Make sure they have a desk assigned to them (even if they will be hybrid, they will need a place to work) and a computer with any needed software. If you still use landlines, set up a phone and extension.
  • Set up their email address and add them to your employee directory. Be ready to add their picture and bio to your web site.
  • Send them the necessary new hire paperwork in advance. If you are set up for them to complete this online, all the better.
  • If you provide parking and permits are required, send that to them so they can park easily on their first day.
  • Remind them to bring a driver’s license (or passport) along with a voided check so you can set them up for direct deposit in your payroll system.
  • A week or two in advance of their start date, provide an agenda for that first day so they know what to expect. Provide bios (or links) for those they will be meeting.
  • Suggest that they may want to post about their new job on their own social media. Give them the company branding and appropriate hashtags so they can show pride in their new position.

When the new employee arrives…

  • Have their direct supervisor review the specifics of the job’s roles and responsibilities. Discuss expectations regarding how the employee will be managed and how best for them to “manage up.”
  • Provide a tour. If you operate in a two-room suite it won’t take long. But if you have a large building, such as a community center, show them the conference rooms, the staff lounge, the kitchen, the restrooms, etc.
  • Schedule regular meetings between the employee and supervisor. One-on-ones are vital for new hires and should take place at least weekly.
  • Introduce the new hire to other staff members with whom they will be working directly. Let the entire organization know that this person is joining the team, share a bit about who they are, and explain what they will be doing.
  • If possible, greet them on that first day with coffee, Danish, yogurt, etc. Schedule a purely social lunch for them and their teammates.

Check In Regularly

Those first few weeks and months are critically important for getting your new hire settled and comfortable. As part of your regular meetings, make sure to elicit feedback by asking direct and specific questions, such as:

  • How do you feel things are going?
  • What do you enjoy most about your role?
  • Is everything as you had expected?
  • What has surprised you?
  • What is working or not working?
  • Do you have everything you need to succeed?
  • How can I be a better manager for you?
  • How can you become a better manager?

Don’t Leave it to Chance

All of the critical processes within your organization — payroll, computer backups, financial reporting, etc. — are done consistently and with clear intention. Everyone knows that these things are essential, so deliberate steps are taken to ensure that they are done well.

Onboarding requires the same commitment and focus. It should be a standard operating procedure that is developed even before a search has started.

As my mother used to say, well begun is half done. By ensuring a thorough and well-coordinated onboarding process, you will reduce turnover while ensuring that your employees remain happy, productive, and successful for years to come.