Investing in Your Staff

By Hildebrand Family Self-Help Center


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A reaction to “Lessons from Leaders,” a panel at ADVANCE the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network annual conference

21 October 2015

It was a warm fall morning, bursting with traffic down route 128 and the mass pike, the ballroom at the Sheraton Framingham was bustling with nearly 600 people employed at over 400 different nonprofits in Massachusetts. Tammy Dowley-Blackman, the Vice President of CFLeads, moderated the opening plenary, “Lessons from Leaders.” She began the discussion by asking, “How do we do this work and how do we do it well?”

Stewart Lanier, the Director of Consulting & Executive Transitions at Third Sector New England, situates his audiences with a statistic: 64% of nonprofit leaders say they will be leaving their position in 5 years. These leaders, predominately white baby boomers, are “getting off the highway” while Gen-Xers are honking and millennials are looking for alternative routes.

The, perhaps, biggest problem is that the sector under invests in its people, focusing only 1% of its resources on professional development. There is a pressure to fundraise for programming, but not to invest in the staff. “What is the right model of leadership,” Lanier asks before the moderator probes another panelist.

Lisa Brown Morton, the CEO of Nonprofit HR, notes that 68% of nonprofits operate without a succession plan. Nonprofits are facing real challenges around the people they need, she said, they need reality based solutions. And, according to Brown Morton, we need to invest in human resources or, as she refers to it, “human capital.” She recalls three areas that impede upon investment: competitive pay, inability to promote from within, and excessive workloads.

John Bradley, the COO of Year Up, comments that there is an underinvestment in workforce development. At Year Up, which was voted Best Place to Work, Bradley says that they invest a lot of time and energy in the recruiting process to make sure that potential employees are mission-fit. “We are clear on culture right up front,” he said, because if they don’t fit in with the mission and culture both their work and yours will suffer. Bradley says that onboarding is key — 30 days on every new hire at Year Up. It’s important to set objectives, review talent, and chart succession.

Moderator Dowley-Blackman asks, “Where is the sector headed?” Of note, Brown Morton gives two points: (1) more nonprofits are giving or creating new positions for growth opportunities from within and (2) developing recruitment and retention strategies. “Leaders need to get better at asking for resources to better our people,” Lanier says, which sparks a murmur in the crowd. A fellow audience member asks, “Organizations are rewarded for underpaying our employees, how do we justify workforce development when they may move on to another employment opportunity?”

Dowley-Blackman suggests that you quantify your turnover and show how it negatively impacts your organization. On their closing words: Lanier: “Ask”; Brown Morton: “Invest in human capital”; Bradley: “Make it part of your culture.”

This panel was an eye opening experience because Hildebrand prides itself on its investment of employees. We love to promote from within, offer competitive pay and benefits, and provide opportunities for staff to grow within their position and within the company. While oftentimes funders or board members put their focus and care into the support of those being served, it’s important to note that if we do not invest in our employees that might not be putting forth their best self. We are lucky to have a culture, board of directors, and senior management that prides itself the betterment of both clients and staff alike.

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