Blog Out Loud 2014 - Power of Family

Meet Greg Davenport, the third speaker of the 4th Annual Blog Out Loud. This is a blog post introducing his presentation on November 18th, 2014. Be a apart of the conversation at #BOL14. Register for the event here.

My Understanding

My entire career has been spent in the nonprofit sector. In a relatively brief amount of time, I have been fortunate to be employed by three separate organizations, each representing a different size, community and mission.  At every stop, I have developed lasting relationships with wonderful colleagues and other peers in the field.  Learning about their efforts, the goals, struggles and successes, I often recognized a common thread - family. On some level, nearly everything we are trying to achieve is for the betterment of family life.

Mission and vision statements of numerous nonprofits emphasize the importance and power of a strong family. Just look at the United Way. As the largest nonprofit in the world, the organization serves as a clearinghouse for over $4 billion in annual contributions. These funds are distributed to thousands of organizations whose missions align with the vision of the United Way, “a world where all individuals and FAMILIES achieve their human potential through education, income stability and healthy lives.”  Family is a core component of philanthropy.

The Irony

Though proud to be a champion of these commendable endeavors, I find great irony in the fact that very few of those leading the charge had families of their own.  Many of us at the program level are young professionals, just beginning their careers and personal relationships.  Management was often composed of those without children or empty nesters pursuing a second career. The age and talent gap missing from nonprofit organizations is alarming, especially considering this ‘gap’ often represents the target age demographic of services provided.

While the make up of these teams could be attributed to HR procedures or even the mindset of a nonprofit professional, I blame the culture. The community, programs and relationships surrounding these organizations make them a wonderful resource for any family. But the collective ‘norm’ for an employee in regards to time, opportunity and compensation, creates an environment not conducive to family life. 

Myths 

The norm I refer to has been instilled into organizations by three cyclical myths: 1.) Mission or family – The notion that nonprofit professionals can not be effective unless they sacrifice family time for their work. 2.) Pay your dues – The understanding that every young nonprofit professional will go through a period of incredible stress, working more hours than the President of the United States and for less pay than volunteers. Those who survive this test will have a chance to move into a leadership position. 3.) Lack of resources – The belief that nonprofits are unable to support fulltime employees and therefore must scrape by with part time staff and volunteers.

Solutions

These issues can detract from a family culture. Rather than dwell on the problems, I would like to offer three simple suggestions all nonprofits leaders are capable of implementing.  The changes involve treating your staff and co-workers like a family and by doing so; you create a working environment that embraces family life both in and out of the office (did I use the word family enough?)….

1.) Say “Go Home.” Undoubtedly, there will be days, weeks, maybe even months on the calendar in which nonprofits professionals are going to be putting in tireless hours – it’s the nature of the work. The problem is these conditions quickly become the norm for employees rather than the exception.

Not all hours spent in the office are productive. Success should be measured by the outcomes created, not hours logged.  Horror stories exist of organizations whose employees brag about how long they stay in the office or how many days in a row they worked 12+ hour shifts. This is not a healthy work environment.

Leaders need to address these circumstances by simply saying, “Go home,” when the work is not urgent. Tell staff to work from home, leave early on a Friday or take time off to watch their child’s sporting event. These hours away from the office are neither vacation nor sick days; rather they are part of the work-life balancing act. Achieving a healthy balance is key to organizational and personal success.

2.) Support your staff….financially. Salaries, perks and benefits in the nonprofit sector will be considerably less than those offered to peers working at for profit companies. Arguing against the reality is a topic for another day. In this instance, my thoughts focus on lack of financial planning which leads to frozen salaries and tremendous reliance on part time staff or volunteers.

Most nonprofit organizations are thrilled when they have the capacity to hire another fulltime staff. Yet rarely, (if ever) is there a plan for growing this employee within the organization. Especially at the programmatic level, these stagnate positions become stepping-stones to promotions at different organizations. Employees may even be satisfied with their work. But when pay is not progressing along at the same pace as life, a change is needed.

Overlooked in the budgeting process, are the incredible expenses incurred through employee turnover. Research has shown this cost to be nearly 20% of the employee’s salary.  Similarly, part time employees and volunteers are less expensive up front, but their inefficiencies are highlighted in the lack of organizational growth or inconsistent program quality.

Lesson - hire fulltime employees and plan for opportunities to grow within the organization.  As a paternal figure, no one would advise their child to seek out a role without growth opportunity. Why do we create such positions and recruit others to take them? Fair compensation with growth potential allows the employee to become more engaged in his/her work knowing they are on a career path that aligns with their professional and personal goals.

3.) ‘Raise’ your team. Another reference to family. I have observed and worked with leaders who are fantastic with this concept. Guide staff in the same manner a parent raises a child. Parents would love to hold onto their children forever, keep close by and in the safety of their home.  However, for a child to truly flourish, they must pursue their own goals, take on new challenges and learn through new experiences.

Leaders in the nonprofit sector are often hesitant to relinquish control and let rising staff direct their own path.  Far too many times you see staff struggling to gain support for new ideas or even external training. Additionally, when management finds great staff, the fear of losing this talent can create a “use it while it lasts” mentality, which is not a positive relationship for either party.

Work with staff to set goals, but let them chase those goals however they see fit.  Provide opportunities for your staff to take on new responsibilities outside of their current job description. And recommend, if not demand, them to get outside of the organization to explore other personal interests.

Common Sense

Everything I have mentioned seems simple and commonplace. Actually implementing these ideas becomes much more difficult when budgets are tight, the community need for services continues to rise and deadlines are always on the horizon.  I can assure nonprofit leaders that the extra effort will be justified and produce results.

Staff members will rally around your values and take pride in representing you and the rest of the organization as well.  Fears about missing out on opportunities elsewhere will subside, knowing they have the potential to grow both within the organization and through external relationships. Most importantly, your team will enjoy coming to work, seeing their colleagues who over time become more like brothers and sisters. Corny as it sounds, it is true.

Through these simple changes you as a leader have not only created an attractive place for professionals with families but also a family culture within your organization. And when your team has successfully bought into this environment….you find yourself in the midst of one big happy family.