The Importance of Nonprofit Workplace Culture: How Measurement and Training Can Play a HUGE Role

With a mission on your mind and a fundraising quota to meet, it’s hard to justify—well, much of anything else. But what if taking the time to focus on other things, like measurement and new staff orientation, would provide better retention rates and a happier staff?

The second interview in our nonprofit culture series focuses on the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands.

We interviewed Nichole Turgeon, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands. BBBS of the Midlands was named one of the NonProfit Times Best Places to Work for 2014. They’re a small nonprofit organization that operates with a staff of around 26 employees.

About their workplace:

“We want to do everything we possibly can to help the kids in our program, and we feel accountable to the kids who aren’t in our program yet, so we do a lot to measure performance of the organization as a whole and of the various work teams,” Nichole said. “But we’re also a place where we support each other. We like to have fun together.”


1. Why Measurement is Important:

“We use Gallup tools to help measure employee engagement. And it’s really important to us. I had a donor say to me once that we are a people-helping-people organization, which is absolutely what we are. So, our greatest resources are people—our paid staff and our volunteers,” Nichole said. “We want our paid staff to be the best professionals in the field, and we also want them to be highly motivated and engaged in what they do so that they can work with volunteers and families and give everyone a good experience.”

“It [Gallup Q12] helps the supervisors here and the leadership team see that even though we always score very highly on that [one of the areas], there’s always an area where you’re not doing as well. I think that’s one of the things that has helped us improve over the years, too, is we can look at that and say, ‘Okay, this particular area we took a dip in. What’s going on? Is there something that we need to change or conversations we need to be having with employees about some challenges they’re facing?’”

“We’ve also done recognition interviews with individual employees – sitting down and asking them how they’d like to be recognized when they do well,” she said.

The Takeaway:

It’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced working environment of a nonprofit organization. Sometimes it feels like you’re constantly in overdrive. But stepping back to figure out what’s working, and why, can make a world of difference in the morale of your staff.

Find out what’s bothering them. Find out what your organization could improve on. If you’re actively striving to make a difference, nonprofit staff is going to take notice. Let them know that you care about them, and they’ll increase their love for your organization and the way it operates in the future.

2. Why Onboarding is Vital:

“There’s a tendency to introduce yourself to the new employee, give him a pile of stuff, spend a bit of time with him, and be like, ‘Okay, now hit the ground running,’” Nichole said. “If you forget to tell them how to use the copier or just those really basic things that you don’t think about when you’ve been in an organization for a long time, that can be really stressful. And it’s just not a good way to start off a career with an organization.”

“People much more well-versed in employee engagement and human resources than me have written about the importance of employee onboarding. With new board members, we do the same thing.”

That’s why BBBS of the Midlands employs tactics like an employee onboarding and orientation process, shadowing of employees who do the same type of work and benchmarks to accomplish within the first 90 days of working.

The Takeaway:

We’re all busy. But neglecting to take your new staff and board members through the proper onboarding steps can end up causing a lot of frustration in the future. Start your staff members off on the right foot for an increased chance at retention.

So what can your organization do? Develop an onboarding guide that tells your new staff member the history of the organization, how you do even the simple things around the office and why you do the things the way you do them. Laying it all out there offers a chance to really figure out the inner workings of your organization and leaves the door open for improvement.

3. Make it Cheap and Fun:

“One of the really cheap and easy things that nonprofits can do that our staff loves is to have a potluck, which costs the agency very little. So that’s something that we do. And it’s a very small thing, but we found that our staff really enjoys. So, we try to take opportunities to gather together.”

The Takeaway:

It doesn’t always have to be an event organized by upper management. Encourage your staff to do extracurriculars outside of what’s planned. It can be something as simple and cheap as grabbing dinner together once a quarter or organizing a get together at somebody’s house. If you host the first event, it’ll spark other people’s interest.

The Rundown:

“As our culture has improved over the years, we’ve seen growth in our program, in terms of the number of kids we’re serving, and in our quality of our programming,” Nichole said.

Through measurement and onboarding, you’ll increase the likelihood of new staff and board members understanding their role and feeling comfortable in the new role. In turn, staff retention is more likely and your employee engagement and happiness will thrive.

Images via BBBS of the Midlands Facebook Page.


Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

May 22, 2014

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