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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With Flagging Morale
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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With Flagging Morale - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With Flagging Morale

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With Flagging Morale

People who work in nonprofit organizations understand that theirs is a higher purpose. They accept regular worries about funding, smaller paychecks, and longer hours in exchange for the satisfaction that often comes with a life of service. However, this tension between working on behalf of others and earning enough to meet their own needs creates an understandable danger zone where employees' morale can pivot without warning. We have all experienced the quicksand of declining workplace morale: many times, by the time you're aware you're sinking in it, it's too late to get yourself out, and that goes double for workers in the nonprofit sector, where job security is iffy and often dependent not on employees' hard work, but on the reliability of donors and governments.

There is no formula for keeping spirits up, because morale is a tricky thing with a million variables, and what works one day in one place may not work there the next, and it may never work in a completely different environment, so the burden is on leadership to keep a finger on the pulse of every area within the organization. Respond quickly when those quicksand warning signs show up, but also consider regular morale-boosting efforts before the warning flags ever pop up. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

In times of uncertainty, communicate clearly, honestly, and regularly.
If there's a chance people will lose their positions, don't pretend the possibility doesn't exist, and don't dodge questions. It's a bummer to be told that you've got a 25% chance of having your position cut, but it's worse not to be told anything, or to be misled. Yes, you may lose good people this way if they decide to look elsewhere before the ship sinks, but you're just as likely to earn loyalty for your forthrightness. Explain to everyone what you're doing to prevent cuts, and stay in front of the issue from the moment the possibility appears until it the threat level cools off. For a lot of people, knowing their leadership has their backs is all the morale boost they need.

Organize appreciation.
If you have a large organization, tap one department to plan and execute some kind of appreciation initiative aimed at another department. Have your executives take your managers to lunch; have your managers plan a picnic for their departments; have the social workers take the volunteers on an outing. If your organization is smaller, you have tons of flexibility for thank-you lunches, outings, a visiting yoga instructor, or smoothie day, and if you can get people from the population you serve--the beneficiaries of your organization's work--to plan little gestures of thanks for the people all over your org chart, get them going. Often, a thank-you from those who receive the benefit is a reminder and a boost for everyone involved.

Formalize affirmation.
Everyone likes to have his or her strengths and contributions affirmed. There are few things stronger than a thank-you, but an affirmation also goes a long way toward reminding people of their value. Plan affirmation days for specific employees, during which everyone else sends an email, leaves a note, or stops by to express specific appreciation for that person's talents and gifts. Everyone brings something unique to the team; encourage teammates to highlight the contributions of others, for everything from friendly smiles to a magic touch with the photocopier or the great pasta salads at monthly potlucks. Follow "Sally Social Worker Appreciation Day" with "Annie Accountant Appreciation Day" and "Tommy Tech Guy Appreciation Day" until you've gone through the whole organization. Then take a couple of months off and begin again.

Turn everyone's attention elsewhere.
Focusing on your own travails is the surest way to find your morale sagging; conversely, a great way to feel better about yourself is to focus on the needs of others. People who work in nonprofits are already great at this, or they wouldn't be in their line of work. But consider, rather than sending thank-yous internally, giving someone the task of formally thanking another organization, perhaps one that does similar work or serves the same community in a different way. Organize and execute a thank-you gesture for the other group on behalf of your whole organization, with a luncheon or some hand-made gifts and signed cards. This kind of thing is so out-of-nowhere that many of your most dedicated people will experience the rush of expressed gratitude for others, the kind of thing that can be contagious, especially if (fingers crossed), the group your organization thanks is inspired to thank someone else in kind.

The point is that keeping morale up should be part of a leader's everyday job. Try one of these ideas, and when that's done, start on the next one or one of your own, so that, like the payroll, thank-yous and affirmations are meted out regularly, but in new and creative ways. Our moms were right: you can never say thank-you too many times.


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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With Flagging Morale - Executive Leadership Articles

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