In 2016, the turnover rate for the American nonprofit sector was a staggering 19 percent. Now, if you’re a seasoned nonprofit professional, this number might not be surprising. After all, this is a sector that employs passionate people to do hard work for little money -- it's not a formula that guarantees retention.
However, when we treat turnover as inevitable, we can lose sight of its severe consequences.
A 2012 study estimated turnover costs at 100 to 300 percent of the base salary of the replaced employee (depending on wage and role).
If this seems impossible, consider the range of costs associated with replacing someone: there’s off-boarding, recruitment, on-boarding, and the loss of productivity as the new person gets up to speed.
There are two broad approaches to minimizing the cost of turnover to your organization. The first is to manage turnover -- in other words, to make the processes associated with replacing an employee as seamless as possible. The second is to boost retention -- because you won’t have to deal with turnover costs if your best people want to stick around.
To keep costs down and ensure that your organization is functioning well, it’s critical that you are adopt interlocking strategies to simultaneously manage turnover and encourage retention. In this article, we’ll explore tech tools that can help you do just that.
Tools for managing turnover
For many organizations, high turnover is a reality. Sometimes it’s a temporary phase; other times, it’s the result of specific HR practices (e.g. employing student interns who move on when their program is done). Whatever the cause may be, you need to be active and strategic in minimizing the impact that a revolving door can have on your organization.
Capture institutional knowledge
When key employees leave, they take their institutional knowledge with them. Without a system in place to capture this knowledge, you’re setting up a vacuum that will make onboarding and training processes for new hires sloppy, slow, and redundant.
The best approach is to treat institutional knowledge as a living, breathing entity that your entire team helps create on a daily basis.
If everyone is constantly contributing expertise and insight to a common body of knowledge, you won’t need to subject employees who are transitioning out of the organization to grueling exit interviews.
Cloud services are especially useful for capturing institutional knowledge because they allow for seamless and democratic collaboration across the team. (Of course, you can set individual/team permissions to ensure only the people who should be contributing to certain areas are able to.)
Recommended tool: Google Sites is part of Google’s G Suite for Nonprofits (free for eligible TechSoup Canada members). Sites allows you to create organizational wikis that store and centralize important information, such as training materials, guidelines, and protocols. Giving your team a one-stop destination for accessing and sharing knowledge facilitates easier learning and greater autonomy. For more information, check out “Your Nonprofit Needs a Wiki: How to Revitalize Your Knowledge Management”.
Facilitate person-to-person online training
It’s not enough to provide new hires with access to knowledge -- their effectiveness and productivity depends on the quality of one-on-one training you provide. But in many organizations, scheduling training meetings across multiple teams and locations poses a challenge.
Opening up spaces for online training and mentorship can help dissolve the barriers to connection. Digital communications platforms also enable new hires to reach out to relevant people with questions in real time, so that learning is a continual process.
Trainings are an important component of institutional knowledge. Many platforms will enable you to record training sessions and make them accessible to the team. This saves new hires from having to hunt through notes to figure out the answers to their questions.
Recommended tool: Slack. This organizational chat app allows for secure digital communications, file sharing, and VoIP calls. Conversations can be segmented by teams, focus areas, locations, etc. Both the web and desktop interfaces are intuitive and easy to use.
Tools for boosting retention
Investing in retention is the long-term solution to high turnover. When your employees feel valued, heard, and happy, they’re much less likely to jump ship. Strategies for boosting retention include paying fair wages, opening up opportunities for internal growth, and encouraging a healthy work/life balance. Treat your team right and the entire organization will reap the rewards.
Fundraise for higher salaries
It’s no coincidence that high turnover and low salaries are both endemic throughout the nonprofit world. Scarce resources have long been a justification for underpaying staff, which leads to diminished morale and employee burnout. And when your people suffer, so does your organizational effectiveness.
Like just about every other nonprofit on the planet, you are likely dealing with a limited budget and pressure to keep overhead low.
Here’s the thing -- you can’t run an ethical organization if you’re not providing a decent income to your team.
Rather than diverting money from your front line programming, focus on enhancing your fundraising efforts. Donor management software can help you create data-driven fundraising strategies and target customized segments of your donor list.
Recommended tool: DonorPerfect is a robust low-cost donor relationship management platform. Use DonorPerfect to track contributions, manage communications, and analyze data to create fundraising campaigns that will resonate with your networks. The software is especially well suited for organizations that prioritize ease-of-use over customization.
Provide enticing benefits
An attractive benefits package can go a long way toward fulfilling the needs of your team, making people happy, and encouraging retention. In addition to providing health and insurance coverage, get creative -- offer benefits such as flexible hours, the ability to work from home, access to wellness programs, and funding for professional development. Ask your team what they’d like to see in a benefits package and do your best to provide it.
Staff and human resource management tools can help you track benefits for all of your employees.
Recommended tool: Staff Manager is an affordable, user-friendly HR management program that stores, retrieves and safeguards employee information in one place. Staff Manager can help you track compensation, benefits, evaluations, training, time off and more. You can create and customize your own employee letters using Microsoft Word and populating them with fields from Staff Manager, as well as import employee data from Intuit QuickBooks.
Conduct regular holistic assessments
When employees and leadership have the opportunity to regularly share honest feedback with one another, it creates a ripple effect. Open lines of communication help align expectations on both sides and ensure that individual team members are contributing to the best of their abilities. It also shines a light on a team member’s frustrations, successes, and aspirations -- all of which can help drive the evolution of the role so that it grows with the person. And employee feedback is an invaluable source of insight into how your organization can better fulfill the needs of its people.
There are many approaches to fostering a culture of actionable communication within an organization. One of the most popular is called 360 degree feedback, which invites the circle of people around an individual -- managers, direct teammates, subordinates, and even external beneficiaries and/or partners -- to share their thoughts on the staff member’s performance. The goal is to create a system for holistic and ongoing feedback to help people reach their full potential within the organization.
Recommended tool: Google Forms is a G Suite service that allows you to create and deploy customizable forms and surveys. It's powerful, easy to use, and free for eligible TechSoup Canada members (as part of Google for Nonprofits).
Note that Google Forms is not a dedicated employee appraisal tool, so if you want to implement a 360 degree feedback strategy you’ll still have to design the system from the ground up.
Shifting perspective on turnover
Turnover is a real challenge within the nonprofit sector, but it can also be a spark for vital reflection and growth.
If your nonprofit is hemorrhaging talent, it’s critical that you figure out why. Ask yourself and your team some hard questions. What HR practices aren’t working? What elements of organizational culture are driving people away? How can you better fulfill the needs of your people?
Technology can be an important component of your strategy for dealing with turnover, but it’s only a means to an end. Ultimately, your goal must be to create a culture in which people are satisfied, challenged, and eager to commit themselves fully to their work.