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Five Tips on Engaging Your Nonprofit Staff

It’s been months since your team has met in person. As a manager, how do you maintain your team’s collaboration, focus, and productivity when everybody is scattered in their respective homes and experiencing their own unique challenges? Here, we have put together 5 tips for nonprofit supervisors to engage their staff during the ongoing pandemic.

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Tip 1: Layer Your Communication

Engage Individuals. All of your staff should have a weekly 1-on-1 meeting with a supervisor. During these check-ins, ask your staff about both their work deliverables as well as how they are doing working remotely. These individual meetings will be a key opportunity for in-depth updates on strategy, goals, and team progress. If possible, try to schedule them earlier in the week to set an engaged tone for the coming days.

Engage Groups. Schedule a weekly check-in with your entire team. If you have over 15 staff members, you may need to break this up into smaller groups since video calls get difficult past 12-15 people. (For larger group meetings, consider every other week or monthly instead.) During these group meetings, ask everyone for a brief personal or professional update. Consider scheduling them for Friday, since it will allow people to report on what they have accomplished during the week.

Engage Peers. This is an important time to tap informal leaders at the organization. Encourage your staff to still reach out to each other and keep up a sense of comradery and unity as a team. One way to do this is by creating projects which require two or more people to collaborate.

Tip 2: Create a Work Plan

Set goals. Set weekly and monthly goals for the team and encourage your staff to set daily goals for themselves.

Discover pain points. Ask your staff how work is going, what is difficult, and what they need to succeed in their current situation: more communication, technology, time? Ask yourself what is difficult for everybody and what is uniquely difficult for particular team members.

Plan ahead. Hedge your bets by assuming that remote work will continue for at least two weeks longer than whatever the current government plan is saying. This will give you leeway for transitioning back. For most teams, all staff will not be back in the office at normal hours for at least another two months.

Tip 3: Balance Outreach

Balance video calls with other forms of communication. Video calls grab attention better, but if overdone they can be overwhelming for staff. If a conversation in person would have lasted 5 minutes, then it shouldn’t last 20 minutes on zoom! Balance their use with traditional voice-only phone calls and emails.

Balance productivity with social engagement. Virtual meetings should be predominantly work-focused, with social elements incorporated. You can engage the whole person by asking how people are doing during team check-ins and doing something “fun” at least every other week.

Balance equality with flexibility. Although you should treat all of your staff as equally important team members of your nonprofit, you cannot ignore that different employees are facing different challenges. Some staff are working through challenges such as insufficient childcare, weak internet connection, unusual work hours, or loud and crowded workspaces. Be flexible in providing different team members different allowances.

Tip 4: Address Burnout

Breaks. A lot of staff are working more than ever and the work/life balance is blurred at the moment. Try to find opportunities to at least give small groups some time off or at least less pressure for a day.

Share Progress. As projects get accomplished or goals are met, share with the wider team. Give your team some “wins.” Shout-out specific people who have gone above and beyond.

Be Realistic. Some of us may need to be working more than 40 hours right now and some may actually want to. Model good behavior; for example, if you’re writing an email late at night, schedule it to go out on Monday morning. Ask staff how they are feeling, not how much they are working.

Tip 5: Bring, Leave, Start.

This new remote working situation does not have to be an exact replication of the office. In many ways, this new situation is like running a nonprofit startup again!

Bring. Make a chart of the top five elements of culture and top five projects. Consider which to try to bring into remote work. You may need to adapt, pause, or abandon certain projects.

Leave. Not everything has to continue as usual during this time. Feel free to cut some meetings and pause some projects as needed. Not all of your office life will translate to remote work or is even relevant or helpful anymore to our new context.

Start. You may have new workflows and cultural norms that need to replace the old during remote work. Much of this you will discover as you “muddle along.” Be flexible and willing to adapt to ever-changing circumstances!


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