Staff are people, too.

At nonprofit organizations, staff members (or, often, volunteers) can be equated to the programs they administer.

Program coordinator = program.

Ergo, investment in program = investment in program coordinator, right? Right?


Think about it this way. If organizational leadership/management doesn’t invest in a staff member, why should a staff member be invested in an organization? Why should they be loyal to organization leadership/management? Sure, in a tight economy people may feel more tied to a job that usual. But, if you were leading an organization, would you want people working with you to achieve your mission only because they were afraid of unemployment as an alternative? Doesn’t sound like a happy place to work to me.

Millennials, among many other characteristics made through broad, sweeping generalizations, have been said to be loyal to people, not organizations.

So how can we treat staff as people, not programs? How can loyalty be built with Millennials, the next generation of nonprofit leadership? Here are some proposals that spring to mind.

Ask for their opinion

Staff have ideas. But if the ideas are not related to their programs, it may be difficult to find an appropriate place to bring up an idea. So ask. “In your position, you work a lot on ABC. However, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on our work with XYZ as well.” Who knows, you might get some inspiring ideas out of it. People bring diverse work and life experience to a position, so tap into all of it and not just the parts related to their job.

Involve them outside their program area

Especially in the beginning, nonprofit workers are often drawn to an organization because of a belief in a mission. However, their jobs often only related to one small piece of that mission. If there is an appropriate space for committee work – an event that spans the organization’s mission, for example – create a committee to work on it. Granted, we’ve all been on committees that are just huge time sucks; however, speaking from experience, committee work that gets me involved with people and ideas outside of my daily routine can be invigorating.

Cross train

This is kind of an extension of the last point, I suppose. Cross training provides value to individuals, AND organizations. If work is siloed, ie where very clear boundaries are drawn between what is your work and what is mine, it means that losing one individual can cause paralysis to a program. However, especially for young staff that are trying to build their skill and knowledge base, cross training can be invaluable. If a staff member is responsible for communications, but is given an opportunity to learn a bit of grant writing, and maybe facilitate a workshop for program clients, the staff member has gained in experience, and the other program areas have a new person to reach out to in times of staff loss or time crunch.

Make investments in their personal development

I don’t just mean professional development. I mean personal development. Ask where they want to be in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years. While some people are fine with stability and constancy, many are looking ahead to the next move. That might be within the organization, but maybe not, and that’s OK.  What can they get involved with, inside or outside the organization, that can help them on that path? Some people may view this as setting people up for leaving; I believe it’ll keep them around a bit longer than they would have otherwise.

Staff turnover costs an organization money. One step to keep down these costs, and to keep moral up, is to treat staff like people, not just programs.

So, how do you invest in your staff? Or, how have you felt invested in?