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Manage Staff and Volunteer Turnover

You’re running some great programs. Your staff – even the part timers with no benefits – are knocking themselves out working overtime for no extra pay. Your volunteers are spending 40 hours a week just making themselves available for your non-profit’s needs. It’s all good.

Or is it?

The truth is that staff and volunteers, no matter how much they care, can burn out if they’re exhausted, overwhelmed, or under-appreciated. As a non-profit manager, you can help your staff and volunteers avoid burnout by paying close attention to their needs and taking pre-emptive action before small problems become big ones. Here are some of the common problems and what you can do to address them:

Staff and volunteers are working too many hours

When you’re gearing up for conducting and closing down a major event such as a theatrical production, fundraising event or opening, it’s easy to wind up working into the wee hours of the morning for days on end. When it’s all over, though, staff and volunteers alike are likely to feel exhausted and even a bit let down. As a result, they may back off, take time away, and even lose energy for ordinary day to day activities.

Here are some tips for solving this problem: Keep an eye on staff and volunteers to be sure no one is working so hard that they’re losing sleep or missing out on important family events. Reward extra-hard work with kudos and tangible awards. Depending upon your situation, consider a mini “awards” ceremony for your hardest working volunteers, or a cash bonus for dedicated employees.

Volunteers are asked to do dull or repetitive work

Your volunteers want to help, but your staff has no time to plan for volunteer projects. As a result, volunteers are either turned away or asked to perform tedious work for no pay. In the long run, even interested volunteers decide it’s just not worth the effort, and find somewhere else to spend their time and energy.

Here are some tips for solving this problem: Work with your staff to plan for volunteer involvement. What can volunteers do that can (1) support and not overwhelm staff; (2) interest the volunteers and tap their abilities and imagination; (3) result in a better experience for clients/patrons? Assign a staff member the job of volunteer liaison, and be sure the staff member has the time and authority needed to do the job well.

Your staff is exhausted and underpaid

Your staff loves working for your organization, but the pay is so low they must work another job (or they’re doing two jobs for the price of one at your non-profit). With so much on their plates, staff members begin to fall apart on the job, forget details, or even get sick.

Manage Staff and Volunteer Turnover

Here are some tips for solving this problem: Put staff compensation at the top of the list instead of the bottom when it comes to budget time. Yes, your staff is dedicated, but no one can live on a sense of fulfillment and self-worth. In the long run, it takes cash to pay the rent and time to care for a family and home. Your staff work hard for you, and they deserve support.

Experienced staff leave too soon

You have a terrific group of young staffers, but as soon as a staffer really gains the skills you need – poof! They’re out the door. As a result, you’re the only experienced individual in your organization.

Here are some tips for solving this problem: Pay attention to where your young staffers are going and find out what’s taking them away. Chances are they’re leaving for a combination of creative opportunity, authority, and higher pay. Even if you can’t offer much in the way of higher pay, there’s a good possibility that you can offer opportunities for professional and creative growth within your own organization. By asking staff what they want in their next job, you can structure your organization to provide it.

Whether you’re running a homeless shelter or a Shakespearean theater, the truth is that your building and facilities are not the heart and soul of your organization. In fact, your staff and volunteers are the most precious asset you have. When trained, experienced people walk out the door, you lose your substantial investment in making them part of your organization. It’s up to you to call them back – and to offer them the support, time, opportunity or authority they need to grow.


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