Too much to do.
Too little pay.
A frustrating board member.
A rejected grant proposal.
Sounds like a normal stressful day at any nonprofit across the county. No wonder many nonprofit employees vent and complain to anyone who will listen.
This situation is really indicative of an unhealthy work culture.
I experienced this first hand when I worked for a large nonprofit. The toxic, negative work environment seeped into my life outside of work hours. I would come home and talk to my boyfriend for hours about how frustrated/mad/upset/stressed/angry I was on a daily basis. It got to the point where he said, “You need to quit. I can’t listen to you talk about this for another minute.”
It didn’t have to be that way at my prior nonprofit and it doesn’t have to be that way at yours.
Here are ten easy, simple, and often free fixes to improve your nonprofit’s office culture in just thirty minutes a day.
1. Communal Coffee Breaks. When caffeine calls, workers typically leave their desks in groups of no more than two or three. Why not schedule a daily coffee break for everyone in the office instead? This gives everyone an opportunity to power through their morning projects before taking a break to chat.
Make it a fun, celebratory time of day when everyone talks and stretches their legs for fifteen minutes before going back to their desks. Consider setting expectations of time duration so that everyone knows how long the break lasts. Encourage everyone to attend and you’ll find your staff looks forward to this as part of the day.
2. Walk a Mile In Their Shoes. Schedule thirty minutes a week for members of different departments to sit together. For example, a member of your fundraising team and a member of your program team spend thirty minutes together. During this time they start to learn about each other’s days and the importance of their work to the organization. Every staff member at your organization should spend time learning about the other parts that make your organization whole.
The Executive Director or CEO should do the same thing with a member from each department. This keeps them up to date with what’s happening in every corner of the organization and prevents them from becoming disconnected from the day-to-day work that makes the organization run.
3. Set Email Limits. One of the largest stressors in any office is email. Piles and piles of it. What about setting an office email policy that sets expectations for how long employees have to respond to emails from one another. What would occur if emails were responded to within 24 or 48 hours? Would there be less email? Would your staff be more productive?
Many nonprofit employees get distracted from important projects by answering emails that don’t need an immediate response. Setting parameters for responding to emails will give your employees some breathing room and might cut down on excessive emails.
4. Free Professional Development: Investing in your employee’s professional development not only shows that they are appreciated, but gives them the skills to do their job better. Consider getting the entire office together and listening to or watching a fundraising podcast or webinar over lunch. Breaking up the monotony of the workday with a new activity that is still work-related can help renew focus and spark conversation.
5. Weekly Feedback: When was the last time you asked for feedback from your team?
Most nonprofits only ask employees to submit feedback once a year, if at all. If you want to be able to accurately track how your employees are feeling about your organization, consider sending out a weekly survey. It should be short (ten questions or less) asking each employee about their accomplishments, workflow, how they felt about their projects, and how they are feeling about the office. Create one survey and automate it to send weekly. Now you’ll have data points from 52 weeks to evaluate office culture rather than a yearly check in. Weekly information also allows you to address staff concerns as they come up rather than letting them fester for a year.
6. Appreciation: You can never show your team too much appreciation. Make staff appreciation a daily habit.
A recent study from the O.C. Tanner Learning Group states that 79% of people leave their jobs because they feel unappreciated. And since nonprofits typically can’t pay high salaries, you better smother them with appreciation. Make your appreciation sincere and heartfelt. Leave a note on their desk, wash all the dishes in the break room, or praise your employees publicly at a meeting.
7. YES!!!!: Practice saying yes whenever feasible. Let your team explore and try new ideas. Some will fail and that’s okay. This practice will lead to a culture of experimentation and growth, and eventually you’ll land on something awesome.
8. Organize. Whether you use Google Drive, Dropbox, Box or some other file sharing system, keep it organized. Nothing is more frustrating than being unable to find documents, reports and information when you need it. Make it a habit to spend thirty minutes a week cleaning up your drive so that it is nice and organized.
9. Early dismissal: Every once in awhile surprise your team by letting everyone leave thirty minutes early. This is an easy and simple way to show that you appreciate employees and want them to enjoy their lives outside of the office.
10. Chore Charts. It sounds like kindergarten, but everyone gets annoyed when the coffee machine runs out or the garbage isn’t emptied. Keep things fair and organized from the beginning to prevent future animosity with an office chore chart that rotates on a weekly basis.