Attracting and keeping high quality, engaged workers is one of the biggest challenges for almost every nonprofit I know. So many of those jobs are mentally stressful and physically demanding. Some of the entry-level roles are just weigh stations on the journey to more advanced careers. And it’s hard to compete with the salaries your for-profit counterparts are paying.
One area where nonprofits DO have the advantage, however, is in offering creative employee benefits that don’t have a hard cost. Here are some ideas:
More vacation time. One experienced professional who joined a local non-profit told us she chose her new employer because of the time off. “All the others want to start you off with two weeks, but here I get four weeks! The pay may be a bit lower, but I really like having more time off.” While you could see a productivity hit by offering more vacation, most salaried workers will get roughly the same amount of work done in an average year, whether they take two weeks off or four.
Longer maternity leaves. If your competitors offer six weeks, you might want to offer eight – or even 10. Again, unless you have to pay for a replacement during the leave, you may not notice the difference in productivity based on just a few weeks difference.
Flexible working arrangements. Can you allow some staff to work from home or exchange extra hours at agency events for time off later? Take a look at your flex work options.
Alternate work schedules. Depending on type of work you do, you might be able to offer an alternative schedule – closing the office every other Friday, taking off early on Fridays during the summer or allowing an alternate work schedule like four 10-hour days.
The West Central Missouri Community Action Agency decided two years ago to close on Fridays and put all its staff on a 36-hour workweek schedule. “The idea was to add benefits without changing the bottom line,” said Executive Director Chris Thompson. “It’s both an economic benefit and a recruiting tool. We save on utilities when we’re closed on Fridays. And we can offer a higher hourly wage, plus Fridays off.” The agency’s location – an hour or so away from larger communities – makes it harder to recruit. “We have hired two directors from quite a distance who said the shortened work week was a factor in their decision to join us,” he said.
Mission-based working conditions. Think about what makes your organization unique. If you work for animal causes, can you allow employees to bring their pets to work? Depending on employee interaction with clients, would you be able to offer a relaxed dress policy? Organizations with a food service component might consider offering free lunches or a take-home meal once a week to help busy families. If you think creatively, the possibilities are vast.
Mission-related services. Depending on what your nonprofit does, you might look at extending free or discounted services to employees. Many health care organizations do this through greater cost sharing when employees use the organization’s own providers.
Required time off. In the spirit of enhancing well-being, we’ve seen some organizations set requirements for vacation. They may cut vacationing employees off from email, for example, or require them to take a certain number of consecutive days off at some point each year.
Environmental enhancements. The expense of a little paint, updated art and even furnishings is quite small compared to the cost of some benefits. You can make a big difference in employee satisfaction by investing in updating and repairing the workplace.
If you’re struggling to make your employment proposition enticing, I hope you’ve found some inspiring ideas here.