10 Practical Ideas to Make Your Non Profit an Awesome Place To Work

We’ve been celebrating the month of May by engaging in conversations about labour conditions in the community sector. You can read our other instalments here, here, and here

It is common sense that liking your job, and staying in it, has to do with a lot more than just salary. In the years I spent as a primary caregiver, flexibility in when I worked my hours and being able to leave for emergencies were my top priorities. Now, at a new job, I am hungry for learning opportunities for myself to better my own practice working with organizations. Thinking through all of the ways we can provide great workplaces can help non-profits retain staff—which, as is laid out here, here, and here, is a very smart thing to do.

Here our some ideas we’ve come up with that can help Quebec non-profits create great working conditions for the people who give so much.

Providing pensions and health benefits is often nearly impossible for community organizations. Luckily for us, two of our peer organizations (le Centre de Formation Populaire & Relais Femmes) created a collective pension plan for non-profit staff in Quebec. In their words, “without a pension plan, people working in community groups are forced to live under the poverty line once they retire”. You can sign up your team here.

TIP 1: Sign your employees up for the community sector pension plan.

Additional health insurance is also a mythical creature for non-profit workers, and a similar coalition is working on getting a collective plan. Right now, they are asking people to write letters confirming that you would want to subscribe. When enough organizations join, they will be able to start a collective health care plan. An end to toothaches and blurry vision for all!

Tip #2: Join the project to create a sector-wide health care plan

Part time and temporary jobs are affecting non-profit workers immensely. Many organizations are using a patchwork system of interns, students, and grant hires to run their organizations. The Access Alliance has been tackling this issue across sectors with their Good Jobs campaign, saying “it is time to consider insecure jobs as serious risk factors to health of Canadians and join forces to promote policies and pathways to good jobs.” Their recommendations? Limit temporary, part-time jobs to less than 5% of an organization’s workforce, make sure temporary, part-time employees are offered fair wages, extended health benefits, and generous professional development opportunities to help find stable employment, and protect temporary, part-time employees by adopting higher than minimum compliance of employment standards and occupational health and safety policies.

Tip 3: Limit, and then protect, part time and temporary workers at your organization.

One of the most significant reasons people leave non-profit organizations is because they don’t have opportunities to grow into new positions, learn, and develop. On top of that, most of us have found ourselves in positions where we do a bit of front line service provision, some staff supervision, some communications, some write-a-grant-to-save-your-own-job, some fixing-the-toaster-again… You get the idea. Most of us have training in one, maybe two, of those areas. The lesson? Professional development and training are key. At COCo, we’ve found that if we want staff to actually do that professional development, we need to provide both money (cover conference costs, travel) and time (for us, 1 week a year).

Tip 4: Provide time and money for employees to seek out professional development and training opportunities.

Combining sick and personal days (and sometimes vacation), and allowing employees to take them at their own discretion, is an increasingly popular move. The payoff is that employees can take time when they need it, without justifying their personal circumstances, health, or well being. Building in an “accrual cap”—i.e. a date-when-you-need-to-use-these-by, encourages employees to take that time off and diminishes burnout.

Tip 5: Combine personal and sick days, so employees can manage their own well being without justification.

One standard issue with HR policies is that they are built around an idea of a “normal life” that is, well, a bit off. For example: do you have only Christian holidays in your policy, or are there floating holidays for employees who have other religious or family celebrations that are more important to them? Does your policy assume that your staff are all straight and married, and reward primarily weddings and baby showers? Does it offer parental leave, but no accommodations for people caring for other people in their families and communities? Thinking about these factors–for example, by providing flexibility in ‘holiday benefits’ can increase equity and help you attract and retain the best candidates, regardless of background.

Tip 6: Create policies that can be adapted to the specific life circumstances of your employees, without knowing what those life circumstances could be.

Talking to organizations, I am sometimes confused by the assumption that they have no employees with disabilities, and are unlikely to in the future. That misconception is probably based on a limited idea of what a disability looks like—when in fact in includes many things that are not “visible”, or necessarily known. Instead, we usually tell people to work under the assumption that they already have people with disabilities working for them- people who are currently navigating that situation solo.

Tip 7: Create a policy that allows for people with mobility issues, chronic pain, mental illness, learning challenges, and more to function in your work environment without constantly having to advocate publicly about their situation.  

Believe it or not, people want feedback and constructive criticism on their work. What they don’t want is once a year, on-the-fly criticism that is not related to their actual performance, their own struggles in the position, or the day-to-day reality. Create mentorship and supportive supervision with staff—getting to know them, their aspirations, and their challenges. Direct feedback, given thoughtfully, will go a long way in that context.

Tip 8: Provide mentorship, build relationships, and deliver feedback well and thoughtfully.

Flexibility is one of the most effective ways to create a better work environment—and a more motivated, engaged staff. Of course, this flexibility is balanced with realities of your organization—but most organizations can add some flexibility without impacting their mission. Usually, this looks like being able to work from home, to set your own hours when possible, and to offer additional flexibility for parents and caregivers.

Tip 9: Provide flexible working hours, work-from-home options, and leave of absence options.

One of the most common reasons people leave their jobs is because their tasks were changed without consultation…a situation that is all too common in non-profits, where Boards are often removed from the day-to-day realities. Put policies and practices in place so that when a decision is made about a program, a service, or a project, the people who will actually be doing that work have substantive involvement in the decision. At one organization I worked at, that meant we ended most conversations with the question: and how would this affect staff?

Tip 10: Give staff ownership over their own positions and their workplaces.

What are the things you wish you had in a workplace? What policies or practices have worked well for you in the past?