Michelle Cramer, CFRE, President & CEO, Cramer & Associates

Nonprofits and for-profit businesses continue to face challenges in hiring and retaining talent. The pandemic only heightened this, with more people taking stock of their career options and making major professional pivots. Even prior to the pandemic, the nonprofit sector had a 19% voluntary turnover rate, which is 7% higher than the overall labor market. And in a study conducted by Nonprofit HR, 45% of nonprofit employees indicated that they would seek new or different employment by 2025.

Over my 30+ year career as a philanthropic consultant and business owner, I have been fortunate to have team members who have been with me for nearly three decades. While many factors have contributed to their longevity with the firm, working in a people-centric, team-based environment has helped retain these treasured colleagues. Here are a few ways leaders can create a connected, caring, and purpose-driven workplace culture.

Prioritize Connection and Communication

During the pandemic, our firm began each morning with a team huddle, a practice that we have maintained to this day. These daily huddles serve a dual purpose. Professionally, huddles are a beneficial grounding point to start the team’s day. Whether it’s covering timely topics, giving a brief project update, or addressing workload capacity issues, the daily huddle helps build team camaraderie, trust, and cohesion. Huddles also reinforce communication throughout the organization. On a personal level, huddles provide an opportunity for staff to share news about their families, friends, and events outside of work, too.

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it’s so powerful and so rare.” – Patrick Lencioni

Anyone who knows me knows I am Patrick Lencioni’s biggest fan, and this is one of my favorite quotes. And when it comes to building a team, there is nothing more powerful than retreats. I believe in retreats so much that in addition to our firm’s annual retreat, we schedule half-day, quarterly retreats! It is where the magic happens. Bringing your team together in different surroundings gives them the opportunity to dream big, set ambitious goals, and plan future endeavors.

Volunteer as a Team

Volunteering is not only a hands-on way to give back to the community, but a great way to engage with one another. Take your entire team out of the office to support a cause that is meaningful to them and aligns with your group. Have team members select an organization they wish to support and rotate who chooses every month or quarter. Our team made a commitment to volunteer one day per month and these volunteer experiences have strengthened our bonds with each other and our ties to our nonprofit community.

Recognize the Wins and Celebrate

It is important to stop what you are doing and take time to recognize the efforts of everyone on the team. From the major wins to the small achievements, celebrating the team’s victories develops a positive and supportive work environment. These celebrations do not need to be flashy or time intensive. Just remember to be consistent and sincere when acknowledging team members’ contributions.

At our firm, we email out a weekly one-page bulletin we call “Good News Friday” with all the accomplishments from that week, both big and small. Everything from an outstanding presentation to a productive meeting is shared with the team. A weekly team summary like this makes it easy to plan a year-end recognition event, since you already have 365 days of success documented.

A productive and positive working environment requires planning and effort. It is not built overnight but nurtured over time. A team-centered approach fosters creative solutions, trust, friendships, and unity. Your team needs the opportunity to laugh together and break bread together (and who doesn’t like to eat?).

What results over weeks, months, and for me over 30 years of this, is true teamwork and genuine relationships. These are the kind of relationships that bring forth brilliant ideas and drive us forward! I have experienced this firsthand, and it is the type of culture I continue to strive for within my firm.

Michelle Cramer, CFRE, is President & CEO of Cramer & Associates. In 1995, Michelle’s firm was the first female- and minority-owned consulting firm to become a member of the Giving Institute.