Employee retention

Would coaching help your nonprofit hold on to employees?

In Short

Mission-focused work still requires staff and funding, among many other essential elements. If your development staff is leaving every 18 months, it’s hard to keep raising money to do this important work.

Every time I read a job posting in the Jewish community, I become curious as to why the last person left. With baby boomers retiring and fewer young people entering the workforce, our community faces a reduced labor force. We choose to work within this community because we strive to make the world a better place. 

However, mission-focused work still requires staff and funding, among many other essential elements. If your development staff is leaving every 18 months, it’s hard to keep raising money to do this important work. Moreover, it’s close to impossible to increase annual funds to provide new programs, not to mention keep up with inflation.

Of course, this is not unique to Jewish organizations. All Jewish, secular, local, national and international organizations are struggling to keep staff. It’s important to consider what motivates employees. In the early stages of my career, a boss gave me great advice. With every job you take, you have to consider the people you work with, the work you do and the money you make. Then choose the two out of three that are the most important to you.

When it comes to hiring and retaining staff in a Jewish organization, money isn’t always the best solution. 

It’s true that even when people choose nonprofit, mission-driven jobs, salary may be a reason they start looking for other opportunities. With organizations disclosing salary ranges for new hires in job descriptions, it only takes a few minutes on JewishJobs or LinkedIn to see that you are underpaid.

As someone who does nonprofit executive search in the Jewish community, my job is to help people find a position that satisfies their needs and then help them stay at the job for a longer period of time — years not months. A year of coaching has become an essential strategy to accomplish this goal. 

A year of coaching translates into a year of someone helping the new hire work through the frustrations in their job, with their co-workers or their boss — within a safe space. When the new staff person voices their concerns to us, they are not worried they will get fired. And they are sharing their concerns looking for a solution, not just complaining to their friends every week at happy hour. 

Coaching also provides a way to identify where the employee wants to — or needs to — learn and grow without feeling like they have to admit their deficits to their superior. This investment in coaching reflects management’s support of the personal and professional development of their new employee.

Such coaching helps find solutions to problems, enhances employee retention and prevents people from looking for a new position elsewhere. Coaching also helps the employee understand their position within the context of their organization as well as the field. The employee then can see the paths where they might grow in the future. And seeing future growth in their organization is another way that strengthens employee retention.

Just remember, retaining an employee — even when you have to pay market rates and coach them through challenges — is always less expensive than hiring someone new. In the Jewish community, we work to make the world a better place, and investing in our staff is an essential component of that work.

Abigail Harmon is the creative director and development associate for Mersky, Jaffe & Associates. She specializes in nonprofit fundraising, governance and board development, and has spent the past two decades helping organizations achieve their goals of financial sustainability and operational progress.