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Three Things Your Team Isn’t Telling You

The Plenty Team
October 16, 2014

Your field staff are some of the most important people working at your nonprofit organization. In their position at the front lines, they may be the only employees your constituents ever meet. Therefore, when evaluating your fundraising strategy, it is important to consider how well you are supporting and managing the team executing it.

In our work as peer-to-peer fundraising consultants and strategists, we have the opportunity to talk openly and honestly with field staff from organizations around the country. Here are three things your team is telling us that they might not be telling you.

#1: Recognition works. We all know that recognition works for fundraisers and donors, but your field staff want you to know that recognition works for them, too. They may have started working for your organization because of a very personal connection to the cause, or a desire to work in a field where they get to make the world a better place every day. But in spite of (because of?) their altruistic drive, they need to know that (a) they are doing a good job and (b) you, and others at the organization, notice their efforts. Here are a few ways to recognize your team:

  • Set aside time during your weekly team meetings to highlight exceptional work from the previous week. Mention individuals by name and talk about something specific they did or achieved.
  • Create a quarterly award for your team and let your staff nominate each other for a job well done. Keep a running list of the winners in a visible place, or post it on your intranet, as a lasting reward for the winners and a carrot for everyone else.
  • Thank high-performing individuals in meetings and written communications that extend beyond your team so they are recognized in front of a larger audience.

#2: Your team needs a leader, not a friend. When I found out that I was going to be in Mrs. Kendall’s 6th grade class, I was disappointed. I was hoping to be assigned to the other (read: easier) 6th grade teacher because I heard that Mrs. Kendall was tough. I remember my dad saying to me at the time, “The teachers I learned the most from are the ones who expected a lot from me and held me to high standards.” He was, as always, right. Mrs. Kendall was one of the best teachers I ever had.

Someone who manages a field team needs to find the same balance that Mrs. Kendall did: tough but fair. Here are a few ways to create that balanced relationship with your team:

  • Set expectations and goals with each team member. Ensure that they understand what the priorities are by asking them to explain those priorities to you a few days after your initial conversation. Create checkpoints for progress reports along the way.
  • Provide clear and direct feedback. Let your team know what they are doing well and where there is room for improvement.
  • Be human and create relationships, but don’t let friendships keep you from being a leader. Hold them accountable for achieving their individual goals.

#3: Your seasoned staff might be over-seasoned. There’s a difference between “experienced” and “I’ve-been-here-so-long-that-I’m-over-it.” Your long-time employees may have been ready to change the world when they were first hired, but after being in the same job for several years field staff are at risk of burning-out due to things like compassion fatigue, being passed over for promotions or not being challenged enough.

Here are a few ways to better support your potentially over-seasoned field staff:

  • Delegate more responsibility and resist the urge to micromanage. Trust that they will succeed. If they don’t, turn it into a learning opportunity. If they do, recognize them in front of their peers.
  • Make them confidants. Ask for their opinions when appropriate and make sure they know that you know that they have been doing this awhile. A little acknowledgement of someone’s experience can go a long way.
  • Ask about their career goals and identify ways to help them build their skills towards what they hope to achieve in the future.

Your field staff may be at the bottom of your org chart, but they fill a very public role and are critical to your organization’s success. Make them a priority. We’ve told you three of the things we hear on a regular basis. Use this as a conversation starter – ask your team what they need and how they want to be supported. They’re worth the effort.

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