Jeffrey Byrne | Nonprofit Expert Individuals,...
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Welcome to KC Care’s Kansas City nonprofit voice. We’re telling the stories of Kansas City nonprofits and the people behind them. KC Cares is the intersection of the nonprofit and profit communities making Kansas City a better place to live, work and play? This KC Care segment is brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. W w w dot Kaufman dot org.
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Nonprofits are busy organizations, whether staffed with one volunteer leader or dozens of paid team members. It’s often challenging to find time to listen, learn and grow because time is so precious to get the work done. The practice of engagement. It’s the short end of the stick. As part of our Ask the Expert series, Myles Sandler, director of policy and engagement at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, joins us today to shed some light on engagement and its importance.
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Welcome, Myles. It’s so great to have you with us.
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Great to be here.
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Well, maybe the best place to start with this whole thing is let’s define what engagement is.
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Yes, absolutely. You know, I think that oftentimes when folks think about engagement, they really just think about, you know, how do I kind of connect or build relationship with a particular group? And that’s absolutely true. I think that’s the big base of engagement. But I think when we’re talking about, you know, in our nonprofit world, kind of the deeper level of engagement, it’s really about how do you build that empathy for the folks ultimately that you either serve or that you’re in collaboration with.
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And then how do you actually learn and listen and incorporate that back into, you know, the work that you do. And so ultimately, I think engagement is truly a two way street conversation. And then from that conversation, you’re able to build in a new pathway that improves your work what’s.
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Your experience, your or maybe anecdotal knowledge of nonprofits in their attention to engagement.
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Yeah, I mean, I my whole career has been a nonprofit, this, you know, role. And where I’m at now is the first time I’ve been at a private foundation. I have the blessing of being at the foundation now for five years. But previous to that, I’ve always worked in nonprofits and began my career in community based organizations very much, you know, smaller, financially scrappy organizations And so, you know, my experience through that perspective was, you know, ultimately we were extremely passionate about, you know, the audience that we were servicing, the folks that we wanted to support.
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I’ve been in predominantly youth development organizations and that was always really important, but oftentimes was a challenge to, you know, have the capacity, the resources the time just to really be able to learn. And so from my perspective, just being in those experiences, it’s been about how do you make sure that engagement doesn’t get lost, but that it’s actually weaved into your every day in small ways and then building in that necessary time to actually use that learning for adjustment and for improvement.
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I want to dove down into engagement and what that means. I when I’ve encountered it working in nonprofits, it seems like it sits a lot of the time over in development in the fundraising aspect. But I wanted to touch back for a moment on why does the Kauffman Foundation feel this is important and have someone like you there to help guide organizations.
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Yeah, absolutely. So for the Kauffman Foundation, this is really essential. You know, our mission is to ensure that folks have the ability to have all the opportunities they deserve. And that they can have economic mobility, stability and eventually potentially prosperity, whether that’s through the workforce or whether that’s through being an entrepreneur. And if we don’t have an intimate understanding of what does an entrepreneur go through, particularly ones that have been marginalized or not able to have the same access to resources and funding as others, and if we don’t intimately understand someone that is really striving to build a career or for a young person that is, you know, looking at their future and trying to
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understand what their career pathway is and we don’t have an entire understanding of those constituents. There’s really not a great way that we can build into our grantmaking. What’s going to be an effective solution? Because we’re going to miss things. We’re going to miss the nuances of the challenges that those individuals face. And then we’re not going to fund accordingly to really ensure that we’re finding organizations that are going to address those needs, that we’re building out strategy We’re building out, you know, a policy agenda that’s going to address those needs.
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So the engagement piece is really the almost essential to us actually making an impact. Otherwise, you know, we’re just going to be a one sided conversation and providing resources, but without the knowledge to really make sure that they are going to hit the mark.
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Big a problem is this for nonprofits that you’re dealing with, you’ve worked in them, you’re dealing with them, is this a big issue? And if so, how do we correct the not, so to speak?
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Yeah, I think it ranges so I think that, you know, there’s obviously some nonprofits that are really good at this, you know, and they and they may be excellent at engagement, but more challenged with some of the technical aspects, like really getting into their systems and data and what have you. But we also note the opposite in actually some of the larger nonprofits, some of the ones that may have really good sophistication in some of their process CS and in even their, you know, kind of financial savvy.
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But then they lack the authenticity to have real relationships and sometimes therefore, again, their work is not as impactful as it needs to be. So I think that there’s a a range for nonprofits, but I honestly think that it’s an opportune nity for nonprofits to learn from each other and to recognize sometimes that there may be certain groups that are really great at engaging and connecting with their constituents.
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How are they informing the general field and then how are they also being resourced? And this is a bit of a call out to foundations or other philanthropic partners, right? We have to support engagement is essential that that is a part of the grantmaking and it’s a part of the way that we support nonprofits.
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A thought that pops into my mind when you talk about engagement is is engagement networking or is networking part of engagement?
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Yeah. So I think there is a lots of different tactics, right? Networking may be a tactic, but the challenge with networking, it’s is again, often kind of one sided. So you’re going out and yes, you’re meeting people and you’re you know, oftentimes from a development standpoint, nonprofits need to get out there and get their name out there and make connections so they can potentially have, you know, more funding to support their mission.
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And all that’s essential. But it doesn’t have much to do oftentimes with learning. Right. And to me, when I define engagement and why it’s so important, it is truly about how are you learning from the folks that you, again, ultimately are either impacting or that you’re collaborate with to get something done. And if that learning is not a part of the process intentionally, and then you’re bringing them back in and using it in the way that you’re doing your strategic planning, in the way that you are actually building out your programing and the way that you’re launching maybe your new initiative, then it’s truly not a back and forth conversation.
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The last piece to is oftentimes again, networking will be maybe a short term but it doesn’t have that feedback loop, right? So if you’re gaining a lot of information, let’s say do a survey to focus groups, whatever the mechanism you’re using, who the constituency group that you’re interested in, what’s that feedback loop? How are you getting information back out to those groups?
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And if you’re not able to do that, how are you being transparent about that from the get go that this is not something we have the mechanism for? And so when you’re asking people for their information or you’re trying to learn from that group, that you’re transparent about the expectations for yourself and for that group.
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A few moments ago, you also mentioned there’s really two tracks of engagement. Let’s go let’s go there. Tell us about those tracks and why each is important.
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Yeah, I mean, I again, I think that kind of the two tracks that I see is there’s one around, you know, relationship building. And, you know, sometimes that sits in that networking space and, you know, really connecting for development sake for getting your name out there. But then again, that other track is really to me about learning. And, you know, there can be very formalized learning processes in like surveys, focus groups, kind of learning interviews.
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Those can take place and there can be a, you know, very specific hard way to gather that information, make sure that you’re weaving it into your next steps in your planning process. But there’s also less formalized ways of engagement, you know, by doing an event celebration and neighborhood gathering. And you can still lead and learning into that so you can have a simple exit survey.
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You can have interactive boards where people can actually record their experience or thoughts, live polling A lot of these are actually very inexpensive, easy to do. And they’re, again, great ways to capture learning in a may be less formalized process.
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How do you go about having your team learn how to do engagement? I mean, I think we sometimes make an assumption that people know. Yes.
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I do think we make an assumption often that people know. And if it’s not your orientation, you probably don’t. And so some of the ways that I got my team is first and foremost, don’t engage just for engagement sake. Have a North Star, have a purpose. So, you know, you need to have a learning question that is very clear.
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And aligned with your goals. You need to ensure that you have a goal that you’re actually trying to learn so that you can improve your processes or improve your planning or your strategy. And this may weave into a design process. It may even to you know, you want to build some initiative or coalition. But whatever the thing is, make sure that you’re clear on what you’re trying to achieve.
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And then the other thing that I really emphasize with my team is be transparent. You need to make sure that you’re clear on what your goals are and that you communicate that well to the folks that you’re engaging, particularly if it’s a more formalized kind of engagement process, like a survey or focus groups or what have you or you’re convening people kind of to gain information from them.
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You want to make sure that you’re really being upfront of like, are you able to get that information back out to them? Will there be a summary of kind of results? What’s the timeline for that? What are you going to be used this information for? What is it intending to inform? And so as much as you can have transparency and even if that transparency is, you know, we won’t have the capacity get back to you letting people know that upfront so that when they’re coming into that process, they’re making a choice and they’re comfortable with that choice.
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Too many times we provide expectations to folks that, you know, is not actually going to line up with what really happens.
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I think there’s nothing worse than somebody asking you for your opinion because they’re wanting it for some reason and then you never know Mm hmm.
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Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, and if, you know, the best practice is compensation. So if you’re going to ask someone to provide you that kind of formalized information through engagement, you know that they’re compensated for their time and effort. We know that that’s not always possible for all nonprofits. But even something sometimes as simple as making sure that there’s food provided, making sure that there is some type of acknowledgment that they’ve taken out time from their schedules, from their day, from their lives to support your work.
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And sometimes it’s even just, you know, folks are willing to do it because they believe in your mission, too. But you have to make sure that that’s been articulated, that this is what this is for so that folks can make clear choices of how they want to engage.
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Is there a fear factor? And maybe I should explain that a little more I’m in an organization and I know what we need to do. Our team is on board and we’re going down this path but we’re going to do a survey so that we can hear from our clients and stakeholders and we get feedback that says, oh, no, don’t open a third location of your food pantry.
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I have a mobile vehicle. I’ve made that whole scenario up. But first I mean, I could see staff kind of going, We’re already down this path now. Now what?
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Absolutely know there’s absolutely a fear factor. I’ve experienced it in organizations I’ve worked at where, you know, sometimes there’s decisions that have been made, sometimes not even because of the staff, but because that’s what a donor has decided that they will pay for or that’s what leadership or a board member has been advocating for. And all of a sudden, you do engagement work and you realize that that’s actually not what the community wants or whoever that you serve wants.
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It’s actually not going to address the core issue. So that’s a very scary factor. You know, there’s there’s two things I think that nonprofits can do. First and foremost, again, we’ve engage judgment early. Right. So you should be having on a regular basis some kind of mechanism to hear from your constituency groups. Right. So that you don’t get that far down the line.
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You know that you understand what people need. And qualitative data is super, super important. Sometimes one of the biases I think that nonprofits can have is we can have a lot of data. Right. Qualitative data is not there. So we have a lot of quantitative data. We have even sometimes surveys or we have, you know, what the numbers say.
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Here’s what the stats say. But without that qualitative data, you’re often missing nuances. So I’ll give a quick example. I used to work for an organization in D.C. called D.C. Promised Neighborhood Initiative, and we were really trying to figure out how do we ensure that more families have access to healthy food in the neighborhood that we were focused on?
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Because we know that when young people have better access to food, they do better academically. We’d already bear that out. We also knew the level of kind of food insecurity in our community, so on and so forth. So we started going down a path with a lot of different options. And then, thank goodness, we pause and said, OK, let’s actually like talk to our constituents.
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And so we did a bunch of interviews. We had some focus groups. And what we really found out from that, excuse me, was that not only we already knew that we were in a bit of a food desert, but what the access points that actually made sense for families is originally where we were thinking about kind of putting a farmers market, what have you in it.
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It just really not making sense for the community. But once we listened, we realized we can actually do this whole monthly food drive right in the school, and we can link it to some of the parent conference things that the teachers wanted to do. So we ended up getting just this really great synergy, a great pour out from the community, and it just was much better alignment.
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So that constant just continuous learning through qualitative is really important.
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We’re talking with Miles Sandler. She’s director of policy and engagement at the Kauffman Foundation. We’re talking about engagement. So you’ve mentioned a number of tools. Are these things that folks can come to the Kauffman Foundation for Resource Help? How can you guide us? And I am thinking of you know, those nonprofits that are under a $500,000 budget. I can see leaders going, Yeah, I want to do this.
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Yeah. I mean, that is not something that we have at the foundation as a great resource. I know we have a very active conversation internally about how do we build and support more capacity for nonprofits. But I do think that there are great organizations across our community and nonprofit Connect and others that really are sources to think about how to support all aspects of your nonprofit.
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I also think that there are some really interesting learnings that can be taken from honestly organizing. So there’s a tons of research that’s been done around kind of good organizing skills. And in all the, you know, a nonprofit may not be doing traditional organizing, right. Which is we often think about for more political reasons or what have you, but the skill set is very much a part of how you think about how do you gain trust, how do you build relationships, how do you connect people around common goals?
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How do you understand the the challenges that a group is dealing with and then elevate those as a part of your agenda? So I think that’s a really good learning tool. And there’s tons of, you know, kind of resources around that. And then the second one, too, that I have learned a ton from is really learning the design process.
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So, you know, getting a training on how do you do really good design work. You know, this comes out of oftentimes industry and people creating products, but it really starts with an empathy lens. Right. How do you really understand your customer? How do you understand how they think their motivations and their way of kind of reacting to the world?
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And then from there, how do you then step through that design process to actually create a project, product or service, what have you? And so I think those processes are very helpful. And there’s just so many options right now for that type of training that it’s it’s very much, I think, available. And there’s a lot of free resources to online.
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I think it’s interesting you keep talking about clients are constituents and the need to to listen to them, to not make assumptions is that you, the organization, know the right way to meet them, but to get feedback from them kind of in a continuous loop Yes. That what your work is doing is meeting their need. Yeah. How will how important is engagement with in the organization itself and listening?
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You know, when you’ve that group, you know, things grow and grow and grow and grow.
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Yeah, that’s a great question. So that’s actually something we do quite a bit at the foundation. And I’m very thankful for that level of culture here where we have a annual a associate survey. And so that is one piece. But then what we do with that survey is we really kind of break it out by department and each department really looks at that data and then identifies two or three goals from that data that they want to support or develop within their department to improve support one another better, what have you.
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And that survey really has to do with a few different indicators. So we look at trust, we look at, you know, in how associates are trusting each other kind of work environment in general. We also look at, you know, racial equity and how what are people’s perceptions of our inclusion and diversity and racial equity work and how are they how is that resonating with them as individuals?
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So that is a been a central tool. Honestly, it’s, you know, coming to the foundation was one of the first times that I experienced the level of robust kind of interpersonal associate work that we have here. And that learning is continuous, you know, and it really helps to improve and make us better. What I would say for smaller organizations that may not, again, time, capacity, resources may be thinner, you know, that you really carve in some of that process time with your team when you’re kind of in those moments where you know you’re going to have to come together.
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So there’s always kind of budget planning time that happened in the year that you have to carve out time for. You just know it because it’s essential to the operating of your organization. Well, there’s nothing wrong with also building into that time that you have some intentional reflection opportunities for your teammates to really, you know, look at what can we do internally to improve and support one another.
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And again, that transparency piece is super important to that. So don’t forget that. And having establishing, what are your goals even among your internal team that Northstar is essential to that process as well.
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I got to bring in the big P word, although it’s shifted the pandemic, I just wonder quickly, as we’re nearing the end of our time together, have you seen the engagement or the the looking at engagement? Has that shifted at all because of the craziness of the pandemic? Are we better at it or do we need to come back and focus on it?
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That’s a great question, and I think it’s a challenging one. Because I think we don’t know exactly yet on one end, you know, I think that we saw some really creative aspects of humanity during the pandemic right. Folks recognizing that, yeah, we have to use these virtual mechanisms, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be flat. Right.
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That the same concept of how do you make something engaging, interactive, how do you make sure that people can really communicate in lots of different ways You know, one thing I’ll just elevate is that I think for a lot of introverts who sometimes get silenced in meetings, having a chat option was revolutionary. You know, to be able to communicate in a different way.
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And we need to keep that even in in-person meetings and having mechanisms that are very clear for different learners and for different types of communicators. So on one end, I think that we, you know, learned some things and we were able to you know, make sure that we kept connecting. On the flip side, and I think that this is even more evident in our children.
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Honestly, I think if you talk to most teachers this year of coming back into the classroom was challenging, not for all the obvious reasons, but also for the reasons that for a lot of those children, they haven’t learned how to socialize in the same way for two years. And it is a skill set. And I think for adults, it’s similar to with we have a little bit of a quicker turnaround, but socialization is a skill set.
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We have to remind each other how to be kind to one another. And how to give each other grace. And that is something we’ll just keep having to remind each other of.
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That’s so interesting that you bring it up. I’ve heard other parents say, particularly with really young children. You know, if they go into a preschool classroom, let’s say, and they haven’t been there, what a lesson on learning how to engage. And all they’ve seen are masked faces, you know, in person, you know, what does a real person look like with a smile on their face?
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You given us just great, great advice. I hope our our audience will will take heed and we’ll put this on our Facebook. But, you know, those those four critical points of best practice, you know, having a North Star have a process. Just don’t throw it out there. Think about how you’re going to do it. Being transparent I love that.
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You know, it opens you up to, oops, did I make a mistake? But better to learn it now than to be down the path. And, you know, creating connection, those are just really, really wonderful. And how lucky we are to have you at the Kauffman Foundation as a resource and somebody to call and say, well, can you give me some advice?
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I need some help with this.
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Well, this is a passion area of mine. You know, again, I think creating connection with people is one of the most important things we can do, whether that’s telling our story, telling our organization story, or inviting someone to tell us their story. We are I think, as humans, just connected by stories. And so, yes, I’m always excited to help anyone and provide suggestions, but also to hear what they’re doing and learn from them.
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And the importance of listening.
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That’s great. Miles, thank you so much. We really appreciate your time. And your expertize.
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Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ruth. And thank you for everything that you’re doing.
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Welcome to KC Cares, Kansas city’s non-profit voice. We’re telling the stories of Kansas city nonprofits and the people behind them. KC Cares is the intersection of the profit and the nonprofit community, making Kansas city a better place to live, work and play. This case he cares segment is brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation.
Find them at www.kaufman.org. I’m Ruth Baum Bigus. Nonprofit organizations have so many things to grapple with on a day-to-day basis. And among them is the important tool of their staff. Well, the pandemic sure. Created a curve curve ball in the workplace and non-profits were no different. The prediction is.
36.2 million Americans will continue to be remotely working through 2025. So what happened in the pandemic sounds like it’s going to stay for a lot of us while not most nonprofits have their employees working remotely. A good share of nonprofits we’re on the front lines, helping many of us manage the limitations that were placed upon us for the pantries have to deliver hospitals, had to treat patients.
It’s cetera, why we have not finished with the big P some workers are returning to the workplace and things do look different. How do nonprofits find that perfect balance? How do we show value to our workers and keep them motivated and staying with us? Those are some of the big questions that we’ll explore in our ask the expert series with our special guests today.
Brent never. Who’s the director of the Midwest center for non-profit leadership. It’s so great to have you with.
Thanks, Ruth, really excited to talk to you. Well, let’s, let’s start with what you can tell us. What is that today? Picture of the word. You know, it’s funny. I’m glad on the intro. You, you mentioned the fact that it’s hard to draw that distinction between what’s happening in the workplace, in for-profit organizations and non-profit organizations in so many ways we’re grappling with what does work mean today?
You know, people are working via zoom. They’re virtual. Also, we have people who have to be in the office, have to intersect with the public. And so we’re being pushed and pulled in new ways to think about how we should organize ourselves to have some equity also between. Those who, who must be there delivering the childcare, the education, the healthcare, and then those who can have the flexibility of working virtually.
And so there’s a really good interesting discussion that I, I look forward to having. Well, since you are the kind of the brainchild and the research arm of looking at the nonprofit, can you paint a, a little bit of a picture for us? Pre pandemic remote work was not very present. Absolutely. And I think we can all put our thinking caps on if we can remember a few years back before the idea of zooming in or Google meeting or whatever it might be was a pretty rare experience.
In fact, the dialogue at that point in time was how important it was to have people in the workplace for that ability to intersect with each other, to, to have those hallway conversations that were so important at that point in time. And, and now we’ve, we’ve almost come 180 degrees in one sense, which is we, we still value that connection, but we don’t.
Necessarily value in the same way, the physical connection that we used to have at the very least we’re having good productive discussions. I would say in our workplaces about where, where should we intersect? Is that physical being in the office really key to what we do or can we have very productive Poppins on Microsoft teams and zoom that makes it so much easier in a lot of ways.
And, and lastly, I do want to say it’s just so important again, to think about. People who often are on the frontlines of what nonprofits do. Those folks do not have the option of zooming in to the daycare classroom or zooming into provide, you know healthcare at the community health center. So yeah.
Always talk with, with our non-profits with our students about this dichotomy that is becoming a more and more pronounced. And I think savvy, nonprofit executives have to really think about this dynamic and what it means for their cohesiveness, the culture of, of their organizations. Are there things that the center is.
Offering in terms of support and education of how to do that balance. I mean, I happen to work with a nonprofit that really, I mean, I can’t, we’ve been zooming for two years. But yet there are people within that organization because it’s a social service organization. Are in the office so that they can get done the things that, you know, have to be done for clients what’s out there to help us.
Yeah, no, I absolutely an end. So one resource that I want to point towards on our website and we, we. The links and whatnot, but at the Midwest center we’ll have had our annual conference and we’re going to put those videos online and we have a national Thinker in this space, genie bell.
So do you need bell is in San Francisco, but she is thought a lot about the non-profit workforce. In fact, that’s the theme of our conference for 2022. And. You know what she is talking about in something that, that I’m trying to talk about also is thinking of your workforce as a resource in your preeminent resource.
In, in nonprofits. I’m not saying anything new for, for executives out there in this sector. They know that their, their people are the, the driver of what they do. You look at their budgets, you know, and in the lion chair of nonprofits, you know, over 90% of expenses are related to personnel and one word one way or the other, but to start having that discussion of our employees as a resource that needs to be regenerated over and over what that means.
Every person needs to be invested in needs to be nurtured and, and help to grow in, in what they do with the understanding Ruth that we are not going to keep our workforce forever. This idea of, of the organization, man, from the 1950s, you go work for GM or IBM and you work there forever. That is not a concept that that is going to ruin.
Work anymore in our sector. So how do we bring people in, grow them in their roles and be happy when they, they move on to another role? We’re very, you know, tight-knit sector in, in, you always know that that person coming in your door and then leaving your door in, in a few years. It’s going to be out there and going to be a voice for you.
So how do you grow them? With this idea that we’re in a healthy ecosystem and, and Jeanie talks a lot about how you grow people within your organization, so that you have this healthy sort of transition in and out of your. And those resources will be available on your website for those won’t have made it for some reason.
And what is the best URL? I’ll let you make that plug. Yeah. So we’re the Midwest center for non-profit leadership, M and C N l.org. And that will bring you right there. We have our own YouTube channel. You’ll be able to find her Speaking about these issues and also our breakout sessions. We have a breakout session where we’ll have videos for you about development professions and the workforce issues going on in development.
We have a breakout session where you’ll have the videos on. Boards and governance and how we wrap our heads around the more strategic discussions of, of how we, we grow people. And then we’re going to have a breakout session with, with Jeannie, and she’s also going to be able to work with people in, in talk about their specific situations in their organizations.
And it’s all free, absolutely free. So log on. We, we love people using the resources. There are going to be nice chopped up in, in bite size pieces also. So if you’re over your lunch one day and you have 20 minutes, it’s, it’s a great thing to log in. Well, you know, us non-profits we love free. No, keep those resources, you know, going where we need.
I, I have so many questions. One that came to mind when you’re talking about nobody’s a quote lifer anymore at any one particular organization, they may stay in the sector. There seems to be a little bit of a. Dichotomy from the, the newbies, the younger kids versus somebody who’s maybe made their career in it and, and what’s going forward and you’re saying nobody stays anywhere.
So are we, am I perceiving that? And, and so how do you deal with that? If you’re the CEO of an organization with a good mix, you know, inexperience age, et cetera. Yeah, I think these conversations are so important right now to sort of think about, as you said, Ruth, this diverging sort of opinions about how people should commit to an organization.
So it, and I would want to wrap in boards also into his discussion because they too are key voices in, in what happens in this life cycle. You know, we are going to have to, to start to not think of it as a negative, you know, why are these millennials, why are they coming in demanding that they do important work and then up and leave to, to frame it more in a positive way of how do we bring these, these new voices in use their labor in a, not in an ex.
Sort of fashion, but use their labor and their energy. When we have them grow that labor and then be really happy when they move on to another role where they can, they can use their, their voice to have this churn be not disruptive, but be a positive, innovative churn that can happen in organizations.
Partly executive directors, CEOs then have to wrap their head around the HR function. And how do we create HR systems that are a little more flexible that, you know, serve allows people to come in the door more quickly and leave in a less disruptive fashion instead of these hard sort of. Entrances and exits that we’ve, you know, we’ve grown up in I’ve I’ve been in, in the sector for 16 years.
So I’ve even seen in 16 years, this, this sort of evolution, it doesn’t have to be this. You send these onboard, you know, this is, this is when she stops and Cindy is resigning and this is when she leaves. How do we think of softening those edges so that we can have this more productive moving Cindy into the mix, bringing her her.
You know, interest in, in skills in, and then how at the other end, how do we soften that, that exit to be this positive sort of exit that Sandy is, is moving out to her next role. But, but this, instead of this, she’s on our team, she’s off. You know, change that sort of idea because it’s very disruptive and it’s only going to be more disruptive.
So how do we change the narrative around these, these transitions? You were mentioning earlier development directors, and I keep hearing the word out there of churn. Already a function. I think with non-profits that there’s movement. It seems like there’s exponential movement going on right now. Can you give us a snapshot of what’s going on?
Why? And is there any way to settle it down? Yeah. So we just did a snap salary survey development professionals. So we did it in January. We had an organization that was willing to underwrite it for for development professionals, because we heard the exact same thing, Ruth, that this is very disruptive to sort of go on my prior theme and In the development profession where relationships matter, where communication in a.
A way that, that connects over time matters. Having a development professional dropping in drop out is, is very disruptive. Our, our data is showing that salaries are going up quite rapidly in this space. You know, somebody trained as an economist, such as myself, I say in some ways. You know, people are claiming their value and, and that’s a wonderful thing, what I will say.
And, and also understanding executives in the nonprofit sector is one of the real challenges is we are locked into funding cycles that do not allow. Flex that’s happening in those salaries. You may get a contract once a year and therefore, you know, you can’t adjust salaries 2, 3, 4 times in a year.
If, if that contract only gets re-upped once a year, so there’s, there’s a lot of angst, absolutely understand what’s going on. You know what, one thing again, and there’s no, short-term answer to this. Absolutely rude to settle it down, as you say. What I, I would say is starting to develop more development professionals in the field.
It’s a skill that takes many years to develop as, as we know. But to, to think about taking people in programs, Roles program managers and start to skill them up in some of those development skills so that you have sort of a bench strength of, of people who at least can speak in the development world.
Now they, they may not be your chief development officer. They may be someday. But to sort of soften these, these transitions also. And I guess that’s a theme that I’m talking a lot about with, with nonprofits. We’re talking with bread, never with the Midwest center for non-profit leadership and we’re talking workforce.
And we could go on for ever. The other thing I heard you say earlier is, you know, we’ve had this big P word and supposedly it’s mitigating, et cetera. I think it may forever be with us in some fashion, but how do we manage a workforce that may be really, really burnt out? Yes. And I think we’re all living.
It is as Americans to be absolutely honest professionals and, and people, frontline professionals also are living it in a particularly acute way. I think we need to, again, really. I understand the life of somebody who’s in the daycare classroom, in the frontline of, of your community health center in, in how they’re juggling the life at home, their.
Trying to go to school. I have a daughter who you know, any time they have to close down a classroom, you have to drop everything as a, as a family and be home with, with your, your kiddo for five days, 10 days, whatever that period is. So there is burnout. You know, one thing is so many great nonprofit professionals have been doing this is, is really accepting it and communicating it understanding what your, your folks are feeling being in communication with them.
And I think this is something that’s been going on for a good couple of years now. And we’ve. Really, you know, done a good job with that. I think the next layer though, some organizations have done it and others, I would hope and mark on it, which has start to codify some, some policies that are going to be in writing.
So as, as you say, The maybe emergency of the big P the, the pandemic is, is over. And so now we can’t just lay on or, or rely on emergency sort of rules that we sort of had going on in the office. Let’s codify those policies. What’s going to happen. If somebody has two. Take care of a kiddo, a loved one.
And, and what if it’s a five day thing, a 10 day thing? What do we do as an organization? It’s, it’s not going to be appropriate anymore to just do one. It’s going to be important to have a policy of, of how this works in flexibility is, is the byword, how do we create that flex in our organizations so that people really can cycle out when they have these needs?
If we can’t adjust, people’s pay rapidly. What we can adjust is their work lifestyle. And You know, people are in non-profits because they care about mission. And, and they, they really do this amazing work. How do we make their lifestyle in the workplace work for them in a way that that is not possible.
If they’re working for, for a major corporation. And last thing, Ruth, I know I’m rattling on, but we also have to get around to the idea that our workforce has a lot of choices. These days. We love to think about they work for, you know, wonderful organizations because they care and they certainly do. But in particular, frontline staff, Have a lot of good choices now.
And as an economist, I’m very happy for them that they can now start claiming their value, but working for a wage of 12, $13 an hour at the front desk or with the kiddos, you know, they do it because they love it, but loving it, doesn’t pay them. So we have to understand that they do have needs and they can go out there and they can work in other organizations where maybe the mission doesn’t speak to them, but it does pay their rent.
And therefore we have to communicate with our boards and with our funders about the fact that we cannot Nene on our frontline staff the way maybe in previous generations. We have to start crafting that narrative with, with our governance process, where we have to invest, we have to forget overhead ratios a little bit.
We have to start saying, we’re going to communicate out this investment right now. So we’re going to invest in our staff. We’re going to create this, this environment. That’s going to work for our staff. It will cost more. It may push up that, that overhead ratio, but we are willing to communicate that out and, and believe me, you have Brent never, and you have so many other leaders in this, this world who are willing to communicate out that value also, and to stand by you and say, this is a new.
Generation for us. We have got to start thinking about investment framework, not a starvation framework. And when we’re talking about overhead, what does the center have again, to support or provide some guidance to nonprofit leaders in that, that frame of mind, or like you talked about policies and codifying things.
What can you all do to help in that way? Yeah, absolutely. So one of the best resources I would say is we have office hours. So every Thursday we have office hours with Monica re-ACL, she’s our community research director. She’s she’s the person who will help you on data question. Evaluation questions you have, you know, we collect all this data, we hoard it and yet we don’t really know what to do with it.
She, you drop in, you pitch an idea. She helps you out on Fridays at noon. I have office hours and those are questions. Just like we said, questions about. Policy questions about strategy, about board governance. I work with several organizations every Friday, just drop on in pitch a question at me and say, Hey, where do I get this?
Where do I get that? And the last resource is mark Culver. I, you know, for, for a lot of folks in the nonprofit sector, they’ve interacted with mark through email, he sends out our great newsletter every week and dropping mark a line he’s he’s our connector. And he’ll, he’ll connect you with the right people for those specific questions.
So it’s a role we love, we do it all the time and would absolutely value people dropping. And we zoom in. Absolutely. That’s a zoom. So if you go to our website, M and l.org, we have the office hour links right in there and you just drop on it. One thing I do have to say about the zoom sphere and that gives a plug to zoom, but teams, Google, whatever he has, it’s made it.
Very convenient. I think for people you don’t have the time lost in driving or the frustration of getting stuck in traffic or not finding where you’re going. But you do have that, gee, we’re not sitting and having the energy of being in the same room since we’ve been living with this. Do you all have any guidance as the best way to use some of those tools and make them as effective as possible in communicating?
You know that it’s such a great question because we to live the zoom lifestyle for all of its great things and all of its bad things. So the one aspect that I would say, and this goes for in-person meetings also I kinda joke meetings are like a gas. They expand to whatever time period you give to them.
So if you want to give a meeting 15 minutes, it will take 15 minutes. If you want to give it two hours, it will take two hours. And so what I think a lot of us have found through these couple of years of, of a pandemic lifestyle or work at home lifestyle is to think about. What do I want to accomplish in this meeting?
Can this meeting be incompetent accomplishes skull in 10 minutes? If so. Great. It’s a, it’s a, a one-off 10 minute standing meeting, meaning standing. Literally we have standing meetings. You stand there. 10 minutes works because after 10 minutes people started wanting to sit down. You do that via zoom. If it’s we really want to dig into this challenge that we’re having in this program, it’s a two hour meeting.
Excellent. But I think one of the. Problems with zoom is people default to a length of time that zoom gives you whether that’s an hour or half an hour, no need to do that. Think about creating these, these different structures that would mimic what we do in our hallways at work. You know, there’s a 10 minute hallway conversation you have in the, in the office, or maybe it’s an hour sit down conversation and all that.
I love that standing meeting idea and you’ll burn more calories. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I want watches. That’s a standup. You’ve been sitting too long. Oh. You know, and that’s the other problem with zoom is when you stack them on one after another, and you don’t build in that 15 minutes to walk around and take the dog for a walk that’s, that’s what you need.
And more dogs and cats have been at meetings than ever before. Absolutely true. Yes. What would you say would be the top, maybe three pieces of advice she would give folks now, as we look at the workforce in the nonprofit sector, three things that maybe they can look at doing or should focus on. Yeah, absolutely.
So first thing I think if we’re talking about at, at sort of a top more strategic level, communicating with your board about these, these discussions about how we invest in a, in a workforce and not get frightened. Bye bye. Some of those financial issues how we need to start communicating out to our funders about we are making this investment.
This is a positive investment. This should not be something that, that worries you. So those level of discussions need to be teed up with your board chair and your board more generally. Within the organization thinking about equity again, thinking about how different individuals in the organizations are able to intersect in the workplace.
In, in, I know I’ve brought it up several times, but think about how the person working the front desk can not just. B a, a virtual person. So how do we make their lifestyle work-style better? So is it investing in their education so that they can cycle through that role? Because there’s going to be more churn in those sorts of roles now because people have choices.
Is it thinking about more flexibility in they are able to cycle out of that front role and, and work from home and we’re going to have to cycle more people into this role over time. That’s that’s really important. And lastly, I’ve, I’ve talked about equity, but I want to talk about it in a more systematic way, which is the idea of who are the faces, who are filling various roles in organizations.
And we, as, as Kansas city region need to start thinking about what we’re going to do about that. Who’s in the frontline role who is not having the flexibility. Of zooming in from home and taking that serious and thinking about how we grow people through our ranks and not sticking people in roles that they never are able to grow out of.
Those are great suggestions. Brent, it’s been a great conversation. We look forward to having you back. Thank you for taking the time to talk about workforce. And thank you for joining us on KC Cares, Kansas city’s non-profit voice we’re produced by charitable communications. The segment was brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation.
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