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Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership Expert Brent Never
MIDWEST CENTER FOR NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP “ASK THE EXPERT”
The Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership is the nonprofit research and leadership development center of the Department of Public Affairs of the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Our mission is to enhance the effectiveness and performance of the nonprofit sector through high-quality programs of education, applied research, problem solving, and service.
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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.
If you want to be a guest on KC Cares or underwriting opportunities, go to our website. KC Cares online.org and spread the love. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at KC Cares. Radio and Instagram at KC Cares. Online Saturday mornings. Catch us on ESPN 15, 10:00 AM and 94.5. 8:00 AM. Thank you for joining us on KC Cares.
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