In almost every nonprofit setting, it’s pretty safe to say that leadership requires the most out of every employee to create the greatest possible impact on the governing mission. Whether this means that case workers take emergency calls from clients more than they are schedule to, or that an administrative assistant wears multiple hats as the social media coordinator, office manager, event planner, and even an intake specialist, continually changes. But, despite the great pressure nonprofits place on each employee to give their absolute best, employee development is often overlooked.
A recent Bridgespan Group survey has revealed that most nonprofits rank their ability to provide development and growth opportunities to employees as their fourth greatest management weakness overall even.*
The same survey went on to explain that a lack of employee development has become the “Achilles heel” of the nonprofit community. Because only 30 percent of nonprofits have created or sustained an agency-wide plan for employee development—and only 23 percent of those track its progress—the large majority of organizations don’t have a clear understanding of what skills they need for each position as their mission evolves. Many more don’t even have an idea of where that talent would come from.
To help you develop a plan to address future leadership gaps, Bridgespan put together a list of 52 free ways that nonprofit agencies can improve their internal employee development. Some of the easiet and most impactful employee development initiatives that they list include:
- To prepare employees for positions of team leadership and management, have key employees lead monthly meetings
- Allow potential future leaders to manage junior staff such as interns or volunteers
- Organize and execute team building activities at monthly meetings
- Allow key employees to represent the organization in professional or community networks
- Ask employees you want to develop to participate in drafting portions of grants or business contracts to improve their business capabilities
- Have staff participate in developing key budgets
- Ask staff to organize initiatives throughout the organization or in the community
On its own, on-the-job development isn’t enough though. To foster truly effective options for employee and organization development, get your board involved with individual employees through the agency. And have each person who is involved with your development program—whether that is a board member or a developing leader—regularly assess what works best at getting employees ready so that you are more likely and more able to advance them within your agency.
*Rounding out the top 3 are communication of priorities, coordination across organization boundaries, and performance assessment and consequences.