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NONPROFIT MANAGEMENT: Accepting the Torch and Things to Think about for Improving Retention

By Bettina Lipphardt


I would like to begin by thanking Jerry Archibald, who has been writing this column for over a decade. Like many of you, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading his insightful and perceptive articles. They have been used by countless tax-exempt organizations in our community to enhance their knowledge of how legislation, accounting standards, and a multitude of other hot topics may impact their organization, the services they provide, and the people they serve. I would also like to thank The Central New York Business Journal for providing me this opportunity. I am excited to continue what Jerry has started. I know I will not be able to fill his shoes, but I am looking forward to the challenge. 

We have spent the better part of the last year and a half responding to the pandemic and complying with government mandates. The pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on our employees. We went from furloughs and layoffs in March 2020, to frantically hiring within three months. People are tired, burned out, and do not feel as connected as they once were. As a result, turnover rates have skyrocketed. 

Every day we are bombarded with news reports about the global shortage of workers, help-wanted signs, and online ads for companies looking for new employees. Many companies are even forced to pay enhanced wages to fill vacant positions. Additionally, there is a loss of population in New York, especially in Upstate. All these factors create a competition for employees that has never been fiercer. 

We have all heard the saying “it costs three times as much to hire a new employee than to retain those we have.” That cost has increased with the pandemic. Therefore, it is crucial to retain the employees we have. This is a significant challenge for tax-exempts with limited resources. However, here are five areas we can focus on:

1. Culture

An organization’s culture sets the beliefs and behaviors that influence how employees and management interact. It also determines how business transactions occur. Culture is strongly impacted by employee relationships and connections. As a result of the pandemic, the culture of many organizations has been negatively impacted. Here are a few things organizations can do to improve culture:

• Encourage strong coworker relationships — Face-to-face interactions are by far the most important way to maintain employee relationships. Unfortunately, these types of interactions have been limited throughout the pandemic. We have tried to offset this impact by encouraging virtual interactions. However, we have come to realize virtual interactions are not as impactful as face-to-face. Encouraging employees to come back together is imperative to restoring company culture. 

• Be transparent and open with your employees — Share the challenges and successes of the organization. Tax-exempts should consider regularly communicating with employees throughout the year whether it be via newsletters, emails, formal in-person meetings, or virtual meetings. The key is to have the communication — the communication form doesn’t matter as much.

• Promote a team atmosphere — Bring teams together for a happy hour, lunch, or a team event. Consider friendly team competitions.

• Constantly communicate your mission and vision statements — People want to know their work is meaningful, what they do has purpose, and that they are part of something. This is a significant advantage for tax-exempt organizations that is easy to capitalize on. Your mission and vision statements establish the long-term direction and goals that guide your daily operations. Make sure all your employees are aware of your mission and vision by continually exemplifying it.

• Inspire employee autonomy — No one likes to be micromanaged. Trust your employees to do the work they were hired to do. 

2. Mentoring 

Millennials are expected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, effectively replacing Baby Boomers and reducing the representation of Gen Xers. Millennials want different things than the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. One thing Millennials want is mentoring. Tax-exempt organizations should consider implementing a formal mentoring program. 

Formal mentoring programs strengthen employee/leadership relationships, enhance employee development and succession planning. Mentoring provides a sense of accomplishment for both mentor and mentee. Mentoring also provides a stronger sense of loyalty to the organization. Additional benefits include growth, consumer satisfaction, employee engagement, increased job satisfaction, and improved morale and pride. The time spent in mentoring will be worth it in the long-term as an investment in the future.

3. Recognition

Recognition shows your employees how their contributions lead to the success of the organization, and that they are valued. Recognition is a powerful motivator and leads to improved performance. Tax-exempt organizations have the unique opportunity to show their employees how they are changing the lives of the people they serve. Celebrate the accomplishments of your employees and broadcast them for all to see. Tax-exempt organizations could create an appreciation program that recognizes their employees and highlights the social impact of their work.

4. Work-life balance

Noel Gallagher said, “I don’t live to work; I work to live.” As people reevaluate their priorities because of the pandemic, this has never been truer. Employees are placing more emphasis on work-life balance. Providing work-life balance for your employees is imperative. Some of our clients have employees working over 70 hours a week. This is not sustainable and leads to service-quality issues. it is difficult to manage work-life balance in our current environment, but if we don’t it will only get worse. 

Tax-exempt organizations can improve their employee’s work-life balance by regularly reviewing workloads, requiring employees to take breaks, focusing on productivity, leading by example, and reviewing perks that are offered. Managers should regularly review workloads for all employees and balance them as best as possible. When you are scheduling shifts, ensure you are giving employees the opportunity to volunteer for additional shifts, and require employees to take breaks. One employee working all the additional shifts does not allow for life outside work. Focus on productivity rather than the number of hours worked and encourage and provide training on how to improve efficiency. The one area where management can make the biggest impact is through leading by example. Show your employees you can have work-life balance. It is discouraging for employees to see leadership with no work-life balance. This may deter them from continuing with your organization. Lastly, consider the perks your organization offers. Think about things like subsidizing fitness-center memberships, providing laundry services, or offering massages in the office. 

People want different things now. Providing improved work-life balance will lead to increased productivity and happier employees. 

5. Flexibility

Now more than ever, nonprofits must be flexible. Employees need to have the flexibility to attend to personal matters as they arise. For this to occur, the organization should quickly adapt to new circumstances as they arise. To become more flexible, an organization must keep an open mind and respond appropriately to ever changing circumstances. Keep your core values in mind when determining the extent of flexibility. As always, planning will help when unexpected situations arise. 

Whether it be with flexible work hours or work arrangements, being accommodating increases retention, employee loyalty, and engagement. Overall, flexibility helps organizations through the tough times we are currently facing.

Tax-exempt organizations are facing several challenges, and retention ranks at the top of the list. Retaining employees is essential to success. Keeping the items above front and center will help with that goal in mind. Working on our culture, mentoring, and recognizing our employees, and providing work-life balance and flexibility will help our organizations standout as the employer of choice.        

Bettina Lipphardt is a partner and the team leader in The Bonadio Group’s Healthcare/Tax-Exempt Syracuse/Utica Division. She provides consulting and auditing services for a variety of tax-exempt clients. Contact her at