Jane Henry, Account Executive BDI

QUICK SHOT: 3 Strategies for Building a Recognition Culture at Your Nonprofit

Easy and effective ways to give your team the affirmation they deserve

It was 1985. Actress Sally Field heard her name called to receive her second Academy Award. Upon accepting it onstage, she burst out with the joyful exclamation, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!” 

In subsequent years, it became a punch line as she’s been mocked, meme’d and GIF’ed for this sincere response to a tangible recognition from her peers. 

But think about it: don’t we all want that affirmation? 

Here’s why it’s important for you to make this a priority in the workplace: It’s too easy to lose sight that your people – both employees and volunteers – are the center of your nonprofit. Providing recognition for the important work they do is a vital part of your organization’s culture.

In our post-pandemic world, practicing the art of caring for your people and to keep them showing up is more important than ever. Think of your workforce as a three-legged stool, made up of recruiting, reward and retention. And we can picture what happens when one of those legs is missing.

Let’s focus on the retention leg because it’s the one that is most easily overlooked. Your team holds a wealth of organizational knowledge. Overlooking a focus on employee retention means that you are a two-weeks’ notice away from that knowledge walking out the door. 

So how do you keep your people showing up? One effective workplace retention strategy is to encourage a recognition culture within your organization. In Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, he states that the most frequently-preferred “language” are words of affirmation. People like getting recognized for their hard work and achievements, whether it’s done one-on-one, within their work team or in front of the entire organization.

Here are 3 ways to care for your people and boost employee retention at your nonprofit today:

  1. Share the good news with them… repeatedly. Make sure everyone in your organization collectively understands the impact they make. Help them see the “big picture” so they connect their work to the organization’s mission and accomplishments. Do you have a new annual report or upcoming board presentation? Take the time to share it with them and walk them through it so they can see their role in making this happen.
  1. Develop a company “elevator pitch.” When employees and volunteers feel valued and connected to the work, they’ll share this with others, resulting in positive publicity and perhaps recruiting potential donors and volunteers. Make it easier for them to do so by equipping them with an elevator pitch for your organization. An elevator pitch – around 60 seconds in length (the average length of an elevator ride) – succinctly states the following:

What: Start with an attention-grabbing sentence that summarizes who your organization is and what it stands for.
Why: State the needs you meet and why the work is important. 
How: This is where the employee personalizes the pitch to their role and the difference they make.  

An elevator pitch should be memorable, interesting and practiced so it can be delivered with confidence the next time someone is asked, “What do you do for a living?” Giving them this tool also tells them that you are entrusting them with a valuable message and that they are an important part of your organization’s success. 

  1. Recognition is a shared responsibility. It doesn’t require a line item in your budget nor is it the responsibility of one person to make it happen. Make it a company norm to catch people in the act of doing good work. Also, make sure you look for the “unsung heroes” of your organization who are working diligently with little notice but would be missed if they weren’t there. 

When you make a commitment to building and modeling a shared recognition culture, it positively impacts your employee retention, and your team members will champion your organization. For even more tips on increasing employee retention at your nonprofit, check out this article on employee appreciation by my BDI colleague McKennah Williams.

Gratitude has a ripple effect and can go a long way. While people may not recall your exact words, they will remember how you made them feel. That you appreciate them, and – to paraphrase Sally Field – that you like them, you really like them.

Check out our recent Quick Shot: Meet BDI’s Expanded Media Production Department!

  • Jane Henry, Account Executive BDI

    Jane Henry, Account Executive

    As an experienced and creative marketing and communications leader, Jane has significant experience developing, managing and executing projects to increase income and customer retention. She is also a talented writer and journalist. Jane’s passion is to help people help “…the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) – which she has done in the nonprofit sector for over 20 years through her work in youth marketing, child sponsorship and corporate engagement.

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