Want Nonprofit Staff Longevity and Creativity? Consider a Sabbatical Policy

HR policiesFive years ago, a report from CompassPoint found that a third of the nonprofit executive directors and half of the development directors questioned anticipated leaving their current jobs in two years or less, notes Courtney Martin in the New York Times.

“Worse,” Martin adds, “the 2017 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, published last month by GuideStar and Nonprofit HR, found that 81 percent of nonprofits have no retention strategy whatsoever.”

High turnover can significantly affect nonprofits’ ability to meet their missions. “According to the Center for American Progress,” Martin notes, “the average cost to an organization when an employee making $50,000 a year leaves is 20 percent of his or her salary.”

What strategies can nonprofits employ to retain workers and reduce turnover and burnout? Last May, in NPQ, the Management Assistance Group outlined some options, including:

  • Flexible time off
  • Sabbatical policies
  • Medical benefits that include resources such as acupuncture and massage
  • Scheduling that supports breaks, big thinking, reflection, and rejuvenation time
  • Meetings that incorporate moments to ground, pause, (re-)center, reflect, deliberate, and see from multiple perspectives

For her part, Martin focuses specifically on sabbaticals. In Los Angeles, the Durfee Foundation has operated a sabbatical program since 1997, financing more than 100 nonprofit leaders to take three months of paid time off. “Durfee gives $45,000 to the recipient’s organization to cover the cost of the leader’s salary, and also provides $3,000 to the interim leader and $5,000 for organization-wide professional development.”

This fall, Deborah Linnell, published a study on Durfee’s approach over the past 20 years that highlights how foundation-supported sabbaticals can strengthen boards, leaders and organizations. Linnell notes that the sabbaticals work best when “leave is uninterrupted and entails little or no contact between the leader and his or her organization,” “a staff member, as opposed to an outsider, leads in the interim,” and “the staff as a whole has access to additional professional development.”

Martin mentions other foundations that support sabbaticals, including the Barr Foundation, the California Wellness Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Meyer Foundation. Linnell estimates that over a dozen foundations now have official sabbatical funding programs, Martin writes. Still, that’s a very small number.

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