Better Training = Better Retention

Today’s guest blog post is written by Alex Pagano, Documentation Supervisor, PatronManager. 

In the non-profit world, there’s never enough time. Making sure your artists are happy, getting press announcements out, setting up your season, contacting donors, and working with your board is just your average Tuesday. So when a staff member puts in their two weeks notice, it can feel like the straw that just might break the camel’s back — especially when it happens time and time again.

Staff turnover in the non-profit world is a reality. In 2016, Guidestar’s Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey indicated an average 19% turnover rate for all NPOs. That’s one in five employees per year! And this high turnover rate is expensive; there’s the time you spend looking for candidates, interviewing, and training, plus the loss of any institutional knowledge or professional connections that go with your departing coworker.

Not convinced? Try out this turnover cost calculator from Nonprofit Leadership Alliance to see what your turnover rate is costing you.

So you’re ready to address the problem, now what? Turnover is a complicated and multifaceted issue, to be sure, so today, we’re going to focus on just one of the contributing factors to this problem: training (or lack thereof). Read on to find out how a stellar onboarding plan and a solid continuing education program can help you keep star employees and stop posting in the classifieds.

All aboard onboarding

If you know you’re going to have to train a new employee every once in a while, why not be prepared? The next time you hire new help, use that opportunity to create an effective and repeatable onboarding plan for that position. You’ll reduce the time and energy you have to spend directly training your new co-worker, and they’ll become an effective member of the team faster than ever before. Good onboarding is also a preventative measure; 40% of employees not trained properly will leave an organization within their first year.

Our team uses Trello (you can also use Asana or KanbanFlow) to organize staff onboarding. Each position has their own board template, and new employees get a copy of that template to call their own. Not only does Trello help your new staff immediately feel like part of a well-organized team, but it also helps you make sure you don’t miss any easy-to-forget housekeeping duties. As an example, a Trello training board template for a new box office staff member might look like this:

And here’s what one of the cards might look like:

It’s absolutely unbelievable how much time a system like this can save. Rather than reinventing the wheel each time you need to hire new box office staff, you have a roadmap — that’s a lot less stress on you and much faster training for your hire.

But let’s go a little deeper: does your organization have unwritten policies and procedures everyone just “learns as they go along?” It’s time to write them down! (Our Director of Client Administration, Rachel Hands wrote a great blog post about creating a robust internal documentation system here.) Give your trainee the tools to succeed right away instead of six months from now. Here are some examples of documents you might want to write:

  • Policies surrounding social media use (is it OK for employees to post pictures on their personal accounts of the box office and/or tag the organization in posts?)
  • Agreed-upon ways to write specific words (do you say “NPO” or write out “non-profit” every time? And is it “nonprofit” or “non-profit”?)
  • Office building policies (who locks up at night? Can employees come and go as they please? Does someone need to take the recycle bins out to the street on Wednesday?)

The best part? If you keep these documents in Google Drive or another file sharing service, you can link to them straight from your freshly-minted Trello board. Now that’s efficiency!

Invest in them — they’ll invest in you

So your new employees are crushing it within their first three months — great! Now it’s time to make sure they stick around.

35% of millennials surveyed say training opportunities are among the most important aspects of job satisfaction for them, while 22% named job advancement or growth opportunities as a top priority. Continuing education keeps your employees happy, and makes them better potential candidates to hire if a promotion opportunity arises. Even if not every employee has the opportunity for advancement, organizations that provide professional career development and ongoing training tend to have lower turnover rates than organizations that do not, no matter what method of training is provided.

Need ideas? Try selecting a few webinars for each of your employees to attend. There are a plethora of free webinars any NPO staff member can sign up for — just check out the NonProfit Hub’s guide. (Psst! If you’re a PatronManager client, we run a dozen webinars every month on a wide range of topics. You can find the upcoming webinars/sign up via the PatronManager Help Tab!)

Of course, there’s nothing like on-site, direct training. Keep your eyes peeled for projects or tasks that, although outside the normal scope of Clarice-from-development’s role, you think she could succeed at. Maybe have her decide who your next major giving target should be; maybe she can plan the food for the next gala. Stretch opportunities give your staff a chance to flex their creative muscles, expand their skills, and keep them engaged.

Off-site education is another great way to let your employees know you’re invested in them and to help their professional careers blossom. Check your local scene for upcoming workshops and seminars — you should be able to find plenty, and for a relatively low cost. I found great success Googling “local non-profit seminars 2018 [city, state]” for cities of all sizes.

Help me help you

What will you change about the way you train your staff? What stretch opportunities can you provide this month for your hard-working but lower-level colleagues? What essentials does your new development officer need to know within her first week? The answers to those questions might be your ticket to lower turnover. All aboard the training train!


1 “2016 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey”. Guidestar. 2016 Apr.
“Reduce Turnover through Employee Training”. AtWork Group. 2016 Feb 18.
3 “2015 UST Nonprofit Employee Engagement & Retention Report”. 2015 Aug 24.

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