'Quiet quitting' in the not-for-profit sector

Not going the extra mile

You have likely heard about the trend of “quiet quitting” that seems to be taking over the working world.

People are not doing more than what is specified in their job descriptions—no answering emails or texts outside of work hours, no extra projects, no working late. Basically, if they’re not specifically paid for it, they don’t do it.

“Work to rule” is another name for it, though that’s usually been used to describe a form of job action, often a prelude to a strike. Now it’s gone mainstream and is starting to affect not-for-profits.

In a sector where wages tend to be lower and the workload higher, quiet quitting can have a devastating effect on the running of an organization. Many not-for-profits struggle to pay enough to attract qualified people as it is. Having those people refuse to do anything more than the minimum can drag the entire program to a grinding halt. Imagine a leader of volunteers saying that they won’t supervise volunteers at a fundraising event because it’s outside work hours.

Please don’t misunderstand, I get why people are doing it. The cost of living continually increases and wages do not.

Many executives and managers use vague job descriptions to take advantage of workers.

The physical, emotional and mental health benefits of work/life balance are undisputed. The “hustle culture” of the last decade or so has burned people out with no benefit to themselves.

The not-for-profit world, though, is a bit different.

First of all, “overhead” is a dirty word in the sector. Money that goes to wages or benefits is often seen as money that could be going directly into the program. I used to believe that myself.

Watching Dan Pallota’s TED talk, “The way we think about charities is dead wrong” opened my eyes. (If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend you do.) This means that most organizations are hesitant to say the least in increasing wages. They are certainly reluctant to hire two people to do a role where one person has done it in the past.

Instead, in an effort to combat quiet quitting, they stuff everything that they can think of into the job description, without increasing the salary.

The problem with that, of course, is fewer and fewer qualified people are willing to take on the role at all.

What can be done to combat quiet quitting in your not-for-profit?

You can start by treating staff in a similar way as you treat volunteers (assuming you do that well). Think about it. Volunteers give their time and skills to your cause for a number of reasons, none of which are financial. They help because they see a direct line between what they do and the benefit that goes to the clients or community.

Do the staff in your organization clearly see the difference that they’re making? Volunteers help because they feel appreciated by clients, board members and stakeholders. Are staff members shown that same depth of appreciation?

Sometimes people volunteer to gain new skills and contacts. What new skills training or opportunities can you offer to staff to help them grow? Whom can you introduce them to who can help them reach their goals?

And so on.

Studies have shown that people rarely quit a job. They quit a manager or a boss. When a leader shows genuine interest and caring for a staff member, and provides opportunities for growth and self-improvement, the matter of wages takes on a much smaller degree of importance.

Granted, people must have a living wage or they simply can’t stay with you no matter how much they might want to. But once that living wage is met, it’s the quality of leadership that will keep an employee giving their best or, alternatively, push them into quiet quitting—or drive them away altogether.

Take a look at how your staff are treated, and the opportunities that they’re offered. How can you improve on their roles, without spending a lot of money, in a way that will increase their loyalty to you and your organization?

If you need help, give me a call.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


When correcting mistakes, look forward and back

Feedback vs 'feed forward'

Last week, I posted an excerpt from my book “The ABCs of Leading Volunteers” about providing volunteers with feedback.

Charlene Dishaw posted a comment on it about “feed forward,” a phrase developed by Marshall Goldsmith, which he defines as helping people envision and focus on a positive future, not a failed past.

I agree and disagree. Yes, we do need to look to the future and support people in becoming the best they can be going forward. I don’t, however, believe that is fully possible without looking at the past.

Here’s an example. You have a volunteer working for you who hasn’t been following procedures. You’re concerned that someone – the volunteer, a staff member, a client – is going to get hurt. You take the volunteer aside and show them what a wonderful future they could have if they followed procedures.

How effective do you think that would be, without pointing out the consequences of not following procedures?

I also take exception to Goldsmith’s word “failed”.

I don’t like the word “failed” when referring to a person’s actions or inaction. In many cases, when a volunteer needs feedback, it’s rarely because they failed. Usually, they simply forgot, something or didn’t understand the consequences of their action or inaction. Pointing those consequences out in a positive and supportive way can open the volunteer’s eyes and encourage them to do better in future.

If, because of your comments, the volunteer feels like they failed, you may need to rethink your phrasing. In my mind—and I realize I may be an exception here—failure is the repetition of a mistake after the consequences have been pointed out and a more effective action has been suggested.

Even then, the person hasn’t failed, nor do they have a “failed past”. If repeating mistakes means someone has a failed past, well, join the club.

That said, there are a lot of benefits to having a focus on the future. Because the future is unformed, it can be anything we want it to be. The past is set and unchangeable (we won’t get into existential theories here), but we can shape our future and improve on our past.

Most people want to be the best they can be, so ideas and suggestions to help them get there are more often appreciated than criticisms of the past.

Thinking forward is more inspirational than dwelling on the past. We can’t do anything about the past, but thinking about the future can get everyone excited and motivated, causing better outcomes for everyone.

Should you go with feedback or “feed forward”?

That’s easy—both. This is one of those situations where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Focusing only on the errors of the past is uncomfortable and depressing for both the volunteer and the supervisor. It may point to where things went wrong but it doesn’t give a vision for a better future.

Focusing only on the future doesn’t give the volunteer a clear picture of why the change is necessary. It ignores the possible consequences of the behaviour and leaves the volunteer unsure of whether they are doing well or not.

Including both, though, will cover all aspects. The volunteer will know why they are being asked to change their behaviour, how they can change it and he or she will have an inspiring vision to work toward.

I strongly believe there is never one right way to do things. A combination of different methods tends to work better than a rigid adherence to one. This is a good example.

Charlene, thank you for introducing me to “feed forward.”

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

How would a four-day work week affect volunteering?

Volunteering in short week

I read an article this week about a four-day work week study being done in the UK.

It got me thinking about how such a change, if it became standard, would affect the world of volunteering.

One of the most common reasons people give for not volunteering is lack of time.

In many cases, that’s just an excuse. There are, however, a large number of people who would truly love to give time to the causes they care for, but simply can’t find the time. Our regular two-day weekends are filled with errands and housework and with spending much needed time with family. Neither of these can (or should) be sacrificed.

If we had an extra day off work, though, that could be dedicated to volunteering. We would still get our errands done and have precious family time and we would be able to dedicate at least a couple of hours to an organization doing work we believe in. That would not only help the organization, but it would add to the benefits that the volunteer would gain from the extra time off.

What would we, as leaders of volunteers, need to do to take advantage of this opportunity?

First, of course, would be to become aware of which companies are moving to the four-day work week. What kind of people work there? Where do they hang out, and what do they read? Like all marketing, we need to know as much as we can about our target audience so that we can reach out to them effectively.

Second, we need to move quickly. The sooner we can recruit them, the better. The longer that they have a three-day weekend, the more likely it is that they’ll fill it up with other things. Let’s face it, we’re really good at finding things to fill up space, whether that be in a larger home or in our calendar.

Finally, be ready for new volunteers. Ensure your application process is streamlined and easy to navigate. Have your on-boarding procedures and training up-to-date and efficient.

Be clear on what exactly you will have these volunteers doing, and what benefits they will gain from doing them. Look at your management processes; do you have enough supervisors? And so on. All these extra volunteers won’t stick around if they have to jump through a bunch of hoops or if things aren’t run smoothly. If you need help with this, give me a call.

How else would a four-day work week affect your volunteer program?

Well, you may be given an extra day off. How would that affect things? Would the organization need to hire another leader or would you need to work more efficiently to make up for the time off? Would other current staff members need to be trained to supervise volunteers? What would that look like? At this point, there are more questions than answers.

Who knows when, or even if, a four-day work week will become common.

I suspect, though, especially considering the preliminary results of the study mentioned above, that it will certainly become more common as time goes on. If we want to take advantage of this shift, now is the time to start thinking about it. Maybe even planning for it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Why you need a mentor

Importance of mentoring

I firmly believe that having a mentor is the greatest way to learn.

I mentor people and I have two mentors myself. My mentors have mentors.

No one knows everything, and many things can’t be found in books or courses. Some things can only be learned from people who have experienced them themselves. This holds true no matter your role, your organization type or your sector—or even your experience.

Although I’ve been in the not-for-profit sector for decades, there are still many, many things I know little or nothing about. If I find I need to learn about them, my first task is always to look for a mentor.

Why a mentor?

Unlike courses or books, a mentor can provide you with the specific advice you need right when you need it. Rather than taking a course on recruiting volunteers, for example, when all you need to know at the moment is how to interview candidates, you can ask your mentor the exact questions you need answers to in order to continue on. It saves time and can give you insight into things you may not have known you needed to think about.

A mentor can do more than just advise you.

I can’t count the number of times I called a mentor just to vent. Problems were happening and while I knew how to fix them, I was just so frustrated I needed to let it out. Seldom can we allow that kind of frustration out on our co-workers or supervisors—and certainly never on volunteers. Keeping it to ourselves, however, increases stress levels and can impact our health. Having someone to vent to, who’s “been there, done that” can be a great relief. Your mentor can often help you see the issues more objectively, and thus they can feel less overwhelming.

Advice and a sympathetic ear but what else can a mentor do for you?

They can expand your network. This is especially valuable if you are new in your role or have recently moved into a different type of organization. A mentor who has been around for a while can introduce you to people who can advance your career, can sponsor you into private groups and even be a job reference if you are in need of one.

Assuming you’ve decided a mentor is a good idea, who should you ask?

Take a look around your sector. Who is out there who you admire and who is, or has done, the work you’re doing? Choose someone who has more experience than you, at least in the particular area you want to grow in. I have had people mentor me who had far less overall experience than I have but whose experience covered portions of the sector (like fundraising) to which I was completely new.

Make sure they hold the same values you do, otherwise their advice may run counter to what you’re comfortable with. If you don’t know their values, find out. Ask them outright or ask questions that will indicate how they view certain issues.

Once you’ve chosen someone, how do you get them to agree to mentor you?

That’s easy—ask them! Most people are honoured to be asked. If they have the time to spare, they are highly likely to agree.

Understand, there are two types of mentors—paid and unpaid. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

The paid ones will be committed to meeting regularly, usually have significant amounts of experience, and often have a structure in place to ensure you get everything you need. The downside, of course, is you have to pay them.

Unpaid mentors, besides being free, are often people you already have a connection with. That makes it easier to know their values and whether or not you’ll be a good match. The drawbacks are: 1. They may not have had any experience mentoring, so that may expect you to lead the relationship. 2. Because they are not being paid, other things may take priority over meeting with you.

The decision on which way to go depends on you. Both ways are better than not having a mentor at all.

After years of mentoring and being mentored, I would never go without. Try it.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Volunteer Matters articles

About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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