In May the Philadelphia Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation joined forces to launch On the Table Philly. On the Table was an initiative to engage area residents in open dialogue and to inspire solutions around the topics of participants’ choosing that can strengthen Philadelphia communities. A team of Fairmount Ventures staff decided to jump in to this inaugural round of On the Table conversations by convening members of the region’s nonprofit organizations around this question: “How do we support the nonprofit sector’s passionate workforce and retain the talent critical to ensuring the effectiveness of your work and the vibrancy of the sector?”
Read on for a look at our group’s perspectives and for a mid-summer update from one of our participants about how she converted her Fairmount On the Table discussion into action.
Breaking Bread this Spring
Fairmount Ventures has worked with hundreds of nonprofits over the years, and we often hear from our clients that they struggle with staffing issues. Everything from low morale to frequent turnover can be disruptive to day-to-day operations and the ability to achieve long-term organizational goals. We tackled this issue during our dinner on May 23rd, one of more than 300 On the Table discussions that happened in kitchens, conference rooms and restaurants citywide. The Fairmount gathering included 14 executives and emerging leaders from 12 nonprofits that address a variety of areas, from the arts and youth development to food access and human services.
What did we learn?
- Change from the Day to Day: Employees seek out opportunities that take them out of the day to day of their own work. What are other employees or departments working on? What skills do others use in their own day-to-day work that I don’t know about?
- Communication: Employees desire clear channels of communication for showing both appreciation and encouragement, as well as criticism and concern, across the organization.
- Commitment to the Mission, Inside and Out: Staff want to benefit from the same ethos of service that nonprofits practice with their constituents. Constituents and staff deserve respect and trust.
- Camaraderie through Good: Nonprofits often fall into the trap of “camaraderie of the trenches.” But employees want to rally around something exciting and come together with other employees to celebrate and build relationships based on positive progress and change.
The group was inspired by the stories of success from their peers and left ready to take realistic, actionable efforts to improve workplace culture in the short- and the long-term.
From Conversation to Action
We recently checked in with one of the participants who joined our On the Table dinner to see if our discussion about workforce issues had prompted any new ideas. Here’s what she had to say:
“I had a great time at that dinner and have thought of it several times recently. One of the most tangible takeaways from the dinner for me was the importance of staff bonding and retreat, [and] that getting away from the facility to enjoy each other’s company and engage in some fun activity is extremely important. At a small nonprofit that can be challenging due to finances, small staff, etc. [but] I came back from the dinner and advocated. Now we will all be going canoeing on the Brandywine and picnicking together in September!”