Nonprofits Aren't Like Netflix

2329637 mediumBut That's Not An Excuse for Bad Employee Retention

By now your Facebook has been inundated with about a thousand different permutations of this article touting Netflix new maternity policy from the rooftops. Yes, we agree, it's amazing: moving women forward in the workplace, not treating pregnancy like a disability, honoring parental leave for men too - all incredible things. But before we start banging down our HR directors door, and before your next Board meeting where someone inevitably brings this up, let us burst that bubble: Calm down nonprofit employees; nonprofits aren't like Netflix. 

But that doesn't mean nonprofits can't learn a few lessons from Netflix and other tech giants about attracting and retaining top talent.

First, a few quick and honest notes about Netflix: 

Netflix is a $5.5 Billion dollar company with $266 Million in net revenues. Based in Silicon Valley (land of the office masseuse, adult ball-pits and 5 star lunch rooms,) Netflix is a tech-giant that competes for the same pool of super-talented employees as Google (22 months paid maternity by the way) and Facebook (12 months paid family leave). Their business model is completely different; it's not direct service. That means, while their employees are home asleep in bed, and you're binge watching House of Cards (don't spoil it for us,) they're making money. And a quick side-note here for you optimists: their well-known maternity policy doesn't apply to the poor shlubs working in their DVD department. Why? Because the DVD side relies on the same direct relationship between employee labor and product production that you're going to have in....say... a dog rescue or an afterschool program. And while nonprofits couldn't appreciate their staff more, they don't have the capital, they don't have the infrastructure and they don't have the business model to offer these swank perks.

But that's not an excuse. Nonprofits CAN and SHOULD be using at least some of the same kinds of fringe benefits that show their employees their value: 

1. Create, Cultivate and Emphasize Culture

The often forgotten part about working at a place like Netflix, Facebook, or Google, in the context of employee benefits, is that it's full of top-achievers. That exceptionalism is drilled into their heads every single day. Working at any of these places definitely carries it's own cache, and that MATTERS. They have a culture of excellence and personal responsibility at Netflix that pervades their entire policy. Yes, they give unlimited vacation days and flexible office hours, but they hire the kind of people who would never abuse it. Every single employee knows, respects and embodies that culture. Nonprofits need to do a better job solidifying and conveying that culture too. In fact, in the nonprofit sector, our culture should be more prominent: We're solving major social issues! Our work matters! So, it's time we start treating the work in nonprofit as the honor it is. 

2. Offer Opportunities for Innovation

Know a software engineer or information technology professional? Ask them about pitch nights or hackathons. The tech industry is amazing at offering their employees a lot of opportunities to innovate. And while we are constantly looking at new ways to be flexible, nimble and efficient in the nonprofit sector, the sad truth is that very few of us are doing that well. Why? Because we offer the same sets of problems to the same sets of people and so we come up with the same sets of solutions. By offering the opportunity to solve complex problems to all stakeholders, we increase buy-in, and that's a good thing. 

3. A Seat At The Table

Ok, let's step away from the tech world for a second and talk about another company that embodies innovative corporate culture: Zappos. The shopping giant announced a big move a few months back effectively eliminating all middle management positions. This means that the traditional management chain is extinguished and, in their words, "Is a new 'operating system' that instills rapid evolution in the core processes of an organization." Its aim is to eliminate the noise between frontline and decision makers. It, at least in theory, gives everyone a seat at the table. You don't have to go that far, but you should go farther than the employee "suggestion box." Consider a middle-ground like Dreamworks, which allows everyone to give notes to the Director. Giving people a say in their work is empowering. 

4. Compensation Packages

We know we said we can't afford to pay like the for-profit sector...but c'mon, have you read your own job descriptions? Two masters degrees, ten years of experience and you want to pay $20 an hour? Not only is that not competitive, it's barely sustainable. Because we don't compete with our for-profit counterparts, our talent pool is always going to be smaller. And that smaller, die-hard, super-committed staff we have? Well, their bills keep going up. It's time we brought up our pay to be more competitive. If not with wages, then with the total package. We mean insurance, 403(b) and yes, maternity leave policies that reflect the huge number of parents in our sector. We need flexible work hours, paid holidays and incentives for performance. How is it that banks give out more holidays than we do? If we see you keeping your administrative offices open and staff working on Christmas Eve, we're going to be very disappointed. 

5. Stop Crying Poverty

If we can't do all of these things, can we at least stop crying poverty to our staff at all times? Let's face it, nonprofits are always running a little lean, but consistently being under the threat of cuts or closure isn't exactly a morale booster. We aren't advocating surprising staff with sudden cuts or furloughs if you know they are coming, but we ARE saying that we need to stop treating our staff like children. Sit down together, encourage budget literacy, allow for opportunities for staff to fully understand your funding model. They may not be happy, but at least there won't be as much panic. And hey, you might even get a new solution from them. 

But hey, there's always another solution...


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