Attracting and retaining great employees

staff meeting 2014Finishing up this month’s theme of management and human resources, I wanted to share with you my experience of hiring great team members at The Helen Brown Group.

True Confessions

I never wanted to be a solo prospect research practitioner. I named my company intentionally because I always knew that I wanted to build a team of people to go on this wonderful, crazy journey with me. So hiring people was always going to be in the cards for me. And that’s kind of scary when your name is on the door. When it dawns on you that others will be helping uphold your reputation.

Choosing well is important. So is setting up the value proposition.

Over the course of the 12 years since HBG began, I’ve hired 18 employees. Thirteen of them are still working here today. Two have more than 8 years with the company and one (who had left) even returned with great additional experience. That kind of longevity and (dare I say it?) job satisfaction are rare these days.

Back in the day

In the beginning it was really hard convincing prospective employees that HBG was a “real company” that was here to stay. Even early employees have confessed that they weren’t sure but were willing to give it a go. And here we still are.

There are still folks who don’t realize that each member of my team (that wants to) works full-time, has health insurance and an employer-matched 401K, as well as all of the other usual boring stuff like paid vacation and sick leave, disability and life insurance, continuing education and a great resource library to play with.

Yes, all that stuff is expensive (and some of it isn’t even required by law), but when you compete for employees with some of the finest nonprofits in the world like we do, that’s the cost of doing business. My team is among the best in the business – they could work anywhere. So why would they stay at HBG?

I think that if we want to attract and hold onto great employees, we can learn lessons from donor-centered fundraising. What if you treat employees like your nonprofit treats donors?

• You ask them to contribute and you thank them for their contributions.
• You involve them in decisions that impact the organization.
• You care about them as individuals with families and a real life.

It translates to practical values. A little bit more.

• Flex time.
• The ability to work from home.
• Project variety.
• Engaged clients who respect us. (That which you pay for, you tend not to leave sitting unread, right?).

We don’t have to offer the little-bit-more, but I wanted to create a company that I would want to work for. We expect 100% from each person, every day, and in return they know that if their kid is suddenly sick or their hot water heater blows up, we’ve got their back.

Of course, we’re a business, so it’s not all Kumbaya-around-the-campfire here. We expect things like quality work every day, showing up on time with all brain cells firing, and providing Ritz Carlton-level customer service to clients. Everybody has to track their time religiously and be flawless in maintaining client data security and confidentiality. We don’t mess around with those things and I know that sometimes the red editing pen can be a little …trying. But it’s clearly all worth it.

Can you do this in your shop?

I do think our company’s shared values help people stay on track and focused, and they help us attract (and retain) a great team. And even if you don’t (personally) set the tone for the whole division in which you work, your department can set its own values.

If you’re a hiring manager, here are some other ingredients in the employee-retention secret sauce recipe:

  1. Vet prospective employees carefully to be sure they’re the right fit (here are some interview questions from me and great advice from Mark Egge)
  2. Give people the tools they need, point them in the direction, provide ongoing support, and then…
  3. Get out of their way. Micromanage at your own peril. But…
  4. Check in with them periodically to provide guidance and to show you’re interested in what they’re doing – not to tell them how to do it.
  5. Be consistent.
  6. Shield them from inconsistency from higher-ups.
  7. Be their advocate.
  8. Praise them when they do well. Show them the right way when they fail -constructively.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that great employees have become much less hard for us to find. In fact, they’ve started coming to us proactively. I’d like to think that they’ve heard about – and share – our values and want to get on that train.

Does your office have a value proposition that makes people want to work there?

What do you do to attract and retain great employees?

You’ve been Boo-ed!

You've been BOO-Ed!

Walked into my office this morning and there it was on my desk: a zipped-up baggie of candy, with a squishy rubber creepie-crawlie and a ghostly note saying “You’ve been BOO-ed!”

It’s raining today and pretty much overcast and gross, but that little bag of goodies brought out the sunshine (and the little kid in me). I dug into the bag immediately for the mini box of Nerds. (Nerds! Ha! Candy irony even!) [Read more...]

Welcome! Now get to work.

Manager with new employeeManager, Day 1: You’ve been short staffed for weeks and your new employee starts this morning. You need them to hit the ground running.

New Employee, Day 1: Need to find the nearest supply room, restroom, and fridge to store a lunch bag. Computer is still in the box. Desk chair was the department hand-me-down that is permanently stuck on floor level. [Read more...]

How to recruit for that hard-to-fill position

poppy wheat1 NKHow do you recruit new employees? That’s always a tough question in the prospect research field.

Partly because there is no college degree in prospect research. High school kids don’t think “Hey! I’m going to be a prospect researcher when I grow up!” Not because it’s not desirable, but because they just don’t know prospect research as a career choice exists. [Read more...]

Introverts Advance! How researchers adapt in an extroverted world

We kick off October with a guest post from HBG Senior Researcher Kenneth Tavares. Like EF Hutton, when normally-quiet Kenny offers a comment at one of our staff meetings, the rest of the team listens. Kenny always has something insightful to say. Here he guides office introverts in the ways of getting ahead and getting heard. Enjoy!

Businessman Wearing Cape --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

When I entered the field of prospect research more than 10 years ago, I was admittedly intrigued by the opportunity to not only provide appropriate intelligence, but also to do it with a certain amount of autonomy. [Read more...]

Prospect identification: 5 steps to get action on the front line

Artist painting clouds

Prospect identification is a bi-polar experience for many prospect researchers and analytics professionals: it’s both pure joy and deep-seated frustration. Not all of the time, but mostly.

On the one hand, it’s creative. It’s super fun. (And at work, yet!)

Prospecting sure beats the heck out of doing profiles. Not because profiles aren’t interesting in and of themselves, but because prospect ID projects come from *your* heart. You dream them up, you make them happen. Sure, the project may be in response to a request, but how you fulfill it uses your own chosen palette to create the masterpiece.

But then, on the other hand, you pass off the list of names and what do you hear back?  Crickets. [Read more...]

Prospect identification: 4 ways to help retain new donors

Man with Bouquet

One of the scariest things we know as fundraisers is that donor attrition is at stratospheric levels.

Studies by the renowned philanthropy scholar-evangelist Adrian Sargent have shown that (on average) charities lose 50 percent of their cash income from brand-new donors between their first and second gift, and up to 30 percent after that. (Read Dr. Sargeant’s outstanding article in Nonprofit Quarterly here). [Read more...]

Prospect identification: Grow Some Feet

Working Girl meme

These days, prospect research is seen as a fairly cerebral task where you sit at your desk gathering information using a computer while trying not to snack (or maybe that’s just me?).

Back in the day, though, being a researcher meant never needing to say “boy, I really need a gym membership.” Typically, a journal entry for a day would go something like this: [Read more...]

Prospect Identification: Going beyond the same old same old

The theme for our HBG September blog is prospect identification and, because it’s one of her favorite activities, I asked Senior Researcher Jennifer Turner to give us some creative ideas for finding new donors.  Over to you, Jen!

Ideas - Creativity

Your usual prospecting assignment: Find high net worth individuals (HNWIs) with the capacity to make a gift in a specific target range and with a likely interest in your cause.

Sounds like Prospecting 101, right?

Your usual method might be head to donor lists of organizations similar to yours to see who is giving, and at what level.

But what if you took some slightly unusual approaches – ones that shake up the traditional ways you normally prospect? Might that result in viable new prospects as well? My experience says yes! [Read more...]

Getting Through: 3 Easy Tips to Avoid Communication Death Traps

Sydney Harris quote

I got an email like this* the other day which just cracked me up:

To: Helen Brown
From: XYZ Company
Subject: The Master List of DNS Terminology


XYZ Company is passionate about internet performance, particularly when it comes to DNS. We realize that DNS, ISC and BIND can be difficult to understand when the terminology is unfamiliar. It’s easier to get the most cost efficiencies from your DNS provider and services if you know the basics. That’s why we’ve created “DNS, ISC and YOU.” This essential e-Book lists the need-to-know terms that you’ll frequently hear when DNS is discussed. Download now and start saving your company money!

Best regards,

The XYZ Company Team

Ummm, yeah.

[Read more...]