Building Sustainable Teams for Non-Profits

Team Wise At Work

July, 22 2019, 3:56 PM

Non-profits and social enterprises aim to change the world. They tirelessly work to solve stubborn problems that demand behaviour change, resources and not to mention passionate teams. 

But how does one build passionate, sustainable teams without the resources of a corporate or the 'sexiness' of a startup?

We spoke to 3 incredible panelists to give insights into how they look at building teams for the social impact sector.

Our 3 panelists were:

Dr. Jowie YU, the Director of Autopilot Leadership Lab (ALLab) He has lead the ALLab since 2016 aiming to promote workplace health to other organizations. Since 2016, ALLab has conducted interactive “co-created” workshops across Asia and US. He actively works with social enterprises and non-profits. 

Jessica Chow, a Registered Social Worker and Director of Social Work and Healthcare in PathFinders, overseeing and developing case management programmes. She urgently wants to fill the social service gap and serve the most needy, assisting migrant mothers in regaining their confidence, dignity and hope.

Eddie Suen, Eddie started a business in the headhunting industry covering the Asia Pacific market with a primary focus in the commercial and industrial sectors since 2013. Prior to his career in the recruitment field, he had years of experience from Fortune 500 organizations and financial services sector that laid down a solid foundation in understand his serving sectors. Aside from his professional career, he is also supports career development of persons with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN) in Hong Kong via Cyberport, StartupWeekend Hong Kong and CareER.

Non profits usually mention one of these 3 reasons when they are asked about challenges in building teams

  1. Not being able to attract great talent,
  2. Not enough budget to hire high quality talent,
  3. No obvious HR process

How does one make a compelling employer brand in such a scenario?

Here's what we learnt through today's powerful sharing.

Have and share a compelling vision

According to Dr. Jowie, having a vision is the way to go for it. Limited resources should not prevent you from having a powerful vision - one that you believe in completely. It is this vision that can be a valuable tool in gathering a likeminded tribe to join your team.

Connect beyond screens

Money is not everything in the social sector, our panelists re-affirmed. Eddie mentioned that most candidates who are drawn to such roles are characterized by a bigger purpose and create measurable impact. So we need to focus on attracting them and sharing that purpose with them effectively. One way of doing this is by sharing purpose-led content on social media with consistency.   

It is also essential to connect people to the cause. As Jessica said, we need to move "beyond the screen" engagement and get teams into a room - discussing the real work and sharing experiences to remember why they chose this sector. She mentioned that for Pathfinders and their employees, such in-person sharing is hugely emotional and allows people to bring their whole self to the work - accelerating meaning in their professions.

Win at something

Another interesting point that came up during the discussing was tough sectors like social impact need to win at something. They need to celebrate small victories and keep reasonable goals to drive motivation and give the team the feeling of being part of something successful. 

Flexibility = Employee Joy (+ Employer Stress)

There is no doubt that flexibility is a huge asset especially when it comes to engaging remote teams or latent talent pools like retirees, elders or stay at home moms. While it can have organisational complications when it comes to calculating salaries etc, it can also add huge employee satisfaction and retention and is definitely worth the effort. Flexibility is not just in terms of time but also other things, such as getting their kids to work if the babysitter called in sick. Jessica mentioned that a culture trust is of utmost importance when exercising flexibility to help people live their full lives as they work and allow those who have other responsibilities to contribute meaningfully as well.

Help people connect

Asking people how their day is going or what they need is not a matter of courtesy but one that helps you connect with your teams, take a pulse on current stress levels and help prioritize work in order to maximize efficiency.

Lessons from startups

People work for stories. Tell your stories with authenticity to cultivate a community of evangelists. (A little beer on tap also helps! ;) )  

Empower your teams

You can hold on to teams by giving them the leash, involving them in decisions and stepping back a little. Giving space to your team can give them the confidence to gallop and innovate - giving them the right encouragement to stay on.

So here's our final word on this:

  • Talk to people - connect with them as humans
  • Let go and trust the team 
  • Have a culture that is open to imperfection so people can have a safe space to trial new ideas
  • Identify leaders early on and create an environment to retain them
  • Share your stories