My Phone is on Fire

As a compliment to DHR Leadership Consulting’s article, Moving Forward Demands a Sticky Culture,” DHR Nonprofit Practice Partner, Sara Garlick Lundberg, takes a look at how The Great Resignationis manifesting itself in the nonprofit space.

January 24, 2022



It’s not unusual for me to be approached by nonprofit leadership contemplating change. But the rate at which this is happening has skyrocketed. The Great Resignation, or the Great Re-evaluation as others call it, is wreaking havoc on my phone. You may be wondering, “Are my staff members calling?” (the answer: likely, yes)

For some, continued uncertainty and talk of a hot job market has led to curiosity. But for more, the root cause is simpler: organizations aren’t having the hard conversations needed to keep their talent or thoughtfully adapting to new circumstances, and people are burnt out. Common themes in my conversations include uncertainty in the face of transition, stress from expanded roles, deflated compensation, and lack of understanding of the complexities of this moment.

The costs associated with replacing talent are high: lost time and work means less time spent delivering on your mission, and recruiting requires hours of work, fees to firms, and energy spent onboarding.

How do you get ahead of the trend and prevent your high performers from becoming part of the Great Resignation? I spoke with my colleagues at DHR’s Leadership Consulting to get their thoughts:

Live Your Values

One of the things that underlies our current challenges is culture. Look at your culture and whether you’re practicing your core values. Start at the very top.

Maryanne Wanca-Thibault, DHR Leadership Consultant

When culture is articulated but not lived within an organization, trust erodes, and culture can turn negative.

Are staff members engaged and asking hard questions? A culture where people are not is one where things might be askew. Organizations led by longtime leaders, especially founders, can be particularly susceptible. In a recent article on, executive coach Dan Mack shared, “I’ve found that successful founders often lose their curiosity, passion and edge… remaining curious, humble — for previously successful entrepreneurs — and open to other ideas is an internal battle.” This lack of curiosity can lead others to prioritize falling in line, letting survival reign over values.

Wanca-Thibault added “Questions are essential. This may seem like a question of niceties, but an open culture where engagement is authentic, and culture is lived builds the internal environment that keeps talent and attracts new leaders.”

Invest in Connection

A recent New York Times survey of early to mid-career professional noted many “pandemic hires” feeling rudderless and adrift in the workplace. Remote work may be efficient, but those who don’t invest in relationship building lose out.  In a recent NYTimes piece, Ann Helen Peterson and Charlie Warzel noted, “Small talk, passing conversations, even just observing your manager’s pathways through the office may seem trivial, but in the aggregate they’re far more valuable than any form of company handbook. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be translated into a remote or flexible work environment.” These activities support what I like to call the soft connective tissue that builds trust and makes a company an enjoyable place.

Christine Greybe, President of DHR Leadership Consulting added, “Activities and rhythm are essential … People forget that in person we had those informal points of connectivity. In the remote work environment, you really need to create that.” In the virtual world, staff connectivity must be an investment. It lives at the individual level (calling a colleague who is sick, for example), and at the team level. At DHR, our Wellness Team hosts everything from remote cooking, yoga and painting classes to “coffee chats” with leadership. When timing has been right, leadership also prioritized Covid-safe, in-person gatherings.

Getting Granular

Among organizations with contented team members, we hear common trends: an appreciation for the complexity of current work environments (particularly for parents), flexibility, shared culture, fair pay and more.

Keep up with Pandemic Adjustments

As we approach the two-year mark of the pandemic, individuals continue to face complicated and compounding pressures – from office returns and limited childcare, to depressed compensation paired with expanding roles. Ongoing adjustments that reflect the interconnectedness of our work and personal lives are the new normal. Wanca Thibault shared, “We don’t always get involved in personal matters, but in this time… it’s hard to separate professional from personal, and leaders who understand this and adjust are coming out ahead.”

Strong leaders are connecting formally and informally – more importantly, they’re taking action. We have seen clients provide those who are caregiving with monthly stipends to support added childcare needs, mandatory office-wide weeks off, and more.

Evaluate your Offerings

This isn’t the market to rest on your laurels with regards to compensation. I speak with too many nonprofits who feel that the draw of their mission or reputation should help staff and prospective candidates overlook lagging compensation. Thankfully, many more are discussing compensation analyses with their Boards and doing the hard work to ensure they can attract, support, and retain the best talent.

Nonprofits are also getting creative, offering incentives like tuition reimbursement, 4-day workweeks, extended parental leave, and wellness stipends, that, like the pandemic adjustments noted above, not only incentivize employees to stay, but build loyalty.

Evaluate Roles and Offer Opportunities

Sometimes the best talent is hiding in plain sight (or just a Zoom window away). Sit down with peers to learn more about high-potential employees across your organization. Think about creative ways to develop rising stars, as well as those who struggle, but show potential and may flourish in a different role. Greybe shared, “If you want to retain staff, you need to invest in them. Engage your team, provide training, initiate a high potential program and develop a succession plan.”

If you want more ideas on how to beat the Great Resignation, call me, but don’t expect me to tell you who is on the other line.

Meet the Author

Sara Garlick Lundberg

With more than 20 years of leadership experience, Sara specializes in nonprofit search consulting, organizational assessment and executive transitions. She works across the health, education, human service, conservation, arts and youth development spaces to secure executive leadership, as well as with CEOs to identify senior talent in the areas of finance, fundraising, operations and research.

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