Can You Turn Average Nonprofit Employees Into Rock Stars?

By on Friday, May 11, 2012
There’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal today by Michael Michalowicz addressing small business owners, who often expect for their employees to take on greater responsibilities and super-human tasks. He notes that there is a placebo effect in how managers present a task to employees, noting:

Simply put, when you tell yourself you can or can’t do something, you not only predict your future; you make your future….If, on the other hand, you tell your employees something like, “This situation will be resolved easily and peaceably,” you’ll “placebo” your team into being a calm, rational staff behaving in a way that would ensure that your prediction is true. Again, they believe you, and the appropriate action follows belief.

There are lessons in this article for nonprofit leaders too. We all want to have staffs and volunteers that are self-motivated and take initiative and tackle projects. We often pile many, many responsibilities on our nonprofit workers. How do we make nonprofit workers rock stars?

It’s far too easy to assume that nonprofit workers don’t need to be motivated to do their jobs with silly words from a leader, esp. when those workers are talking big and seem to be dreaming big for the cause. Their dedication and devotion to a cause or program should be far greater motivators than anything we could say, in theory.

Yet many nonprofits are the tiny Davids facing giant Goliath problems. Sometimes, even with serious self-motivation to be involved, nonprofit workers do need those words of encouragement. They already know the problems that the organization needs to tackle – that’s why they signed up. Now they need a road map to follow and positive steps they can take to address those problems, even if they are small ones, to move forward. People can only operate in an environment of negativity for so long before they can’t operate any longer.

Nonprofit leaders can set a tone for how their staffs approach problems and perhaps by doing so, help them avoid the burnout that is all too common in this business.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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