Updated: Nov 29
One of my most vivid memories of the first days of COVID is when I walked out of my office unsure of when I’d be coming back. That cold, rainy March day was full of confusion and anxiety about what the future would hold - I wondered about the virus, my job security, and everything else.
I went home and set up a folding table in my basement that would function as my home “office,” not knowing how it would go doing my job without seeing people face-to-face.
Much to my surprise, I thrived in the work from home environment.
As the weeks working from home turned to months, I came to find I was more productive, happier, and better able to balance my many responsibilities. Though the world around us was full of increasingly alarming developments, I was able to integrate my life with my work in a way that I hadn’t experienced before.
In hindsight, the success of a work from home setup shouldn’t have surprised me. My very first direct report was someone I never met in person - they worked from home in Seattle while I worked out of an office in St. Louis.
We had a seamless system of frequent check-ins, departmental goals, and performance metrics that drove our work, and we always stayed on target. That dynamic was highly productive, and after experiencing work from home flexibility myself, I knew that it was a sustainable model long-term.
I certainly wasn’t the only one to experience this (see Sharon and Amy’s thoughts below).
A recent poll found that 73% of people would like to continue working from home after the pandemic, reflecting the dramatic shift in attitudes toward work that has emerged from the crisis. That’s especially true for people like me with young kids, who find that working from home makes juggling childcare and professional responsibilities much easier.
As we face a retention crisis in fundraising, work from home flexibility is one of the easiest benefits you can offer to better recruit and retain staff. It doesn’t cost anything extra, and it will set you apart from employers who may still have rigid, outdated ideas about employees needing to be in the office the majority of the time.
Here are some tips to help implement an effective work from home model for your fundraising staff.
Focus on results
It’s easy to get caught up in scrutinizing the details of an employee’s work, but ultimately, that’s not what matters. It’s the end result that will determine whether the employee and the organization are achieving their goals.
Measure how many donors the fundraiser is contacting, how much money they are raising, and other metrics you establish internally. If they’re hitting those targets, then the process - when they work, where they work, etc. - is meaningless. If the employee shapes the process in a way that leads to results, then that adds value to your organization.
You may even find that shifting focus away from process will help you weed out underperformance that you did not recognize when staff were office-based. Dan Price, the innovative CEO of Gravity Payments, Tweeted his observation of how teams can benefit from a work from home arrangement.
Work to understand your staff in terms of what they produce, not how long they sit at a desk. When working from home, you may discover bad processes had been in place that were impediments to your team hitting goals.
Trust and verify
The fundraising profession is full of idealistic, mission-oriented people. Nobody gets into fundraising work because they want to be rich, and every fundraiser is motivated by a vision of having an impact on society.
Don’t operate from the assumption that fundraising staff will be slacking off if you can’t directly supervise them. Instead, trust that they are self-motivated, but verify that they are still being productive.
Keep track of their work in a results-oriented way. Know your key metrics - number of calls made, number of proposals submitted, etc. - and track progress toward those goals. If progress isn’t being made toward goals, work to identify obstacles that may be in the way. Odds are, if an employee is struggling to stay productive working from home, they would have had the same productivity issues in the office. This is a chance to work one-on-one with your staff and set them up for success.
Make it easy to communicate
Working from home does not mean working alone. The work will still present challenges at times, so staff need the chance to share their struggles and successes so they can maximize their impact.
Whether it’s a weekly (or more as needed) check-in meeting, accessibility by phone or email, or other easy touch points, let staff know that you and the rest of the team aren’t far away. When challenges arise, work collaboratively to find solutions that will continue driving results.
Focus on hiring
There’s a mantra we go to over and over again at Team Kat & Mouse: hire attitude, train skills. Find the right person for the job and skills can be developed through training and mentorship.
When you’re hiring staff and giving them the freedom to work from home, use the interview process to really understand their personality. What motivates them? Do they thrive working independently? Will greater freedom inspire greater creativity?
Make sure you have the right answers to these questions before you invite someone to join your team. Hiring the right people and giving them the freedom to establish a comfortable working environment is a big step toward long-term retention and employee growth.
The last 18 months have proven that working from home is not just something that works on a temporary basis, but is a long-term option to give employees more control over their time. It unlocks creativity and new ways to solve problems while giving employees a clear benefit that will help you avoid turnover.
If you’re looking to change the culture on your team and help staff work from home, our team of nonprofit fundraising consultants is here to help!
Contact Team Kat & Mouse today to schedule a free consultation.
Thoughts from the KAT
I found working from home during the pandemic to be an awakening of sorts.
The time spent with my team via zoom/phone was so valuable in a different way than we were together. Lack of distractions coupled with need for human interaction, turned into time to share new ideas and grow funding for our mission in new and different ways.
Now, let’s talk about the time spent with those who reported to me. This one-on-one training with NO distractions turned into great growth for them and great insights for me. They grew but so did I. In fact, much of what became the foundations for Team Kat & Mouse grew taller from the seeds planted during the early days of lockdown.
Thoughts from the Mouse
I was accustomed to being away from the office, after all face-to-face fundraising requires us to be with donors wherever they are available to us. The shift for me was being on Zoom calls - and knowing that “my” donors were accommodating new schedules and pandemic lives themselves. Learning everyone’s new preferences for communication was tricky - and recognizing that work from home would look different for each employee and donor took time. The last months were another opportunity for us all to learn the importance of asking questions and communicating openly.