Staff Retention Strategies on fixed term projects

Published on 24th February 2020

One of the key issues faced by not for profit Organizations and rarely talked about is the issue of losing key staff at the end of a project. By nature, projects have a start and end date, but what happens when you have a good team that needs to be disbanded at the end of a project?
While there are no costless remedies for retaining staff between projects, the points below could help you keep your talent pool as dedicated as possible with limited funds.


1. Be Honest: Staff members, particularly professionals, want to learn and develop. It is therefore important for you to be honest and transparent about your pipeline. Staff members are less likely to seek new opportunities before the end of the project if they have some assurance of continuity with your organization. There is also a greater sense of satisfaction when they have helped to develop the proposal. If there are no projects in the pipeline, be honest about that too. The lack of full disclosure can sometimes make employee feel a greater sense of ‘looking after number 1”.

2. Professional Development: One way to do this is to ensure that staff members who belong to industry associations are given the opportunity to attend professional development courses, seminars and conferences. Non-profits should consider discussing and financing professional development during an employees fixed term employment, this not only benefits the employee but also the organization as staff members are exposed to industry-wide best practice and are able to bring this expertise and knowledge back into the organization.

There is a popular joke about a CEO watching his HR and Finance managers debating professional training and development for the employees. The HR manager was pro training, while the Finance manger was against it, his reason was that it will be a an expensive pursuit, and they “what if the employees leave” after all the investments in training? Very valid question right ?. The HR replied and said “what if they stay” ? if we don’t train them ?.

3. Flexible Working Environment: The world is changing, and while the projects that nonprofits deliver tend to require some physical presence on the ground, Organizations should consider on a case by case basis if flexible working can be introduced. Home working can be a big motivator and stress reliever for employees at times. With the technology and resources available today, management can still ensure that employees who are benefiting from a flexible working arrangement are meeting all work objectives remotely. This should invariably be contextualized but not automatically rules out in a project environment.

4. Bonus: Financial reward for good work is a great motivator. National labour laws typically encourage the payment of a 13th month wage to temporary staff in country and this is usually a key motivator when working on fixed term projects. Other Organizations who do not offer a 13th month pay may offer other benefits which include: health insurance, life assurance, or dependent relocation and education payments. The point is that the more generous an employee’s remuneration package is, the less likely they are to leave before the end of a project

5. Mentoring: People generally want to grow and develop in their careers and, mentoring in the nonprofit sector is one way of introducing personal growth models that benefit both the mentor and mentee. While a mentoring agenda often gains immediate buy in from the mentee, it also provides a way of recognizing the prowess and expertise of the mentor in a way that a plack for longevity of service does not. It can also often be seen as bridging the gap between senior or long serving members of the organization and others who may be relatively junior.
Non-profits can reduce staff turnover rates, save money, motivate workers and increase their level of productivity at the same time with some or all of the methods suggested above.

6. Autonomy : Smart people love to be trusted with figuring their way out. Micromanaging employees is a great way to show them you don’t trust their judgement. In order to allow for a good autonomy however , you need to ensure you have done your part by employing smart employees in the first place, and have a well defined task schedule, milestones and KPIs in place. Then watch them happily do things their own ways.

Findev Consulting Limited is a UK based consultancy that provides grant management training to NGOs and civil society organisation. We have worked with numerous nonprofits across 3 continents, focusing on proposal development, strategic planning and project evaluation.

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