A nonprofit leader presenting to coworkers.

April 4, 2024 | Categories DonorPerfect Fundraising Software, Featured

7 Nonprofit Leadership Red Flags & How to Turn Them Green

As nonprofit leaders, you have the incredible opportunity to enact positive change and leave a lasting impact on your communities and team. However, even the most well-intentioned leaders encounter internal challenges along the way. By proactively identifying and openly addressing red flags, you can foster a thriving, engaged, and mission-driven workplace.

There may be times when you sense that something isn’t quite right – a surge in staff frustrations, an unsettling increase in turnover, or a general sense of negativity clouding the workplace. These are common red flags, warning signs that can hinder your organization’s effectiveness and employee engagement. Gallup research highlights poor or destructive leadership and unresolved issues are the greatest contributors to employee disengagement.

While no organization is immune to such challenges, openly acknowledging and discussing them before they escalate is essential for maintaining a healthy, high-performing nonprofit. Let’s take a look at some red flags and ways to transform them into opportunities for growth:

1. Complaints to the board

When staff bypass normal channels to voice their concerns directly to the board, it signals a major breakdown in trust with leadership. Whether it’s frustrations with management’s style, harassment, or grievances about workplace culture, don’t brush them off.

Turning it green: Open the lines of communication to rebuild trust by implementing an open-door policy where leadership schedules regular check-ins to hear staff concerns. Consider working with a neutral third party to facilitate any needed mediation or conflict resolution.

2. Revolving door of top talent

While turnover is expected in nonprofits, a sudden exodus of long-term staff screams that there are deep-rooted problems. They dedicated a significant portion of their work life to your organization, and something is cause enough for them to resign. Did they leave because of bullying, favoritism, or lack of support?

Turning it green: Reach out to former employees, and candidly ask why they left. Moving forward, regularly conduct exit interviews to identify areas for improving culture. Start holding stay interviews with current employees to proactively address concerns, and invest in professional development opportunities.

Hear how the President of DonorPerfect, Lauren Sheehan, utilized a listening tour to foster a more nurturing environment and led to a cultural shift in the Nonprofit Expert podcast.

The cover image of the DonorPerfect podcast, Nonprofit Expert.

3. Unproductive meetings

Ever left a meeting thinking, “That’s 75 minutes (and it was scheduled for just 30) of my life I’ll never get back?” Meetings should be productive where ideas are exchanged, decisions are made, and progress is charted. Wasted time drains already limited energy and resources, impeding your ability to fulfill your mission.

Turning it green: Create agendas, adhere to time limits, and begin all-staff meetings by reading your organization’s mission statement.

4. Online reviews as feedback channels

It’s easy to despise employee review sites as havens for disgruntled ex-employees just venting. But for every scathing review you see, there are likely countless others silently harboring the same concerns. New potential hires and donors are reading these too, offering them a glimpse into your organization’s stability and general well-being.

Turning it green: Respond professionally to negative reviews by acknowledging concerns and outlining steps to improve. Use insights from reviews to identify themes and areas for organizational development.

Go ahead, search for your organization now online! What are employees and supporters sharing? Are there patterns or common topics?

A laptop with a search engine open.

5. Attempts to buy silence

The use of non-disparagement agreements or hush money payouts to silence departing employees raises concerns about transparency. What exactly are you trying to hide? Imagine if supporters got wind of this. If you’re lucky, they’ll just stop giving and not call asking why you’re using their donation for something other than the intended purpose.

Turning it green: Demonstrate accountability and humility with robust whistleblower policies and safeguards to surface issues ethically. Model accountability by owning mistakes and working proactively to correct them.

6. Financial sketchiness

Recurring deficits, delayed payments, lack of financial transparency – these money red flags instantly shatter donor confidence in your nonprofit’s credibility and sustainability.

Turning it green: Prioritize sound financial management practices through audits, clear annual reports, and strategic budget planning.

7. A perpetual dark cloud

We all have off days, but when cynicism and negativity become the norm, it’s clear there are morale issues.

Turning it green: Cultivate an appreciative culture by regularly recognizing staff contributions – add this as an item on your new meeting agenda. Provide mental health resources and encourage use of your team’s vacation and personal time.

Path to organizational health

Embrace these red flags not as obstacles but as catalysts for positive transformation. By committing to address issues collaboratively and proactively as a leadership – including the board – you can reignite your team’s passion, fortify donor confidence, and amplify your ability to impact the communities you serve.

You don’t have to go it alone! Download our free e-book, Building a Board of Ambassadors, created in partnership with nonprofit expert Joan Garry. Provide your board with practical strategies to help you navigate challenges and foster organizational resilience.

Get your free copy of Building
a Board of Ambassadors now

Janell Lewis DonorPerfect Content Writer
Meet the author: Janell Lewis

Janell joined the DonorPerfect marketing and communications team in 2023. With over 15 years working in the nonprofit realm, she’s navigated many roles from public relations and fundraising to media relations and website management. Her commitment to nonprofits traces back to early in her life...

Learn more about Janell Lewis
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