Mistakes to Avoid when Parting Ways with Nonprofit Staff

By Allison Wyatt

Allison Wyatt
Nonprofit employers need to make just as good of an impression on exiting staff as they do on entering staff, since former staffers can—and will—shape the way the organization is perceived.

Last impressions count just as much as first impressions. Imagine while house hunting you find the perfect house, but just as you’re walking out the door, the floor beneath you crumbles. No matter how positive your initial impression, this last moment is likely to stick with you and overshadow all of the wonderful elements you enjoyed about the house.

Focusing on employee exits helps preserve your organization’s employment brand by building lasting, positive relationships with departing employees who will continue to serve as ambassadors for the organization regardless of why they left. It is also a powerful way to demonstrate that your organization cares for your staff as people and an ideal time to learn about employee experiences and translate these insights into action.

Unfortunately, many nonprofit organizations fail to capitalize on employee exits. Below are four mistakes organizations typically make when employees leave.

Mistake #1: Failing to Understand Why They Left

Exit interviews are your last opportunity to make a positive impression on a staff member as they leave ”“ hopefully confirming a positive work experience with your organization. If they have any critiques, sharing this as feedback and feeling listened to can go quite far in neutralizing negative impressions. In addition, employees are most likely to be candid upon their departure and “tell it like it is.” This is your last chance to gather honest and constructive information about your organization to better understand why people leave and what you can do about it.

Mistake # 2: Poor Communication -- or No Communication about the Departure

It’s important to communicate staff transitions internally, celebrating the contributions people made during their time as an employee and wishing them well on their next endeavor. In addition, staff may be anxious about how this person’s responsibilities will be completed as you look for their replacement, so sharing an interim plan is important as well. Finally, don’t forget about those the departing staff member interacted with externally. It’s important external stakeholders: clients, partners, vendors, etc. hear the news from you with information about who they can be in touch with regarding questions in this person’s absence.

Mistake # 3: Failing to Proactively Address the Inevitable

Sometimes employees need help recognizing it is simply time to move on. Perhaps their roles have outgrown their skill sets or the organization is undergoing changes that eliminate the need for their positions. In these cases, a candid and honest conversation revealing role misalignment is the right thing to do rather than waiting until there are major performance problems that lead to termination. This demonstrates a high level of integrity and honesty, which is always appreciated by staff.

Mistake # 4: Failing to Support Staff Who Are Asked to Leave

In the sensitive situation of a termination, offer job search support and other transition services to the exiting employee to help position them for a successful career transition, further improving his or her feelings of goodwill toward your organization. This will elevate the caliber of opportunities departing staff move on to, which will position your organization as a successful place to build and grow one’s career. Staff coming in will always want to know what other staff have gone on to do”“ both internally and externally.

Allison Wyatt, vice president, human assets consultant at Koya Leadership Partners, a national retained executive search firm focused on nonprofits, has more than 10 years of HR executive experience.

June 2014