5 Ways to Uplift Your Nonprofit Team When Giving Constructive Feedback
Giving and receiving constructive feedback is essential in professional settings, helping employees to refine their skills and do their very best work. But when delivered badly, it can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. Even if your intentions are good, giving overly negative or unorganized criticism can leave your nonprofit team feeling deflated, hurt, and unmotivated—making it harder for them to absorb and grow from your feedback.
“Whatever it is that we have to communicate, we want to have a positive outcome,” says Aimee Bateman in the LinkedIn Learning course How to Effectively Deliver Criticism. “We don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but at the same time, we do need to give this feedback.”
Whether you’re preparing for performance reviews or just looking to make ongoing feedback as meaningful as possible, here are five ways to deliver constructive feedback effectively and build stronger relationships with your team.
1. Plan what you’ll say in advance
Rather than giving reactionary feedback when you notice room for improvement, take the time to collect your thoughts before approaching the team member in question. You could even jot down some bullet points to help you organize the key points you want to share. This will also give you space to process your emotions, ensuring your useful feedback won’t be overshadowed by the person feeling like you’re angry or frustrated with them.
When you’re planning what you want to say, think about the goal the team member was trying to achieve—like converting a prospect into a donor over the phone or running a productive departmental meeting—and use it to anchor your feedback. Start with something positive, connecting it back to their goal, such as: ”You sounded really confident on that call, which is great. That’s often the hardest part of fundraising.” When you begin with a positive point of feedback like this, so long as it’s sincere, employees will feel seen and valued—making them more receptive to the constructive feedback to follow.
2. Allow the recipient to participate in the conversation
Framing your feedback more as a conversation than a directive can be beneficial to both parties involved. For the team member, it allows them to share their perspective on things they’re struggling with or feel they could improve on, opening up more avenues for growth. It can also provide an opportunity to learn what you could do to better support your nonprofit team.
Before you begin delivering feedback, give the recipient the space to reflect on their work. Ask questions like, “How do you think the call yesterday went? Do you like making fundraising calls?” Listen closely to their responses and ask clarifying questions where necessary before sharing your observations. That way, when you offer tangible steps to help them improve in the future, it will come across as thoughtful advice from a place of genuine understanding.
3. Tie your feedback to specific outcomes
When feedback is delivered poorly, the recipient may get the impression that it’s the result of their manager’s personal insecurities, rather than being tied to any specific outcome for the organization. Getting clear on the outcomes you want to achieve and how they connect to the team member’s own goals will help you separate yourself from the equation, so the recipient will know your feedback is coming from a good place.
For example, you might say, “I know you’re dedicated to building lasting relationships with our donors. I want to help you do that.” When you show the reasoning behind your feedback and tie it to an outcome that the person is striving to achieve, they’ll be more inclined to use your tips in their day-to-day work.
4. Focus on solutions, not problems
Instead of dwelling on the problem, which can trigger a defensive reaction in people, keep the focus of your feedback on the solution—giving your team the tools they need to solve the problem in the future.
Replace phrases like “don’t do that” with solution-oriented language like “If you open by saying this, it helps you build your prospects’ trust,” keeping the positive outcome at the forefront. Everyone has room for improvement, but if you place too much emphasis on what the recipient did wrong, your feedback can feel more like a dressing-down than a positive step on their growth journey.
5. Take it one critique at a time
Even if there are several areas of feedback you want to discuss with a team member, it’s best to approach each critique separately. As Bateman explains in her LinkedIn Learning course, this is important because it makes feedback feel less overwhelming, both emotionally and in terms of how it can be implemented.
If you have a few related topics to share, those can fit in the same conversation, but be mindful of the tips above. Make sure each point of feedback is easy for the person to digest—and that they walk away from the conversation feeling positive and empowered to apply your advice to their work.
Take your nonprofit team to the next level
When handled well, sharing constructive feedback with your nonprofit team lets them know that you’re invested in their growth. This can make them more engaged in their work—improving retention and productivity, and leading to better outcomes for your organization.
For more tips to help you improve your management skills, or to find resources that your team can use to grow in other areas, explore our Nonprofit Learning Solutions today.
This post was inspired by the LinkedIn Learning Blog article “5 Things to Avoid when Giving Constructive Criticism,” written by Rachel Parnes.