3 Steps Nonprofits Should Take When a Star Employee Leaves

3 Steps Nonprofits Should Take When a Top Performer Leaves

On every team, there’s at least one employee who everyone else turns to in a crisis. They always know how to raise people’s spirits and find innovative solutions to even the most challenging problems. But one day, they tell you it’s time for them to move on from your organization.

It’s never easy when a great employee leaves, especially if your nonprofit has a small team to begin with. But there are some things you can do to make their departure a more positive experience for everyone involved—and strengthen your team in the long run. Here are three steps you can take.

1. Schedule an actionable exit interview

Exit interviews are your chance to find out why your star employee has decided to leave—but they can also be so much more than that. After all, the person may simply have received an offer they could not refuse, and nothing your organization could have done would have prevented their departure. Rather than just searching for problems, take this opportunity to really drill down into their experience with your nonprofit.

First things first, don’t wait too long before connecting with the departing employee. If it’s their very last week, they’ll likely have one foot out the door already, so their focus won’t be on your organization. Schedule it early, and consider asking a more senior manager to conduct it, rather than the employee’s direct supervisor, as this may yield different results. Ask them to record the meeting and take notes, as this will make it easier for you to act on any feedback given. 

As for the questions themselves, aim to cover both the positive aspects of the employee’s time with you and any areas where there’s room for improvement. Get their perspective on their manager, their coworkers, your organization’s culture, and your leadership team. What would they change if they were in charge?

You can also use this time to understand all the different hats they wore at your organization, as this will help you update the job description for the role. What were their core responsibilities? How did they feel about the additional responsibilities that fell to them? Did they ever feel like they were being stretched too thin? 

Make sure that the person asking these questions keeps their tone neutral and doesn’t argue with anything the employee says, as this may make the person feel uncomfortable sharing important details and could taint their view of your nonprofit. If they have a positive exit experience, on the other hand, they’ll be almost three times as likely to recommend your organization to others.

2. Let your team know as soon as possible

Sometimes, managers are afraid to tell their team that a star employee is leaving, fearing it will hurt morale. But employees talk to one another, especially if they’re friends, so holding off will only lead to rumors and anxiety. 

Instead, invite the departing employee to tell their peers soon after they tell you, then follow up with the team yourself. Share that, while you’re sad to lose the person, you know they’ll go on to do great things elsewhere. Next, share your plan for the final few weeks of the employee’s time with your organization, then outline how their work will be covered until you hire someone to replace them. 

You can also highlight the opportunity that lies within this challenge. Maybe this is a chance to restructure the team a little to better play off everyone’s strengths. Perhaps it means some projects can be put on the back burner to make way for work that will be more engaging for everyone and more impactful to the communities they serve.

Most importantly, make sure you’re there for your team—and that they know that. Check in with them individually, listening to any concerns they have and addressing them promptly—otherwise, your star employee may not be the only person packing up their desk. 

3. Conduct stay interviews with other critical team members

Exit interviews can tell you a lot, but you don’t need to wait until an employee is leaving to gain valuable insights that support retention. Periodically throughout the year—but especially when you lose a key team member—schedule stay interviews with your best people to find out what they need.

These interviews allow you to confirm that your top performers are engaged in their work, helping you spot any flight risks. What motivates them? What do they love about their current role, and what frustrates them? What are their goals at your organization?

Investing time in stay interviews also helps you to build trust and show employees you care—potentially saving time you would have spent replacing these team members later. 

End on a good note

An employee leaving doesn’t have to be the end of their relationship with your nonprofit. By celebrating their achievements, thanking them sincerely for their efforts, and highlighting the impact their work has had on the world, you can encourage them to become an ambassador for your organization. You never know when this might pay off in the form of a referral, a partnership opportunity with their new employer, or even them choosing to return to your nonprofit later in their career. 

For more help supporting and nurturing your team—and boosting retention—explore learning and development solutions from LinkedIn for Nonprofits.

This post was inspired by the LinkedIn Talent Blog article “3 Steps to Take When Your Star Employee Leaves (Screaming ‘Noooo!’ Isn’t One of Them),” authored by Bruce Anderson. 

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