A Small Bonus Makes a Big Difference

When a nonprofit organization is going through a major transition, staff bonuses may be the last thing on the to-do list. Yet, that’s exactly what Experience Corps offered its employees during a time of organizational change.

In January of 2009, Lester Strong was hired as the new CEO of Experience Corps, a national organization that places adults 55 and older as tutors and mentors for elementary students struggling to read in urban public schools . At the same time, the program was transitioning from being a program within a larger nonprofit to an independent 501(c)3.

Employees were experiencing a good amount of change during this period. New administrative systems were being put into place and job descriptions were shifting. So Lester decided to implement a compensation strategy to help motivate staff through this period of change.

“I knew that the scope of work was going to change when we became our own 501(c)3,” Lester said, “As a new CEO, I wanted to recognize the hard work that brought the organization to this place, as well as prepare the staff for the challenges that lay ahead. So I sat down with all of the employees and said, ‘Here’s a small bonus for the great work you’ve already done and, frankly, for the increased amount of work I’m going to ask you to do.’”

In addition to the bonus, Lester decided to set salary levels after 9 months as a freestanding organization. “Job descriptions were changing and we needed to wait to have a better perspective from which to make informed decisions about scope of work and salary for each employee. The bonus helped to motivate staff until we would have the opportunity to set salary increases.”

Lester reports that staff received this information very positively. They were happy to receive the bonus up front and recognized that this “perk” was a call to commit to the work ahead of them. According to Lester, “The next 9 months were really successful. Staff took on greater responsibilities and worked harder. During this time, we created a 5-year strategic plan and integrated new standards into our literacy intervention model.”

“After this ramp-up period, we evaluated people who had been with Experience Corps for more than a year and increased salaries predicated on their new roles.”

Even for organizations that are not going through a major transition, a small bonus can be an unexpected and welcome motivator to employees. Lester described this type of bonus as a “thank you up front.”

As Lester learned at Experience Corps, a little bit of financial incentive can go a long way.