More Insights from JVA’s Genius Bar Panelists

By Sandy Wiegand, copyeditor and writer at Joining Vision and Action

If you’re having any trouble motivating your nonprofit’s staff members to do their best work, JVA’s Genius Bar panelists have some words of wisdom. Their most emphatic message? Give your team members a degree of independence and a voice in their professional development.

The Genius Bar was among the highlights of JVA’s recent Executive Director Academy and featured Nita J. Gonzales, president/CEO of the Escuela Tlatelolco Corporation; Adrianne Maddux, chief operating officer and acting CEO of Denver Indian Health & Family Services; Damon McLeese, executive director of Access Gallery; and Mary Cipollone, executive director of the Heart and Hand Center For Youth and Their Families.

Panelists shared the following ideas on empowering team members in a way that motivates them to work independently to advance their organization’s mission:

Staff Development

Set aside a budget and a regular time for professional development/training and allow staff members to determine (informed by the needs of the clientele) how to spend that time and money.


If you have a large staff, designate enough managers to ensure your staff members have a leader with capacity to listen to them and meet their needs. If leadership isn’t giving employees enough time, no one is happy.


Hire the right people and get out of their way.


Be flexible when it comes to employees’ different work styles, including level and method of organization. You can give them good tools, but you can’t make them use the tools.


Give employees regular feedback on their work. If an employee hears something for the first time during his/her evaluation, the supervisor isn’t doing his/her job.


Allow/encourage employees to take on new tasks and roles that align with their strengths.


Let your staff know that it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them.

Interesting. There seems to be a recurring theme here. Apparently, good relationships are a key not only to engagement by the board of directors, but to buy-in by the organization’s team as a whole.

There’s still time to sign up for JVA’s next extended training, Social Enterprise Basecamp—six days of workshops that take place over the course of several months. The first two days in November 2017 will serve as a foundational introduction to the material. Click to view the full schedule.