Firing a person is one of the most difficult things a nonprofit leader may need to face. However, most nonprofits have scarce resources and a small team compared with the scope of their mission. Keeping a poor performer on the team can have negative effects on morale, and most importantly, your resources are not maximized in support of the nonprofit’s mission.


As you think about terminating someone, ask yourself these questions. Capture your responses in a notebook or shared document with your team.

Has the supervisor and the organization done all that they can to support this worker and give them opportunities to be successful?

Things to consider…

  • Training received and constructive feedback provided
  • Implementing a written performance improvement plan with clear expectations
  • Giving a reasonable time period to demonstrate what the worker can do

Is the worker destructive to the culture and team environment you are trying to build?

Things to consider…

  • Whether fast action is warranted, or if you can give a clear time period for the worker to demonstrate changed behaviors after clarifying workplace culture and team expectations

If you are terminating the worker, do you have the needed documentation regarding their performance issues?

Note: Washington is an at-will employment state, so cause is not required unless your organizational policies or a union contract require cause.

Things to consider…

  • Documenting why the separation was initiated
  • If there is a legal issue such as the worker claiming unfair treatment, your records help show the rationale for actions based on performance

Will you provide severance pay?

Note: Severance, personal holidays, and vacation time are voluntary benefits. Employers may choose to pay out these benefits on a final paycheck. You can optionally pay out any sick leave balances, and balances not paid out must be reinstated if the worker is rehired within 12 months. For more information visit L&I’s webpages for Getting Paid and Paid Sick Leave Minimum Requirements.

Things to consider…

  • Offering severance is not a standard nonprofit practice, nor are there established guidelines about what is a fair severance package
  • Under the Washington Equal Pay and Opportunities Act, requiring confidentiality around severance pay compensation could be a violation if the employer requires a worker sign a waiver or other document preventing the individual from disclosing the severance pay amount

Once you come to the decision to terminate a worker, keep it simple.

  • Prepare a termination letter outlining the terms (final day of work, access to the office and electronic files, details regarding the final paycheck, etc.). Affirming in the letter what benefits the worker is eligible for, like unemployment, can be helpful.
    • Important Note: Employers cannot withhold a final paycheck if the worker does not turn in keys, uniforms, tools, equipment, etc.
  • Meet in a private space. Assume the news will be upsetting for the affected worker. In some cases, having a witness present is a good idea.
  • Consider the timing – end of day or end of the week may be best.
  • Keep the meeting brief and factual. When the worker is emotional, it can be difficult for the person to take in a lot of information. Provide information in writing and keep the discussion short. Be clear that the decision is final.
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