By James D’Ambrosio

In this challenging economy, many agencies are looking to save money and improve the bottom line. While managers can look to traditional areas for savings — personnel, insurance, benefits, etc. — there are other ways it can be accomplished. A well-run employee suggestion program can save money, improve operations and empower staff — a three-fold benefit. The key is ‘well-run,’ which I’ll address shortly.


While program structure can vary, typically, staff submit money-saving ideas to management which are then reviewed for viability. The best idea(s) are adopted and the employee receives a financial reward. Years ago, prior to e-mail and Internet and working at a large federal agency, a winning suggestion was stapling a sheet of paper over the used spaces of inter-office envelopes, extending their life. A simple yet effective idea for an organization with a large volume of mail.


The key to a successful program is proper planning, clear policies and effective communication. Here’s some ways to get started: 

A) PLANNING: Begin by forming a committee or having a staff member develop an outline considering these issues: a) How often will it run? b) What criteria will be used to evaluate ideas? c) Who will implement and monitor the program? d) What will be the size of awards? e) How will ideas be submitted? f) Who will review suggestions and decide winners? Formality and structure will vary based on agency size and resources.

B) ROLL OUT TO STAFF: When details are finalized, introduce the program to staff through inter-office memo, flier, e-mail, etc. Clearly describe how it will run and the reasons for it, i.e., saving money and improving operations. Emphasize employee suggestions are valued and encouraged. A sincere, well-crafted message adds credibility and helps create buy-in. If people view your initiative as genuine, they’re more likely to participate. 

C) STRIVE FOR FAIRNESS: Consider more frequent contests with smaller awards, creating more opportunities for people to win; limiting how often the same person can win helps ensure fairness. You want staff to believe they have a reasonable chance. If it’s seen as a longshot, people may not bother.

D) PUBLICIZE WINNING ENTRIES: Let everyone know, through whatever method you choose, who submitted the winning entry and why it was chosen. This is important: Office politics and rumors can undermine efforts. Clear, consistent communication can prevent this.

E) THANK ALL ENTRANTS: Provide feedback to everyone participating in each contest. Thank entrants for their efforts and encourage future submissions. People appreciate it when their ideas are validated. It also builds goodwill.       


Beyond cost savings, a good program can boost morale if people believe management values their input and shares decision-making. Additionally, since nonprofits arguably attract greater numbers of thinking individuals with a purpose (at least in some cases) why not tap that intellect? 

Consider the above a starting point, as a detailed blueprint is beyond the scope of this column. The focus is presenting an idea to help increase organizational effectiveness.     



A) What has been your experience with employee suggestion programs? 

B) Anything you’d like to add?

2 Responses

  1. Hey James! I loved your article. These ideas for implementing employee suggestion were actually the inspiration for the structure of our app, Vocoli ( Its designed to help companies manage, track and implement employee suggestion box and engagement programs. We’d love to hear what you think!

    • Dear Melanie:

      Sorry for the much-belated response — been exceptionally busy lately. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this blog post. I did take some time to visit your site and, it does seem like a cool idea. If you can successfully track and quantify the benefits of an employee suggestion program over time, it will hopefully catch on.

      Your services and rates will be important as many nonprofits are struggling financially right now. Might want to consider marketing the service to larger agencies that would have the resources and interest in investing in such a service. Best of luck!

      Best Regards, James D’Ambrosio CommunicationsProfessional 438 Atlantic St.| E. Northport, NY 11731 Cell: 516-819-0528 Blog: Nonprofit Communications:Writing ForA Better World Follow me on Twitter: @Jamesdambrosio LinkedIn:

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