What makes a nonprofit organization successful? A lot of things. An engaged donor base, for example. Sufficient income. Creative fundraisers. Those are all great.
But most important? People.
It’s your team–from the Executive Director to the intern who makes the coffee–that makes your mission possible in the first place.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that nonprofits suffer higher turnover than any other sector. The nonprofit turnover rate clocks in at just over 21% and the overwhelming majority of that is voluntary. Surveys show that nearly half of nonprofit employees will seek other jobs by 2025. Scary stuff. So, what can you do about it? A lot.
This is where a successful employee retention strategy comes in. After all, it’s not enough to hire incredible talent if they’re not in it for the long haul. First, we break down why nonprofit turnover is so high. Then, we tackle the steps you can take to ensure that your people stick around.
What is High Nonprofit Employee Turnover and Why is it a Problem?
When it comes to selling raffle tickets at your annual sweepstakes, you want a sky-high turnover rate. When it comes to team members, however, a high turnover rate means something is seriously wrong. Why is high turnover a big deal?
- It’s expensive. Research shows that an organization will spend more than half of an employee’s annual salary to find and train someone new to replace them.
- It wastes time. Just think of how long it takes to seek, screen, and interview candidates, then onboard and train them. All those hours could be spent on fundraising!
- It means you’re bleeding talent. When a top performer moves on, there’s no guarantee that their replacement will have their drive and imagination. That’s why it’s so important that your best and brightest stay on board.
- It looks bad. When people take off, it leaves the rest of your team feeling demoralized, which hurts productivity. It also sends a strong message to your supporters that your organization is not a desirable place to work. That’s not the rep you want.
- It makes staying on mission more challenging. To be successful long-term, you need all hands on deck all the time, not just during fundraising events. Attracting donors, especially big-ticket grants and corporate sponsors, requires meticulous attention to administrative and financial processes. Research shows that the biggest obstacle nonprofits face when it comes to tracking and reporting outcomes is a lack of staff. You need a committed team for all that behind-the-scenes work.
What Causes High Nonprofit Employee Turnover?
While every organization is unique, there are generalizable patterns across the nonprofit sector that point to the major reasons employees bail on their organizations.
- They aren’t growing. A job is one thing, a vocation is another. It’s safe to say that folks who choose the nonprofit path aren’t in it for the money. That doesn’t mean, however, that nonprofit staff doesn’t put a premium on advancing their careers. The majority of people who left nonprofit gigs cite “absence of opportunities for upward mobility” as the number one reason for their decision.
- They aren’t sufficiently compensated. While nonprofit employees rarely expect to be millionaires, they don’t want to be overworked and underpaid, either. If salary isn’t keeping up with the cost of living, your organization’s noble goals will take a backseat to finding greener pastures.
- They don’t like the culture. Workplace culture is an important factor in attracting and retaining talented staff. If your team isn’t satisfied with the leadership, communication strategies, levels of transparency, or lack of inclusion in the workplace, they won’t feel bad about signing off.
- They hide their feelings. If people are leaving your organization in droves and you have absolutely no idea why, there’s a good chance that your team members feel pressure to keep mum about their emotions and experiences. Research indicates that regularly hiding emotions leads to major burnout, increasing nonprofit turnover rate. It turns out that employee engagement is strongest when everyone talks openly.
- They want flexibility. Since 2020, nonprofit employees have been heeding the call of the Great Resignation and leaving their jobs for better options. While this might sound like it’s a pandemic-specific concern, its effects can manifest any time employees feel stuck. What’s driving the Great Resignation is lack of fair wages and the pursuit of a flexible working environment, a trend that will continue to motivate workers post-pandemic. If your organization offers rock bottom salaries and has zero remote or hybrid opportunities, it’s high time to reevaluate your MO.
Employee Retention Strategies for Nonprofit Organizations
Even if the nonprofit sector has a bad rap for high turnover, there’s a silver lining: on average, nonprofit workers love what they do with a genuine passion. They’re in the business of making a better world. If your employees find meaning in their work, the hardest part of keeping them engaged is done for you.
Since more than 80% of nonprofits don’t have any kind of formal retention program, you’ll have a massive advantage if you start thinking strategically about how to retain your employees. Here, we discuss 8 research-backed strategies for keeping your team happy long-term.
Strategy #1: Get feedback
Developing a successful retention strategy begins with gathering intel. Examine the average tenure of your staff and their reasons for leaving. If your high performers jump ship, ask them why. If new hires tend to peace out in their first year, figure out what’s going on.
Conduct exit interviews. Ask your employees what they need. What motivates them? This kind of feedback gives you great insight into how to proceed with boosting employee retention at your nonprofit.
Strategy #2: Have a top-notch onboarding program
If you don’t have a formal onboarding program, you’re missing out. Just like you wouldn’t invite someone to your house for dinner and forget to introduce them to your family, you shouldn’t neglect introducing your new hires to your organization.
Onboarding is critical for training and showcasing your organizational philosophy, structure, resources, and processes. It helps new staff settle in, get to know your team, and learn the ropes.
Strategy #3: Knowledge Sharing and Documentation
As we discussed above, loss of talent is one of the reasons that replacing employees is so expensive. If someone in your organization is the only go-to person for a critical part of your workflow, and that person checks out, your team is up a creek.
Solution? Don’t hoard knowledge. Encourage your top performers to share their skills, train others, and document their processes so any team member can jump in and take over at any time. For example, you can organize a monthly skill seminar, where your star players explain how they got so good.
Strategy #4: Offer growth opportunities
If people aren’t stretching their wings, they begin to feel bored and stuck. After all, lack of growth and mobility is the number one reason people quit; research finds that more than half of the workforce prioritizes growth opportunities over salary. That’s why it’s critical for your organization to offer learning and development opportunities.
Remember: creating room for growth isn’t only about pushing your people to get better at what they already know how to do. Learning-centric and peer-to-peer mentorship programs have been growing in popularity. Why? Because they help your team members become not only more efficient workers, but better-rounded human beings and more competitive in all aspects of their lives.
Strategy #5: Make space for life outside of work
Now that people are living more of their lives online, your organization is competing against employers that offer remote, telecommuting, and hybrid work opportunities. People love it because it translates to less time commuting and more time for their kids and hobbies. Experts argue that nontraditional work structures that move beyond a rigid 9-to-5 schedule are here to stay.
What this means for you: whether you love it or hate it, if you want to keep up, it’s time to get agile. From casual dress at the office to childcare to flextime, the more options you offer, the happier your team will be. Plus, it guarantees that your nonprofit is well-equipped for moving into the brave new future.
Strategy #6: Prevent burnout with perks and gratitude
Whether you’re working with vulnerable populations, struggling students, hospitals, or other charities, nonprofit work is often emotional work. And emotional work takes a toll. While nonprofit employees are dedicated to the communities they serve, the emotional labor involved can sometimes lead to compassion fatigue and burnout.
Show your employees that you value their contribution and are thankful for their dedication. To make good on those words, make sure to listen to their feedback. To help your team de-stress, consider investing in perks like on-site yoga sessions, mindfulness training, and pizza parties (or salad bar parties for the veg-heads in your group). Not only will these inexpensive activities boost morale, but they also build your team and create shared memories.
Strategy #7: Diversify your revenue stream
A bigger budget helps indirectly decrease employee turnover because it equips you to offer so much more to your team, whether in the form of higher wages or bigger perks. If you rely exclusively on occasional fundraisers to stay afloat, you jeopardize organizational stability and risk losing people. In addition to organizing creative fundraising events, it’s crucial to partner with local businesses, obtain both corporate and individual sponsorships, apply for grants, and set up donation pages to ensure a regular income.
Strategy #8: Build your culture
When you pinpoint all the everyday interactions, expectations, habits, decisions, and communication strategies that make your organization unique, what you’re really identifying is your nonprofit’s culture. Culture includes everything from the way you answer the phone to the décor on your office walls.
A strong, comprehensive culture at your nonprofit is a surefire way to attract and retain top talent because it guarantees that your team’s work is consistent with your organization’s values, mission, and goals. It unifies your people, makes them more engaged and more productive, and ensures that everyone feels that they are a valued part of a bigger whole. The best way to build your nonprofit culture is, first, to define it and then to practice what you preach, with regular feedback from your employees, donors, and the wider community.
Keep Your Staff and Supporters Happy with Innovative Solutions
Implementing a successful nonprofit employee retention strategy is all part of keeping your organization flourishing, come what may. Here at RallyUp, we want your team to go the distance, which is why we offer a comprehensive, easy-to-use, and FREE toolkit for nonprofits.
The fundraising solutions at RallyUp include planning and organizing events, making sales, advertising, and tracking outcomes. When it comes to boosting your organization’s regular upkeep, we help you build intuitive and customizable donation pages that will be a big hit with donors and supporters.