Happy, engaged nonprofit employees: Does your organization stack up?

Written by: David Terraso
Published on: Sep 1, 2016


For nonprofit employees, it’s an ongoing challenge to weigh the benefits of committing to a cause-driven organization, given the budgets and resources of their for-profit counterparts. If a for-profit can buy the interest of job-seekers with a better salary, how does a cause-driven organization compete? Any nonprofit that wants to retain their best employees must answer a critical question: How do we keep our employees satisfied and engaged in their jobs?

To help nonprofits with this challenge and other HR needs, the Unemployment Services Trust (UST) released a Nonprofit HR Toolkit including two e-books—5 Myths Increasing Your Unemployment Costs and Nonprofit Employee Engagement & Retention Report—along with checklists that nonprofits can use to ensure they are following the best HR practices in the business.



The Nonprofit Employee Engagement & Retention Report highlights results of a 2015 survey of executives, supervisors, and staff at more than 1,200 organizations from across the nonprofit world.

Here are five key findings from the report – how does your organization stack up?

1. Culture, mission, and purpose are key drivers of nonprofit staffer satisfaction.

To keep employees engaged from the outset, prioritize purpose in employee communications. One of the best ways to keep employees engaged is by setting goals that relate directly to the mission, and celebrating their achievement. Culture is driven by the values that the organization and its managers express, so make sure core beliefs and desired behaviors are fully aligned with your mission and communicated from the top down.

2. Focus on improving the things you can: They can have a ripple effect on the things you can’t.

Want to decrease turnover? Manage employee stress by lightening their workload, or  focus on improving communication between supervisors and their reports by providing better tools for delivering constructive feedback. These can increase satisfaction, which will improve retention.

3. When hiring, focus on “fit”: The better employees get along, the more satisfied they are.

Nonprofit employees are unique in that they have to care about what they do, and the impact they are making, to be happy. Hire someone who cares, and watch that passion drive your organization’s success.

4. It’s possible to both underestimate and overestimate the importance of compensation.

Bringing wages to a level consistent with individual expectations or needs allows employees to focus on serving the mission. Once employees feel fairly compensated, however, giving them more money will not increase feelings of satisfaction.

5. Strong leadership is absolutely vital.

Goals, feedback, supervisor communication, autonomy, and resources all have an effect on satisfaction and turnover. Compared to employees’ opinions, supervisors tend to overestimate their communication and feedback efforts, indicating that nonprofits have to do more to provide the support and guidance that employees are seeking. A focus on management training will strengthen your organization, and the sector.


UST logoUnemployment Services Trust provides workforce solutions for nonprofits, reducing their unemployment costs and helping remove back-office burden so they have more time and money for their missions. David Terraso is a contributing editor for Work for Good.



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