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What Every Nonprofit Director Needs to Know About Employee Turnover

The nonprofit sector’s hard-to-swallow pills



Almost half of nonprofit employees will seek new jobs by 2025, Forbes reports, and although this information seems shocking, we know that turnover has long been a problem for the nonprofit sector. But we also know that in the nonprofit world, a shocking statistic is an opportunity to do better.

Let's see what nonprofit professionals are saying about their turnover research.

Nineteen percent of the Forbes survey respondents said that “nonprofits do not offer good long-term career opportunities,” and 12% concluded that “nonprofits are not well-run businesses.” And they aren’t just going from one nonprofit to another - studies show that many will leave the sector altogether.

Senior Partner of the Veritus Group, Jeff Schreifels, cautions nonprofit leaders not to take their employees for granted, “because they have a heart for your mission.”

The disconnect between organization and community

To your employees, this certainly isn’t just a job - 85% of nonprofit employees have a “higher motive” than just getting a paycheck or advancing their professional careers. For most, it’s a chance to be part of a change-driven community.

Typically, the number one reason employees quit their jobs is a poor relationship with their direct manager, but for nonprofit employees, there’s a facet of their dissatisfaction that needs to be addressed by all nonprofit directors.

One-third of fundraising professionals have left a job because they felt isolated from or unwelcomed by their co-workers. One-third also reported at least one instance of bias from their co-workers in the last year.

In partnership with the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ IDEA program (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access in the Nonprofit Workplace), DonorPerfect sponsored a collaborative survey involving nine organizations and 2,000 fundraising professionals.

Here are the results:

  • 25% were harassed or were the victim of micro-aggressions from their employers’ donors, potential donors, or volunteers.

  • 37% have left a job because they felt isolated from or unwelcomed by their co-workers; 60% of Black participants have left a job because of discrimination.

  • 30% of fundraisers under age 35 reported experiencing bias because of their age

  • 25% of study participants who have ever been discriminated against because of their appearance (size, height, hairstyle, tattoos, etc.) and 24% of people with disabilities reported that type of bias from their co-workers in the past year.

  • 22% of people who are a gender other than man or woman reported co-worker bias in the past year based on gender, compared with 13% of women and 7% of men.

  • 9% of people who identify as Jewish experienced bias in the past year from co-workers because of their religion, compared with 3% of people of all other faiths.

“The [AFP] study shows the importance of making a commitment of time and money to bring about social justice,” said Eva Aldrich, President of CFRE International.

And that’s right on the money. The world’s 75 million millennials make up the largest generation of donors and fundraisers to exist, and they have proven themselves to be more responsive to community-centric ideas that address social justice as a collaborative responsibility, according to The Nonprofit Center at La Salle University.

So how can higher-ups reward a high level of dedication to a better future?

5 suggestions to lower your turnover rate and be a better manager

  1. Develop your staff’s skills

Harvard Business Review reports that job seekers from entry-level to executive are more concerned with opportunities for learning and development than any other aspect of a prospective job. A genuine enthusiasm for your employees’ development will shine in your conversations with them, and with that guidance should come plenty of encouragement and acknowledgment of their progress.

“Work groups in which employees report that their supervisor (or someone else at work) cares about them as a person, talks to them about their career progress, encourages their development, and provides opportunities to learn and grow have lower turnover, higher sales growth, better productivity, and better customer loyalty than work groups in which employees report that these developmental elements are scarce,” according to HBR.

  1. Show your appreciation

Even if your organization has fallen on hard times in terms of revenue or retention, there are quite a few cost-effective ways to boost morale across the board. When employees are satisfied with their work, they are more productive and less likely to leave, so simply recognizing your employees can improve performance across the organization.

Struggling with donor retention? Learn from fundraising expert Pamela Grow in this free guide from DonorPerfect: Your Donor Retention Toolkit >>

Research suggests that symbolic awards can significantly increase intrinsic motivation, performance, and retention rates. In Harvard Business Review’s recent study, one group of social workers received letters of appreciation from their direct managers, and another received nothing. A month later, those who received a letter reported that they felt significantly more valued, more recognized for their work, and more supported by their organization than those who didn’t.

  1. Communicate often - and with transparency

Employees can start to feel unsatisfied with their work or their role when they aren’t receiving consistent feedback or support. Poor communication also makes it easy for them to feel left in the dark when it comes to leadership issues and challenges.

Suffice to say, feeling seen and heard is important to everyone. Schedule and keep regular meetings with employees - as individuals or teams - and leave the floor open for feedback, especially any related to Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access (IDEA).

“Be transparent about challenges and direction, including such things as changing customer expectations, new relationships, early-stage strategic plans, and top leaders’ thinking regarding the potential impact of industry trends and economic conditions. Invite their questions, thinking, and suggestions on these issues as well,” suggests management professor Monique Valcour.

  1. Participate in employee career planning

Poor management not only damages your organization with turnover costs but also missed opportunities. Leadership plays a vital role in managing talent - your sole purpose isn’t to lead, but to guide new leaders with fresh perspectives.

“Support the career aspirations of colleagues, including access to promotions and greater responsibility,” AFP suggests.

Provide influence and inspiration that helps your employees to follow a career path that leads to higher compensation - or a role that more closely matches their personal goals. Give them the contacts, resources, and feedback to guide them down the right path. Instead of waiting for employees to ask for a raise, reward them with compensation upon recognizing the caliber of their contributions.

Read DonorPerfect’s Nonprofit Leadership Workbook for Women for tried-and-true advice, best practices, and valuable exercises to equip and inspire you to pursue leadership positions within your organization. >>

  1. Center organizational initiatives around inclusion

Based on AFP’s research, about half of those who’ve experienced discrimination or bias did not report it to supervisors or leadership, highlighting the need to be proactive in providing supportive environments. The collaborative believes fundraisers will benefit from stronger leadership, intentional support of staff, and deliberate policies and practices related to IDEA.

AFP recommends the following for nonprofit managers in 2021:

  • Be deliberate about equitable hiring.

  • Pay attention to supporting equity and inclusiveness throughout the organization.

  • Commit to an inclusive process to create well-defined written policies that address IDEA.

  • Respond clearly and quickly to concerns and have consequences for people who offend through discrimination, bias, or micro-aggressions.

Just like those your nonprofit serves, you don’t know the struggles of your employees. Treat them with the same compassion that you would the vulnerable. Celebrate what makes them unique, help them hone their skills, and just generally find joy in their success. When one person in your organization succeeds, everyone can.


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