What can nonprofits do to retain employees?

This is the first of our Wednesday Sector Qs: Conversations and questions about pressing issues and breaking news in the nonprofit sector.

Photo credit: Maxime Grossman, Creative Commons/Flickr
Photo credit: Maxime Grossman, Creative Commons/Flickr

A January survey from the TIAA-CREF Institute and Independent Sector found that many nonprofit employees are worried about their financial future and their monetary compensation.

According to the survey, while 95 percent of nonprofit employees said that personal satisfaction with their organization’s mission is a central driver for their career decisions, 35 percent were not at all or not very satisfied with career advancement opportunities, and 45 percent were not satisfied with their ability to prepare for financial goals. In fact, nearly one-half of employees have considered leaving the sector to find greater compensation.

Many nonprofits realize that compensation and career advancement opportunities need to be improved. In a survey conducted by Nonprofit HR Solutions, a third of nonprofit organizations said that providing a competitive salary for their employees is a challenge for retention. And one in five highlighted large workloads and a lack of mobility as contributing to their difficulty in holding on to staff members.

While we recognize that these issues are challenging for nonprofits and employees, organizations are also exploring solutions. For example, iMentor has developed a program to cultivate leadership within their organization while Giifa, a startup, wants to crowdfund for nonprofit salaries.

So what do you think? What can nonprofits do to retain employees? What has worked at your organization?


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    • Paul O'Neal
    • February 6, 2013

    Many, if not most, non-profits hire a younger employee. The younger employee is, of course, more apt to be seeking higher paying positions and are always looking to move on and up. Overlooked is the seasoned and wiser older job seeker. The more mature applicant is likely to be content with a lower compensation expectation and most often wants to stay where he or she lands. Their goals are innately more altruistic. One non-profit, in posting a position on Craigs List, went so far as to trumpet “working with a young and fun team”. Wow.

    I suggest that you hold onto staff by hiring people for the right reason. Yes, Virginia, there is employment discrimination.

      • WW
      • February 8, 2013

      Discrimination against older potential employees is not unique to the nonprofit sector. Unfortunately, that has been the case for a long time and is even more severe in the aftermath of the recession.

      However, I have to disagree with what you have said. Many young people (including myself) work for less than living wage to work for or with an organization that has a mission they are passionate about. The positive qualities you write about older folk is just as prevalent in younger people. The negative ones you write about younger people can be found in older folk, too. The point is that it isn’t really about age when it comes to be altruistic, willing to work for less, etc. It’s about individuals.

      1. As a long-time nonprofit CEO, feel like it is important for the sector to support, educate and encourage employees to support their financial future. And, actually think this needs to start with our CEO’s and Board of Directors’. The most important asset we have are our talented, committed employees, yet few nonprofits have matched retirement savings plans. Believe we will have a generation of outstanding folks retirng without adequate savings for the future. And, a huge part of this will be based on nonprofit cultures that do not encourage and promote the support of our employees financial future. Most grateful (and inspired) that our Board just implemented a matched IRA plan for our team. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  1. I would push the Idealist team to definitely revisit the YNPN 2011 Report “Good in Theory” about the aspect of how to keep the younger nonprofit professionals http://ynpn.org/our-voice/goodintheory/

    We definitely have a lot of work to do in regards to keeping our young folks engaged and around, and not exploit their “cheaper” rates for 2-5 years until they burn out. Not only is that setting the sector up for failure, but you also cut out the thousands of nonprofit “veterans” that could have filled that position and been valuable in recruitment and retainment throughout the organization.

  2. Pingback: Can salaries be too high in the nonprofit sector? | Idealist Careers

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