How You Can Combat Employee Turnover

Combating employee turnover in the nonprofit sector is tricky, and, unfortunately, it’s pretty common. The hours are long, the work is hard and the pay isn’t always what it should be. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that fifty percent of chief fundraisers plan to leave their jobs within two years. Forty percent are thinking about leaving fundraising entirely.

I’ve been working with nonprofit staff members for years, and along the way I’ve learned a few things that help me keep them around for a while.

Hire and admire

The first step in combating quick turnover is established during the hiring process. Hire right! Make sure you’re asking questions about potential employees’ goals and ambitions. If they use phrases like, “this will be a great stepping stone” or “once I get some experience under my belt,” then you know you’re just another stop on the journey. Now, don’t get me wrong: I know that my employees won’t stay here forever. But there are a few things I’ve done with our culture to prolong their stay as much as I can.

It’s important to foster an environment of empowerment. I want my employees to feel that they have a sense of direction, purpose and ownership in their position. By empowering them, you are saying, “Hey, you matter, what you do matters, and I need you here.”

And when they complete a task or reach their goal, admire them for it. If they’re not being recognized for the work they’re doing, they won’t think their work is making a difference.

Goals, goals, goals

I want to know what goals my employees have and how I can help them get there. And not just work-related goals, either. I want to be a champion for whatever they’re trying to accomplish, in or out of the office. If employees feel that you’re invested in their personal and professional development, it will be hard for them to leave.

At work, make sure that everyone is on the same page with the organization’s overall goals. If your staff is collectively working toward the same outcome, they are more likely to stick around because they’re invested.

Use your mission to your advantage

An important thing I’ve learned is that everyone needs to know the organization’s mission and understand what it means to them and who they’re serving. Being mission-minded is such an important component of working for nonprofits. You want to make sure you’re encouraging a work environment that mirrors the values you are trying to serve in your community.

Additionally, if employees truly embody your mission, they’ll become a part of a community. They’ll work towards it inside and outside of work. In other words, it will become a part of who they are. You have an amazing and worthwhile mission; don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage!

Make yourself visible

I have an open-door policy. I want my employees to come in and talk to me about what they’re working on and ask me questions when they have them. Encourage your staff to chat with you during work hours, about anything and everything. Face time goes a long way; if they know you’re willing to help and be available, they’ll stay.

As the face of a nonprofit organization, you need to make sure your staff members (and your volunteers, for that matter) actually know what your face looks like. They understand that you’re busy bringing the organization to new heights, but don’t forget to spend some time

Focus on culture

Culture is critical. You need to harness a place where people want to work. This doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money, either. Sometimes, a fun culture can translate into ping-pong tables and renting out movie theaters, but not always. Order some pizza and have a fundraising planning night. Combine work and play to show your team that you’re not all big and bossy.

Stay true to your list of benefits. If you promised continued education, do that. Make it a point to check every box you’ve set out for your staff. You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you haven’t followed through on your commitments. It sets the precedent that they don’t have to, either.

At the end of the day, here’s the thing: your people matter. You need to make them feel like they do! Of course, if someone’s going to go, they’re going to go. But, if you truly believe that people are your nonprofit’s most valuable asset, then put your money and time where your mouth is and do what’s right, not what’s convenient.

  • It’s been my experience that lowering employee turnover in both nonprofits and in business comes down to two pretty challenging tasks. The first is intimately managing the organization’s budget so that one of the top three priorities is paying a living and competitive wage/salary that is at lest at market value for your area. The second is having a 360 degree feedback system to identify challenges and then following through on addressing those challenges through systemic change. If you are a manager/director/leader at your organization, imagine that employee turnover is a key performance indicator of success in your role.

  • Irene Egan

    This article is the typical “what” article… we all know the “what.”
    Very thin on the “how!” The “how” is what we need to know!