HR Study Points to a Need to Retain by Engagement in Nonprofits

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March 2014; Nonprofit HR


The 2014 Nonprofit Employee Practices Survey opens with the welcome news for nonprofits and individuals hoping to move into the sector that the hiring rebound that began in 2009 after the recession is continuing. Fewer nonprofits are freezing or eliminating staff positions, and plans to create new positions across all subsectors far outstrip plans to eliminate. Job growth has been particularly robust in the fields of health, public/social benefit, and arts and culture and the humanities. Still, one in five nonprofits reported that employee turnover was a top employment challenge last year, attributed most frequently to excessive workload and/or an inability to promote top performing staff.

The positions with the most turnover were direct service positions, program support staff, and development staff.

Proposing in a related blog post that if nonprofit leaders “dedicated the same time, attention and resources to their people as they do to fund development, the sector as a whole would be more successful,” Nonprofit HR invites nonprofit leaders to consider the overall value of employee engagement to the work that they are doing.  

In an effort to quantify the impact of one “disgruntled intern” to one hypothetical organization, Nonprofit HR sketches out a scenario of how the negative viewpoint of one person could quickly spiral to 125 people and an estimated fundraising loss of $1,250. More than just a loss of income however, the firm argues that staff churn also erodes institutional knowledge and the available time of other staff members who inevitably will take on added responsibilities. According to the survey, entry-level and mid-level employees are the most challenging groups for nonprofits to retain, with 45 percent leaving to go to other nonprofits, which suggests that salary is not always the determining factor. 

A majority of survey respondents reported that flexible work policies such as telecommuting positively impacted their ongoing retention and recruitment efforts. Focusing on the universal appeal of these kinds of employment benefits, the firm asks nonprofit leaders to consider a pie-in-the-sky scenario for their staff members: “How about if your benefits package and flexible work policies were so stellar that they wouldn’t leave for anyone short of Google?” 

As a final note, the firm asserts, “Happy, engaged employees are your best brand ambassadors because they will tell anyone and everyone how great your mission is, how much they love their work, and how effective the team is.” The question for nonprofit leaders is how to most effectively cultivate staff members while still advancing the organization’s mission.

Conducted annually since 2007, the 2014 National Nonprofit Employment Survey is intended to be a snapshot of the experiences of the 10.7 million employees in the sector and includes responses from 413 nonprofits nationwide.—Anne Eigeman


  • Mark Fulop

    Just a quick observation on this “study” According to the consulting website that produced this paper, “Every year, Nonprofit HR invites more than 20,000 nonprofit organizations from across the United States and Canada to participate in a survey of employment practices within the sector.” So, 412/20,000 means that these data are based on a 2% response rate to the survey. I would put this one in the highly speculative category and say shame on NPQ for not at least pointing out the micro thin data that the study “conclusions” are based on. =/

  • anne eigeman

    Thanks for the observation.