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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How Can Nonprofit Organizations Build High-Performing Employees?

Nonprofit employees are vital in realizing an organization’s mission and goals. Even though organizations recognize the importance of nonprofit employees, the sector is the third-least engaged industry in the United States with employees that are hostile or actively disengaged. Turnover is costly; research estimates that it costs 20 percent of a midlevel employee’s annual salary to find their replacement. How can nonprofit organizations build high-performing employees?

Create a recruitment strategy

As many as 73 percent of smaller nonprofits (with an operating budget of less than $5 million) have no recruitment strategy or budget. To attract and recruit talented employees, nonprofit organizations need to implement a recruitment strategy with a recruitment brand. To create a strategy, organizations should ask themselves goal-oriented questions, including:

  • Positions needed to be filled
  • Desired number of applicants 
  • Qualifications desired
  • What type of people should be targeted?
  • When should a recruitment campaign begin? 
  • Can the position be filled by an internal recruit?

Within the recruitment strategy, organizations should create a recruitment brand or decide how the organization wants current and prospective employees to see the company. By defining this value, employees whose values align can be attracted and recruited. 

Create a culture that retains employees

After top talent is secured at a nonprofit organization, retention becomes of utmost importance. The most effective strategies to retain employees include:

Creating a higher level of perception of organization support

It’s no shocker that employees who feel that their organization values their contributions and their individual wellbeing will feel more engaged and satisfied. To do this, leaders need to commit to making their organization a great place to work, but also to encourage open communication, allow employees to engage in decision-making, and ensure that procedures are fair. 

Trust and respect 

Trust and respect in nonprofit organizations needs to be unilateral: Leaders need to trust that employees can complete their jobs, and employees need to trust that their leaders are transparent. This means employers should not micromanage employees--they should trust their workload is being done and if not, make sure that the workload is manageable and valuable to the organization. Employees want to trust their employers by feeling “in on it.” Employers should share more than just the good things that happen at the organization and let employees provide input to strategic decisions. 

Structure jobs for success 

Top performers are driven to exceed standards. Employees should be able to answer the following easily:

  • What is my job?
  • Why is it important?
  • How do I know if I’m doing a good job? 

If these questions can’t be answered, then the job characteristics needs to be structured to value autonomy, variety and task significance; all of which will help fuel talented employees. 

Professional development is everything 

Nonprofit employees feel that there are few career advancement opportunities even if they fulfill all of their job responsibilities. Want to retain talented employees? Invest in their professional development either by offering training programs, mentorship opportunities, leadership responsibilities or by showing an active interest in their career path. 

Training will help build talent

Training is a cost-effective way to build a high-performing workforce. Trainings should not only support the organizational goals, but also link directly to employees’ job responsibilities. Create a culture of learning by having regular all-staff training or finding readily available online training platforms 


To yield the highest employee engagement, use public recognition and direct recognition of employees. Public recognition should be in all-staff meetings or emails, and direct recognition should be from both the direct supervisor and higher levels of leadership to the employee. Regardless of the form, recognition needs to be as specific as possible by citing what the accomplishment was, how it exceeds expectations and how it impacted the whole organization.


Nonprofits may struggle with offering better monetary benefits, but there is still room to show appreciation of employees in other ways. Survey employees on what benefits they’d like. Research shows that it will likely be hours that are more flexible and work-from-home opportunities, both of which are free to implement. 

To create high-performing employees, leadership at nonprofits needs to buy in to creating a culture that attracts and respects talent. If leadership understands what makes talented employees more engaged, and creates a culture that values employee satisfaction, turnover can decline and nonprofit organizations can finally build a workforce of high-performing employees. 

Michelle Marion is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She is the Operations and Community Manager at CityCoHo, a sustainability-based coworking social enterprise in Philadelphia. She has five years of experience as the Director of Compliance in a social work company in Tucson, and most recently supported volunteers at Girl Scouts. 


ASU Lodestar Center Blog