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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How nonprofits can attract and retain high-quality employees

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Nonprofit employees are starting to show sector-switching intent, which affects the retention of nonprofit organizations. Understanding what positions need to be filled, hiring and training all require a large amount of resources. After all that, the goal is that an employee will remain long enough to become a worthwhile return on investment, according to John L. Lipp in “Keeping the Volunteers You Have.”

While salaries can influence the retention and recruitment of employees, a potential employee’s intrinsic motivations related to the mission and social connection to the organization also relates back to the satisfaction of that employee with their jobs.

Meeting the following motivations can lead to a successful retention program for nonprofits.

Monetary motivations

Monetary motivations correspond with the most basic level of human needs according to Maslow’s Hierarchy. Compensation covers the material safety needs of employment, property and health. It should be noted that not any compensation will be acceptable for employees. They need to be able to meet the needs of the local environment and their living situation in order to be able to accept a position.

To better meet monetary motivations of employees, try implementing some of the following methods.


Implement flexible work schedules

  • Flexible start and end times each day
  • Occasional or regular work from home opportunities
  • Paid time off for family or personal reasons
  • Control over breaks throughout the day
  • Gradual return to work from childbirth or adoption
  • Choice of working overtime or not
  • Flexibility of working longer hours on fewer days for a shorter work week

Provide paid time off for part-time staff

  • Sick days may be required depending on your state
  • Vacation days or flexible paid days off

Mitigate transportation barriers

  • Provide low cost public transportation vouchers
  • Cover parking costs on-site

Reconsider budgets to include living wages

Social motivations

Social motivations can be summarized as the relationship with an employee and other staff members. Trust formed with those in leadership roles can lead to higher performance, greater job satisfaction and lower turnover. Integrity, benevolence and ability within a job function all contribute to the overall perception of trustworthiness between employee and employer. This motivation parallels the idea of belonginess and inter-personal self-esteem in Maslow’s Hierarchy.

To better meet social motivations of employees, try implementing some of the following methods.

Create a job shadowing or “Take Your Coworker to Work” Day

  • Flexible start and end times each day

Recognize employees for their successes

  • Job recognition programs
  • Recognition for tenure in a position
  • Recognition for outside achievements

Praise in various forms

  • Email
  • One-on-one
  • Organizational meetings

Intrinsic motivations

By meeting the needs of self-esteem and self-actualization outlined by Maslow, employees can use the organization as an expressive output and internal satisfaction, according to Peter Frumkin in “On Being Nonprofit.”

Nina Simon, a long-time nonprofit executive, classifies this connection between an individual and the mission as yielding a positive cognitive effect on the individual. The relevance of the organization to the individual provides something that truly matters to the individual. Relevance is more than something someone likes; relevance goes beyond the surface level interest and yields something that matters to the individual.

To better meet intrinsic motivations of employees, try implementing some of the following methods.

Provide professional development opportunities

  • Webinars (attending and presenting)
  • Conferences (attending and presenting)

Understanding the employee’s connection to the mission of the organization

Nonprofit organizations are at risk of losing some of their tenured and well-trained employees. Employees have multiple ‘why’s for working at a specific nonprofit. If all these reasons meet the given motivations, there is little reason for turnover in a position. Yet, meeting combinations of these motivations also will lead to less than desired performance. Social and monetary motivation, but no intrinsic motivation can lead to apathetic employees. Monetary and intrinsic motivations can lead to an employee who does not trust their coworkers or leadership. Social and intrinsic motivations lead to a happy employee who cannot pay their bills. By understanding employees, organizations reduce turnover in nonprofits and create a happy, symbiotic relationship between employee and employer.

Alaina Caulkett is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Caulkett is a long-time museum educator with experience in developing curriculum and educating children from ages 4 to 18. She serves as the Instructor I for Camps and Classes at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog