Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
Illustration by Yuxin Qin
No matter the industry, success is made possible by the individuals hired to achieve results. Employees are frontline; their talents and efforts determine success within any organization. Employees choose specific nonprofit organizations because they have a personal connection or emotional attachment to the nonprofits mission. Even though motivation and passion are high amongst employees entering the nonprofit sector, there seems to be high burnout and a desire to leave nonprofit work behind all together after a short amount of time.
Nonprofits can lower the risk of burnout and turnover by strengthening their employee engagement strategies. Strengthening employee engagement can enhance morale, lower the turnover rates, strengthen teamwork, preserve consistency and, overall, cause success toward the nonprofit’s mission. Employees should be equipped with the proper tools needed to run the programs and projects expected to be successful while feeling confident and appreciated. Three key tools are discussed below that can help organizations boost their employee engagement.
The onboarding process should be structured with the objective of finding the “right fit” for the organization, while also being prepared to meet the possible needs of that “right fit” as well. Having this process in place can lower the risk of employee-organization misalignment. There should be a shared passion between the organization and the potential employee, as well as a clear understanding of expectations on both ends. This is a way to begin fostering employee engagement right away.
Onboarding is not orientation and should not be treated as such. The process should be 30 to 90 days to ensure the employee feels supported and transitions into their new role successfully. This time period also gives the organization the opportunity to test out the employee on a probationary period to be sure they fit the culture.
Development encompasses training and mentorships that can fulfill employees’ personal and professional growth. Investing in employee development shows appreciation and care for the employees as individuals. Though there is always a possibility the employee will take their development and use it elsewhere, they are more likely to stay when their development is supported. Taking time to understand these needs and desires for each individual employee can help build a relationship. Following through and making sure the future employee’s development required is met will also influence employee engagement.
Structured recognition programs are critical for employee engagement. Recognition can be done for a variety of achievements and accomplishments at little to no cost. Because most employees choose nonprofits for the mission, monetary rewards are not always necessary. However, certificates, promotions, opportunity for more/new responsibility, public recognition, incentives, personal days, and however else an organization can show appreciation could make a difference. Recognition should be consistent and aligned across the organization and across different teams. Recognition could also be utilized for personal celebrations as well, such as birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, etc., to enhance culture as well.
Though there are several ways an organization can begin enhancing employee engagement, these are strong starting points. Providing a strong sense of welcome, development, and recognition can lower the risk of retention and will foster healthy working conditions, giving organizations a better opportunity at reaching their goals and focusing on their mission.
Sabrina Esquivel is a 2021 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She received a dual undergraduate degree in psychology and justice studies from Grand Canyon University. She currently works on the Integrated Fundraising Team at Make-A-Wish America, going on two years with the organization. Sabrina currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona, and enjoys family time and being outdoors with her dog.