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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Four tools to help you retain paid staff

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Retaining talented and experienced staff is a key component to the success of nonprofit organizations. By focusing on a strategic, paid staff retention plan, nonprofits will curb staffing disruptions, thereby making a greater impact within the social sector. The average turnover rate for the social sector is 7% higher than the for-profit sector. In some divisions of the social sector, the rate is as high as 64.8%. In spite of these staggering numbers, only 13% of nonprofit organizations have a talent retention plan, which can be accomplished in four steps: identification, input, application and evaluation.

Before nonprofits can develop a custom talent retention plan, they must first understand why employees stay with an organization. Employees stay with agencies where they are satisfied with their responsibilities, have a positive relationship with colleagues, and have exemplary leaders. Although each aforementioned point contributes to the foundation of employee satisfaction, leadership is the cornerstone of staff retention. The concept and application of servant leadership is not a new idea to any sector; the servant leader meets the needs of staff members, breeds new servant leaders, cultivates trust, builds proactivity and promotes meritocracy. By keeping these premises in mind, the nonprofit leader can move forward with the creation of a bespoke talent retention plan.


Foremost, a nonprofit should identify through the analysis of data if turnover is a problem. All nonprofit leaders should review offboarding interviews to identify commonalities.  When there are themes to resignations, the organization can then identify what departments need additional training and support. By identifying reasons for employee resignation, the organization expands their view to understand pressure points.

Staff input

Next, the agency should seek the input of staff to understand what their employees need from their employer. This can be achieved through interviews or surveys. It is imperative that before conducting the interviews or surveys, the employee feels that they can freely share input without retaliation. It should be noted that the interviews or surveys should be framed as an opportunity to bring solutions to challenges, rather than a time to air grievances.

Application plan

After receiving staff input, the nonprofit should understand foundational theories associated with employee satisfaction. Frederick Herzberg built upon Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by creating his Two-Factor Theory. Herzberg stated that there are two categories associated with employee satisfaction: hygiene and motivator. The hygiene factors include policies and procedures, work environment, salaries, work and life balance, working relationships and quality of leadership. Herzberg found when these hygiene factors were not met, employees become dissatisfied and therefore, fail to stay motivated. When a nonprofit seeks to improve or solve the hygiene factors, the employee can then move into a state of motivation. The employer then should support the staff member on their journey toward career advancement, personal growth, achievement, the increase of personalized tasks and increased levels of responsibilities. If the employee feels supported in this state, they can focus on creating the greatest impact for the nonprofit organization.

Talent retention requires a plan


Lastly, the nonprofit organization must measure the efficacy of their retention strategy by conducting evaluations. These evaluations can take the form of stay interviews. Stay interviews are conducted by trusted servant leaders who have cultivated an environment that values honesty. There are five key questions to ask in a stay interview.

After conducting these interviews, the nonprofit organization can identify valuable pieces of data to address issues before an employee resigns.

A stay interview can help retain staff.

In conclusion, nonprofit organizations do not have to stay in a perpetual state of stress caused by employee turnover. While resignations will still occur, the agency can be proactive by implementing an employee retention plan. Although this strategy involves a greater commitment of time and effort from leadership, the organization has an opportunity to allow employees who were initially attracted to the mission to create more impactful outcomes by being fully supported.

Lisa Vesolich is a 2022 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She has over 15 years of experience in the social sector and specializes in social entrepreneurship, program management, consulting and development. She is currently the Development Manager for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pennsylvania, and focuses on sustaining their missions of ecology, spirituality, and peace and justice. When not serving her community, she can be found spending time with her husband, five-year-old daughter, and new puppy.

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The Optimizing Human Resource Strategies in Nonprofits Certificate from the ASU Lodestar Center's Nonprofit Management Institute offers courses on maximizing human potential, engaging volunteers, communicating with purpose and championing change in your organization. It's available completely online.

Lisa Vesolich


ASU Lodestar Center Blog