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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How can nonprofits successfully increase job satisfaction among their employees?

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Individuals choose to go into the nonprofit sector because of their passion to complete meaningful work. While the sector tends to attract considerate individuals, nonprofits have trouble retaining that uniquely skilled workforce. This in part is due to the work environment produced, which can often be taxing on employees because of understaffing and funding issues.

By adding to existing practices and adopting new strategies, nonprofit leaders have an opportunity to create finer work environments for all, leading to an increase in job satisfaction and a more effective organization. Altering the workplace in ways that show employees they are valued will bring success; by providing opportunities for employees to develop skills, implementing work rewards and recognition programs, and altering leadership structures can increase job satisfaction, thus decreasing turnover rates.

Skill development

Providing opportunities for employees to build onto and enhance their professional knowledge increases job satisfaction while also benefitting the organization by producing a skilled workforce. When leaders prioritize the advancement of employee skills, employees become more engaged in their work for the organization. By investing in these elements, employees are able to build on their capabilities and will continue to provide best practices when working with clients. 

Creating clear opportunities for employees to advance themselves gives them something to look forward to and lowers the chance of them looking elsewhere. Rather than your organization being a stepping stone for employee success, employees are given opportunities to grow their knowledge within the organization. 

Work rewards and recognition strategies

Rewards enhance the work life of employees. Most places of employment focus on extrinsic rewards, such as compensation and benefits packages. Due to restrictions on how nonprofits are allowed to utilize funding, providing extrinsic rewards may be more challenging. However, intrinsic rewards, or rewards that focus on the joy of work, can be just as effective. 

Implementing ways for everyone at the organization to build connections will help foster positive relationships throughout the organization. Having positive relationships with coworkers creates an environment that is collaborative and encourages open communication. 

When one person feels good about him or herself, they become motivated to contribute to the betterment of others. Implementing recognition strategies and programs where coworkers are given opportunities to acknowledge and praise each other provides further opportunities for coworkers to bond while enhancing morale. The desire to be respected and recognized is high within nonprofit employees, so recognition programs are an easy way for nonprofit leaders to engage employees and increase job satisfaction. 

Changes in leadership structure

Most businesses, including nonprofits, utilize a hierarchical structure where the executive director is at the top level, and all others are below. This produces the sense that employees have to work their way up within the organization to gain a leadership role or be involved in decision-making. Organizations that acknowledge how all employees can offer different perceptions and expertise are on their way to success.

Being heard and listened to by management is also increasingly important, and by management showing that they care for employee well-being, staff will feel valued and more connected to the organization. 

There are many factors that contribute to nonprofit turnover. By taking the time to understand why employees are dissatisfied and might choose to leave, nonprofit leaders can better understand their team and advance the health and prosperity of the organization. By providing opportunities for everyone to grow, encouraging collaboration and communication between coworkers through recognition strategies, and altering leadership structures to show employees they are assets to the organization, job satisfaction can increase greatly.

Jordyn Noel is a 2022 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She received her undergraduate degree in social work from Colorado State University. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado, and works for a small domestic violence nonprofit where she provides advocacy services to individuals experiencing domestic violence. In her work, she strives to provide best practices for clients but also for employees. In her free time she enjoys photography, watching baking shows, and spending time with family and friends.

Learn more with this certificate program

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.

Jordyn Noel


ASU Lodestar Center Blog