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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

4 ways to keep nonprofit staff motivated at work

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One major dilemma that both the nonprofit and private sectors are currently facing is retaining qualified staff. Without qualified and passionate staff, the organization will not be as productive or successful in carrying out its mission.

Over 80% of nonprofit organizations do not have a formal retention policy in place. This leads to high turnover rates, low morale among staff, and a loss of knowledge in organizational operations. Turnover is costly for organizations. Nonprofit leaders must begin looking at what motivates employees and how to satisfy their needs to improve retention rates by creating formal retention policies. Here are four things to do to keep nonprofit staff motivated at work. 

  1. Find what motivates staff: Measure current employee retention to gain a benchmark. Next, start gathering information on what motivates staff. This can be done in a variety of ways such as conversing in a group setting as a team, in 1-on-1 meetings with supervisors, or through an anonymous survey. It is important for an organization to know what motivates their staff when they are developing their retention strategies. This will help employees feel heard and encouraged.
  2. Exit interviews: Another way to see what areas matter most to employees is to examine why previous employees have left the organization. Through exit interviews, you can see what areas need to be improved on. To be effective, an organization should develop a formal exit survey form that can be given to all exiting employees. Information received on those forms can show leaders where necessary adjustments need to be made for better practices. 
  3. Fair and competitive pay: Another important strategy for high retention, especially in the current economy, is to ensure all employees are being paid at a fair and competitive rate. Organizations should research what other companies are paying and review national averages and inflation. Salaries should be evaluated on a yearly basis and increased when necessary. Pay should always be an open and truthful conversation from the beginning, so that all employees know what to expect. 
  4. Recognition programs: Recognition programs allow employees to see that leaders are taking note of their hard work, and that they are appreciated. Programs to recognize employees can include an employee of the month, thank you notes, and verbal recognition. This creates a positive environment that allows staff to adopt the same practices and organize a recognition culture. Employees will feel appreciated and more likely to stay with the organization. 

It is absolutely essential that nonprofits develop strategies to ensure that employees are happy and engaged in their positions, which increases the retention rate. By avoiding high turnover, the organization can also avoid spending additional money on recruitment and onboarding, as well as keeping the programs they run performing well. By using formal retention policies like exit interviews, fair compensation, and recognition programs, staff is more likely to stay at an organization longer.  

Devon McDaniel is a 2022 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. Devon got her undergraduate degree in Multidisciplinary Studies, focusing on disability studies, human services, and family and youth intervention at West Virginia University. She currently works at the Shack Neighborhood House, a nonprofit community center as the program coordinator and childcare licensing director.

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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.

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ASU Lodestar Center Blog