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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Avoid high turnover in the nonprofit sector by retaining staff

staff retention

High employee turnover rates

The independent sector has seen the highest turnover rates in the past decade than ever before. In a recent survey, over fifty percent of nonprofit leaders predict their employee turnover rates will increase in the upcoming year. (King, 2022) Turnover goes beyond affecting the functions of an organization; it impacts the financial standings, reputation with donors, and the community and creates a cycle of burnout. Turnover impacts the morale of current employees of an organization and creates an environment where it is easy to demotivate the staff. Nonprofit executives may also feel overwhelmed and decide to leave their organizations.


Tips for employee retention

In the public sector, leaders can increase staff retainment in the following ways:

  • creating an engaging workplace
  • investing in recruitment
  • providing opportunities for staff to move up within the organization
  • supporting a Human Resources Department
  • investing in training opportunities for staff
  • facilitating a diverse, collaborative team

Retention starts with the onboarding process and, if needed, delaying hiring in order to find the right candidate. “The right team member can change its dynamic and bring new energy levels. Employees with new ideas and initiative can revitalize broken processes and change how things have always been done, increasing productivity and raising morale.” (Vance, 2006) When faced with short staffing, it is essential to consider delegating and dividing the work among the current employees. Then have the staff be a part of the search for the next job candidate.

  • Finding a self-motivated employee will help the current employees feel revitalized. But the wrong candidate who leaves shortly after being hired will make the existing staff feel doubtful of their workplace, adding to the turnover cycle.

  • Having all employees lead by example is critical for new hires as well. It is up to the staff to make the new hire feel welcome; simple acts of friendliness and professionalism make the recent hire more likely to stay with the organization.

  • Creating opportunities for staff to learn new skills or move up in the workplace is essential to discouraging involuntary or voluntary turnover. Many workers in the nonprofit sector leave because there are few opportunities for them to move up in the workplace or receive a pay increase.

  • Training sessions motivate employees and assist them in learning more skills that will help both them and the workplace. “Employees who are engaged in their work and committed to their organizations give companies crucial competitive advantages, including higher productivity and lower employee turnover.” (Vance, 2006)

  • Employees are more likely to stay within organizations if they know that the possibility of a higher job title and a bonus is available. Learning new skills and providing opportunities to gain experience and higher pay is crucial for establishing loyalty and reducing turnover.


Importance of a strong HR department

The fact that many nonprofits do not have a designated Human Resources (HR) department contributes to the problem of staff retention. An HR chair is vital for organizations, and a strong HR department can reduce employee turnover. “A human resource department is also responsible for keeping employees safe, healthy, and satisfied. With proper HR management, workplace policies top up with necessary protective measures and implementation and provide solutions to issues between team members, avoiding risk for the company and its employees.” (North Central College, 2021)

A dedicated HR person can facilitate training, complete the onboarding process with new hires, and assist staff with communication to improve the work environment. Employees leave for various reasons, but staff disputes are among the most common reasons for difficulties with their supervisors.  An HR department can also implement performance evaluations which help motivate employees. 

Summing it up

Workers thrive in an environment. where they have clarity and frequent feedback. Proper recruitment, an engaging work environment, and opportunities for training and advancement, are all essential to lowering staff turnover rates. Finally, the addition of a dedicated HR person can help in many ways to increase job satisfaction.


Delaney Thomas is is a Spring 2023 graduate in the Masters of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University and is a nonprofit leader and educator. She has worked in the independent sector for almost ten years at various museums and nonprofit organizations. She is the Marketing Coordinator and STEM Educator at The Living Arts & Science Center (LASC). The LASC is an arts and culture nonprofit that engages the community and encourages participation in the arts and science through exploration and discovery. Delaney manages marketing initiatives, including traditional and digital media. She performs marketing research within each community to reach the target audience better. She also provides written content for branded emails, social media posts and campaigns, and offline marketing. Delaney represents LASC in interviews on behalf of the organization and arranges interviews or news features for LASC. She also creates lesson plans and activities when requested to lead art or science workshops for tour groups or summer camps.

Image by Lillian Finley


Learn more with our Optimizing Human Resource Strategies in Nonprofits Certificate

The Optimizing Human Resources Strategies in Nonprofits certificate is for individuals seeking knowledge and skills in nonprofit human resources, volunteer management, change management and conflict resolution.

Course content includes:

  • Complying with federal and state employment laws and compensation systems
  • Recruiting, managing, motivating and rewarding both staff and volunteers in order to effectively utilize their strengths
  • Effectively lead and champion change within an organization
  • Developing strategies to overcome internal and external conflict

Delaney Thomas


ASU Lodestar Center Blog