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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How nonprofit leaders can retain their staff and avoid turnover

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“Upper leadership tends to try to ‘save’ departing employees rather than push to retain them outright. HR is constantly fighting an uphill battle and some staffers communicate their needs but at times feel unheard". This is one of many quotes from nonprofit leaders who are struggling to increase retention rates in their organization.

According to a report published by Nonprofit HR, 42% of nonprofit leaders anticipated an increase in staff turnover rates from 2020 to 2021. For employees under 30, Black, and in entry-level positions staff retention is particularly difficult. While there are a variety of reasons for staff turnover, the most common reasons included lack of opportunity for growth, dissatisfaction with culture and compensation or a better opportunity presented. The cost of losing an employee can be anywhere from 25% to 200% of that employee’s salary. The issue may seem daunting, but there are tangible ways for nonprofit leaders to increase retention.

Increase salaries

According to a 2023 study, salary was the number one reason nonprofits had difficulty filling positions. Nonprofit salaries should be increased across the board for many reasons. 85% of those surveyed in the Professionals for Nonprofit Staffing Group’s study indicated they were increasing salaries for cost-of-living. One third of these companies also made organization-wide salary increases of 5% or more. 13% of nonprofits increased salaries directly related to prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Although it may cost more upfront, nonprofit leaders should view increasing salaries through the lens of investing in their employees.

Increasing professional development opportunities

According to the Nonprofit HR Survey, 44% of employees leave their nonprofit job because they have an “invisible” career path. These employees feel there is a lack of opportunity for upward mobility, professional development opportunities, or both.

Some professional development opportunities that nonprofits can implement include paying for off-site conferences, providing in-house training or workshops, and providing tuition reimbursement. Not only do professional development opportunities encourage employees to stay, they also bring talent through the door. 48% of HR professionals say these perks are their most effective recruitment tool.

Recognize and prevent compassion fatigue

According to Dr. Figley of the Traumatology Institute at Tulane University, “compassion fatigue” is an occupational hazard of professionals who inadvertently take on the stress of those they serve which results in burnout. It is important for nonprofit leaders to know, recognize and address these symptoms with their staff.

A writer for Forbes suggests enrolling your team in mindfulness workshops throughout the year, celebrating work anniversaries, creating a system for shout-outs, and hosting small, low-stakes events like Taco Tuesday or Waffle Wednesday. These activities are extremely low-cost and can significantly reduce compassion fatigue.

Implementing an unlimited PTO policy

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 72% of employees surveyed were interested in working somewhere that offered unlimited PTO.

If implemented thoughtfully, this policy can create huge employee satisfaction and retention benefits. It can create trust amongst employees, encourage creativity, accommodate for unexpected life events, and increase productivity. Unlimited PTO policies are very attractive to candidates which increases high-quality talent and decreases turnover. This policy also helps to combat compassion fatigue.

By increasing staff salaries, providing more opportunities for professional development, recognizing and preventing compassion fatigue, and implementing an unlimited PTO policy, staff retention rates will increase.

Julia Moluf is a 2023 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She also has a degree from San Diego State University in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. She currently lives in Washington, D.C. and is the Deputy Director of Best Buddies Living. Best Buddies is a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs, friendships, leadership opportunities and inclusive living for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In her free time, she enjoys crafting, exploring new coffee shops and going to the beach.

Image by Lillian Finley

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