Among the greatest difficulties faced by nonprofit organizations is high employee turnover.

In every corner of the nonprofit world, a high turnover rate can pose a distinct strategic challenge: if you can’t be sure which staff members are in it for the long haul, how can you effectively plan campaigns or grow your organization?

This is why nonprofits need to start addressing staff retention issues and put plans in place to address departures. With the right practices, you’ll never need to worry about the loss of a staff member derailing your team.

In this article, we’ll review our favorite retention strategies your nonprofit can use to tame employee turnover and align a staff that’s built to last.

Our top retention best practices include:

  1. Recruit a nonprofit consultant to guide your staffing strategy.
  2. Emphasize upward mobility among your staff members.
  3. Work smart to retain stand-out staff members.
  4. Hire staff members with longevity in mind.
  5. Combat employee burnout with diverse benefits packages.
  6. Foster a collaborative environment at your nonprofit’s HQ.
  7. Check in with past employees to see why they left.

When your nonprofit has effective staffing strategies in place, you can focus on improving your fundraising efforts and strengthening other areas of your organization. Let’s get started reviewing these top retention practices!

Tame your nonprofit staff turnover: Recruit a nonprofit consultant

Not only is partnering with a nonprofit consultant a great idea for aligning your fundraising strategy, but it’s also one of the best ways to improve your nonprofit’s approach to staffing.

With the help of a nonprofit consultant, your team can benefit in a number of different ways. First, since consultants have a wide range of experience working with nonprofits of all sizes and missions, you’ll get an unmatched third-party perspective on staffing.

Further, nonprofit consulting firms offer a variety of staffing services that can address immediate staffing needs or help plan for future staff shake-ups. Your nonprofit consultant may offer:

  • Strategic planning services, including nonprofit succession planning.
  • Executive search services for high-level leadership roles.
  • Staff training programs to ensure the lasting success of your new hires.

Above all, partnering with your nonprofit consultant to address staffing is a great idea because it enhances strategic continuity across your organization.

When the person that helps plan your capital campaigns is also behind the helm of your staffing strategy, it’s more likely these strategic areas will play well off of one another.

Tame Your Nonprofit Staff Turnover: Emphasize upward mobility

Since there’s so much staffing turnover in the nonprofit world, organizations often find themselves in a vicious circle of staffing missteps.

When you hire a new employee, they’ll need to build a history at your organization before they can start operating at their full capacity or transition into a role with greater responsibilities.

But regular turnover can make some professionals feel like they’re on an endless loop, jumping from one job to another and never finding their footing.

Want to break this cycle? Take succession planning seriously and emphasize upward mobility among your staff members.

Succession planning refers to strategic planning done to anticipate future departures and develop current employees to fill future staff vacancies. Work together with your nonprofit consultant and key staff to craft succession plans for all of your core roles.

Your team should have succession plans in place for:

  • Nonprofit executives
  • High-level staff
  • Board members

Bonus tip! Ready to start creating succession plans? Check out Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s succession planning guide to get an in-depth explanation of this process from start to finish.

Tame Your Nonprofit Staff Turnover: Work hard to retain staff

Part of your staffing strategy should address what your nonprofit needs to do to simply keep employees around in their current roles.

After all, your staff have essential responsibilities that are central to the operations of your organization. If you can’t count on them to stay in those roles, then the rest of your operational strategy is in question.

Your first priority should be identifying who your top-performing staff members are. These aren’t just individuals in prominent roles, but rather any staff members who really shine in their current position.

Develop a list of these key staff members and consider them when implementing some general retention best practices. These include:

  • Provide positive feedback. When appropriate, make an effort to let staff know when they are doing well. You can even award one-time bonuses for exceptional employees.
  • Foster a healthy work-life balance. The nonprofit world especially struggles with this. Give employees the time off and flexibility they need to find harmony between their jobs and lives.
  • Seek employee feedback. Send out anonymous surveys to employees to solicit comments about the good and bad of working at your organization. Be prepared to accept constructive criticism of your operations.

Nonprofits with longer-than-average employee lifespans can expect greater operational growth and fundraising success down the line, so retention strategies should be a top priority.

Tame Your Nonprofit Staff Turnover: Hire with longevity in mind

Another way to reduce the risk of employee turnover at your organization is to start thinking about retention strategies during the initial hiring process.

Employees who are set up for a long tenure at your organization are more likely to stay on staff long-term. Further, these individuals are better suited for later promotions and leadership opportunities.

When hiring for low-level or intermediate roles at your nonprofit, choose candidates who meet some of the following longevity criteria:

  • They are appropriately qualified for the job, meaning they meet your criteria rather than exceed it or fall below it.
  • They do not have a history of “job hopping” or changing jobs every few years.
  • They do have a history of moving through the ranks at a handful of organizations.
  • They have a good rapport with other staff members they’ll be working with.
  • They have a long track record of working or volunteering in the nonprofit sector

Additionally, consider your nonprofit succession plan when hiring new staff members. Choose individuals who have the capacity for future growth at your organization, not those who seem only suited to the role you’re currently hiring for.

Bonus tip! Want to learn even more succession planning strategies? Visit Double the Donation for their nonprofit succession planning best practices.

Tame Your Nonprofit Staff Turnover: Combat employee burnout

Since nonprofits are mission-focused, professionals in this sector may not expect their compensation packages to be as robust as those in the for-profit world.

However, that doesn’t mean your organization should pay employees less than their free-market worth or fail to offer them core benefits they could receive at a for-profit business.

To ensure your employees remain on staff for years to come, take the benefits conversation seriously. You should ensure that staff members are offered the resources they need to live happy, healthy lives while actually enjoying coming into work each day.

With your consultant, review the different benefits offered to your staff, including:

  • Paid time off
  • Parental leave policies
  • Health insurance plans
  • Bonus incentive programs
  • Team building perks

For some charities, schools, political organizations or healthcare philanthropies, your margins are already stretched thin and you may not have the capital to be as competitive as a business when it comes to employee benefits.

That being said, you never want employees to feel like they’re at a disadvantage for being passionate about your mission. If you want to boost staff retention, reevaluating your benefits package is a key step.

Tame Your Nonprofit Staff Turnover: Foster a collaborative environment

When staff members depart a nonprofit, one of the most common reasons they cite is feeling like the internal culture of their organization isn’t receptive to collaboration.

To be happy in their roles long-term, your staff will need to feel like they can come to your leaders with problems or suggestions and actually be heard.

However, in the nonprofit world, finding the right balance between focusing on your mission and fostering good relationships with staff can be challenging.

There are a few ways you can improve the general office atmosphere to boost collaboration and understanding between staff members, nonprofit leaders and even your executive director.

These include:

  • Creating staff teams that share a common goal or strategy. When these individuals can discuss their workload together, they’re more likely to feel positively about their role.
  • Setting up regular meetings between staff members and nonprofit leaders to discuss questions or concerns they have about the organization.
  • Hosting employee development events. These could be traditional team building exercises or professional training experiences.

More than anything else, retaining employees and preventing turnover is all about creating bonds between staff and your leadership. When employees feel connected to their peers and your leaders, they’re less likely to depart.

Tame Your Nonprofit Staff Turnover: Check in with past employees

Finally, one great way to strengthen your staffing strategy is to learn from past mistakes and leverage that information to build a better program moving forward.

Reach out to individuals who voluntarily left your team and ask them why they made this choice. You can conduct this follow-up during their departure, or reach out after some time has passed.

Your team might be surprised at what they find. When considering your staffing strategy from a first person perspective, you may miss major issues affecting the turnover rate.

Work with your nonprofit consultant to determine a list of questions to ask former employees and then review that feedback together.

As you plan your new-and-improved staffing strategy, this information should guide the way. However, long after you develop your strategy it’s still important to take into account past employee feedback.

Remember to regularly follow up with past employees, even if you’re not actively reworking your staffing approach. They may indicate there are issues you don’t yet know about.

Staffing your nonprofit can be tough, and retaining staff members can be even tougher. With these strategies in mind, your team is ready to start preventing employee turnover and strengthening your organization for years to come!

Aly Sterling
Aly Sterling
Aly Sterling is an accomplished speaker, active board member and proud leader of Aly Sterling Philanthropy, a national consulting firm based in the Midwest. Her expertise includes fundraising, strategic planning, search consultation and board leadership development for organizations of varying sizes and capacities.

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