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How to Retain High Performers at a Non-Profit

Published:  10/13/2016


How do you find, hire and keep high-performing professionals in the nonprofit sector?

The average fundraiser stays in their position less than two years, and yet non-management staff members require a year to become fully functioning and add value to an organization. Hiring is never easy, but nonprofit development leaders face distinct challenges. Here are some ideas for how to address recruitment and retention in the nonprofit setting by making it a priority within organizations.

Common reasons people leave or decline nonprofit jobs

  1.  Fit: This is commonly expressed in statements like "I don’t feel comfortable here” or “I don’t feel like I’m adding value.”
  2. Lack of advancement: Flat management structures in smaller nonprofits, including many development shops in Canada, often mean a lack of challenges for employees.
  3. Passion: Employees, especially millennials, are eager to work for a cause they believe in and will leave if your mission does not resonate with them.
  4. Compensation: Nonprofits generally have difficulty competing with the for-profit sector to provide competitive salaries.


Practical ways to attract and retain talent


Update job descriptions annually

Regular review of a position helps you understand the ideal working culture in your organization and the ideal person to fill the position. Remember to build in some redundancies in positions by creating overlapping duties so you have a safety net if someone leaves.


Add a value proposition

Make sure employees understand why they are working for you and find ways to align your mission with their day-to-day. Connect fundraising staff to the work of the organization in a tangible way. For example, if the donations they procure are used to purchase a lifesaving piece of equipment, have a doctor who has used it on patients speak to your employees to share how they have made a difference.


Know where to look

Target your search. For example, post on AHP’s Job Center and other organizations' job sites aligned with your goals. Think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to look at the for-profit sector: salespeople might be great at soliciting corporate sponsorships.


Combat flat management with projects

Develop the ability to give high-performing employees more to do, like a special project you have been looking to introduce or expand. Find a person to champion that project and delegate that additional authority to her.


Add value outside of salaries

Use the examples below as a springboard for redesigning your compensation packages with perks beyond monetary compensation that drive loyalty. 

  1.  Reasonable vacation: Offer three weeks of vacation to start. Managers should be given four weeks.
  2. Education: Give employees ten percent of their time to learn another business area within your shop, giving them the chance to gain new skills and build their career without changing jobs.
  3. Telecommute: Offer the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week (and preferably more).
  4. Assist new mothers: Help women returning from maternity leave transition back to
    the office by offering them flex hours for a period of time.
  5. Invest in your employees’ technology: Perks like a second monitor for each person’s computer, making sure everyone has a laptop (i.e. eliminating technology hierarchies), and paying for their smartphones will improve morale and encourage productivity.
  6. Offer summer hours: From the end of May through Labor Day, close three to four hours early on Fridays.
  7. Close the office between Christmas and New Year’s: Don’t make employees burn vacation for their holidays. For the most part, there is little productivity during that time anyway. In case donors want to make last-minute gifts, assign one manager per day to be “on,” just in case.
  8. Don’t forget the little things: Everyone appreciates a good coffee machine at the office!


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