Hiring new staff members, whether Millennials, Baby Boomers, or anyone in between, is no walk in the park.

From attracting the right candidates to the often weeks-long onboarding process, bringing on new team members is truly an investment. This is especially true for nonprofits and small/growing businesses. 

Recent studies show that while nonprofits are winning the race as far as yearly hiring, they’re losing the game when it comes to creating formal recruitment and retention procedures. 

About 64% of nonprofits have no formal talent recruitment strategy, making competing for top talent more difficult than ever. Further, about 81% have no formal retention strategy, meaning they’re not putting a formal, concentrated effort toward retaining their top performers.

At the same time, social enterprises and purpose-driven businesses are on the rise. Staff members at these companies are 54% more likely to stay at the company for 5 years, so clearly, these business-savvy organizations are impressing their top talent. Attracted to value-based workplaces, young candidates are flocking to these companies and planning to stay for a longer haul.

It’s high time your organization retains team members at similar, and even competing, rates when compared to these large corporations. We’ve pulled together 5 tips to help you do so:

  1. Respect them as employees.
  2. Make their job easier.
  3. Set realistic expectations.
  4. Remind them of their good work.
  5. Lead with confidence.

Recruiting and training top staff members is an expensive, time-consuming process, but the above tips will help you go through this process less frequently by retaining top staffers. Continue reading to explore the top strategies.

Respect your team to retain staff members.

1. Respect them as employees.

Whether you’re a nonprofit or a small/growing business, you must still follow employment rules and regulations. 

As a baseline expectation, you need to work to pay them a livable wage. This can be especially difficult in the nonprofit realm, so if your organization is struggling to make pay, check out this guide to bookkeeping for nonprofits by MIP. Make sure your organization’s books are in order and that no staffer is going without necessary resources.

Further, evaluate your staff and provide constructive feedback, career development, and upward mobility opportunities. Even if you’re a small organization and not yet able to provide all the benefits of a corporate workplace, make sure you’re respecting your staff as employees.

Even further than following tenets of employment, however, is company culture. Recent studies show that newer employees want a workplace that matches their values and is flexible in doing so.

Money alone isn’t enough to retain top talent nowadays. Many employees want to work for a business that has a greater mission related to improving society in some manner. As a nonprofit, that’s easy to articulate— just point talent to your mission statement and your latest philanthropic act.

This is more difficult if you’re not a mission-based organization. Consider how your company is having a positive effect on society, whether that’s through increased tolerance and inclusivity or a more obvious impact. Articulate this to your staff when emphasizing your respect for them and how their work is valuable.

Decrease staff members' stress to retain them in the long haul.

2. Make their job easier.

Your staff members are doing important work. You know this, they should hopefully know this, and those receiving the benefit know this. However, the importance of this work can’t diminish the fact that working for a nonprofit or small business can be hard

Low resources, high need, emotional labor— these are just some of the challenges that are amplified in a smaller organization. To retain your top talent, do anything you can to lessen this burden. A less stressful workplace is, without a doubt, a more enjoyable workplace.

Consider the following methods to ease the pressure on your staff:

  • Equip them with digital tools to lessen their workload. In the nonprofit realm, this could mean a comprehensive digital giving solution, CRM system, or other top nonprofit software (learn more through this guide). In a more general sense, this could be as simple as employing automated marketing tools.
  • Don’t ask for more than your staff can give. For example, don’t ask your staff to contribute long hours that you can’t compensate them for.
  • Help them prioritize what actually needs to be done. Do this by clarifying your organizational values from the inside-out, and applying these discoveries to the way you lead. 

Make a concentrated effort to continue optimizing your organization’s internal processes. You may already be doing this regarding your bottom line, but are you doing this for the benefit of your staff?

Manage expectations to retain staff members.

3. Set realistic expectations.

In addition to equipping them with tools and processes to lessen their burden, set expectations in a realistic manner to ensure staff members can achieve success.

This doesn’t mean underestimating your year-to-year expectations to ensure your organization never fails. It’s a bit more nuanced than that.

If your staff members regularly feel as though they’re failing, they’re not going to be inspired to reach for more. On the other hand, if the feel overly fulfilled for sub-par work, they’re once again not going to be inspired. To retain effective team members, you need to strike the perfect balance of challenge and reward.

This starts with an awareness of what your organization is capable of right now. Be honest with yourself in evaluating what your current staff and your organization’s supporters are able to reach. Then, set a goal just slightly pushing that level to challenge yourself.

In a nonprofit setting, this would mean completing a fundraising feasibility study to determine your current fundraising capacity. Then, you’d set a reasonable stretch goal challenging your organization to grow through the fundraiser.

In a more general small business sense, this would mean examining your company’s past year-over-year growth and setting goals for this with a reasonable, challenging amount of growth.

Increase staff retention by celebrating their successes.

4. Remind them of their good work.

A happy staff is a successful staff. One study reports that happy staff members are 20% more productive than their unhappy counterparts, and you want to encourage that when you can.

One of the easiest ways to encourage this workplace happiness is to celebrate staff successes when they occur, recognizing the good work of your employees. There are a few ways you can do so right now:

  • Tell the stories of impactful staff members far and wide. This could mean on your organization’s website (draw inspiration from these DNL OmniMedia-highlighted top nonprofit websites) or even in your regular newsletter.
  • Hold internal celebrations for staff milestones. Something as simple as posting a “staff highlights” bulletin board in your office will show team members that their hard work is noticed and appreciated.
  • Send personal thank-yous to outstanding staff members. This acknowledgment doesn’t need to be public, especially if you have a particularly introverted staff member. A thoughtful thank-you note can go a long way in showing your staff that their efforts are appreciated.

If you’re stressing about high staff turnover rates, it’s time to change the narrative of your internal storytelling. It’s time to highlight the “normal” stories— those staff members that are hardworking and getting the job done every day for your organization.

Improve staff retention by being a confident leader.

5. Lead with confidence.

A great workplace culture can’t remedy the challenge of sub-par leadership.

Being a good leader is difficult. The constant challenge of balancing confidence and vulnerability in calling the shots is difficult, and you need to nail the balance to instill trust in your staff. 

This could mean confidently leading your staff into new processes and guiding them through the implementation.

One example would be a company holding a half-day workshop to educate everyone on the new process. This allows staff to learn a common language. And shows that everyone – senior leaders, department leaders, and staff – needs to learn.

Another example might be a nonprofit embarking on a major, year-end fundraising push and challenging its staff to evaluate which supporters have the highest capacity and likelihood to give. The new prospect research procedures may feel unfamiliar, and your job as the leader is to guide your staff through the uncertain changes.

This could also mean accepting responsibility when new processes fail, and not hesitating to ask for help when they do.

One example of this would be recognizing if you’ve set fundraising or revenue goals that are simply impossible for your supporter or customer base to reach, leading to increased stress on your staff. Be vulnerable enough to admit this failure to your staff members and initiate a collaborative conversation to remedy the error.


Many of the tips you just explored were in regards to keeping your staff happy and retaining your top talent as such. However, the importance of this isn’t just to maintain good feelings in the workplace.

Turnover costs are no joke, with some estimates that it takes as high as one-and-a-half to two times a staff member’s yearly salary to successfully replace them. Those numbers are nothing to scoff at, and if you can avoid that cost, you should!

With the above strategies, you’ll be more successful in retaining team members, and you might even build a happier workforce when doing so.

Claim your copy of Wake Up Call - the 2018 Nonprofit Sector Leadership Report

"Proper scientific research is so rare in the charity sector. This report truly adds to the body of knowledge that nonprofit leaders can trust and use. Those who digest this report and plan strategies around its findings will be leading the best charities of the future!"

- Jay B. Love, Chief Relationship Officer
Bloomerang

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