Non-profit agencies have constituted my world of work for the past forty years. Whether my role was clinical consultant, program director, or manager, I have had a prime vantage point to view the recruitment and retention process in organizations.
My non-profit clients always want to know:
Why do some recruits stay?
Why do many leave?
For now, I am going to confine my analysis and recommendations to the employee side of the equation. If requested, I will discuss all the different organizational dynamics that contribute to and effect the new employee bonding process with the organization.
Yes, salary is part of these dynamics. To dust-off the old cliché, new employees do not join non-profit organizations for the money. (Money may influence their choice when offered positions by more than one organization.)
And now we have an emerging work culture that is completely novel. Now, we have this hybrid work environment, with many many employees working a combination of remote and in-person work hours. So this may factor in, depending on how the employee uses their non-work time.
But it boils down to: what are the not-for-profit employees seeking when they go to work for a non-profit organization?
I have supervised over 150 new employees and been part of many hiring panels in the four decades my career spans. An obvious answer and one which new hires espouse with virtual unanimity is some variation of feeling like they’re helping. Some common answers I’ve heard include:
“I want to make a difference in the world,” or,
“I want to help change peoples’ lives,” or,
“I want to be of service,” or,
“I want to help change a person’s life in the same way somebody helped me change mine.“
If the altruistic motive is a given, what are the key factors for new employee satisfaction with the non-profit organization? What powerfully influences their desire to stay with the organization? There are several and here I will highlight two of them.
The two key factors influencing non-profit employee satisfaction are:
1) a sense of value, and
2) a sense of influence.
Sense of Value
I bet most of us with experience studying the world of work agree on the critical importance of sense of value. The problem is, often it is a chief complaint of employees that they do not feel valued enough. In the non-profit sector this takes on particular importance, since salary and benefit perks do not equal those in the for-profit world.
In the future, I may explore in-depth how I’ve helped non-profit agency’s management teams concretize and operationalize the sense of value. Suffice it to say that the highest priority is communicating to all employees, especially the new ones, the value of their work. I have formally or informally interviewed so many not-for-profit employees at the time of their departure who have shared that they felt, “taken for granted.” They felt, “never appreciated”, or “like a cog in a machine.”
Management should communicate the value of employees’ contributions to the agency regularly, in many permutations.
Sense of Influence
My experience as an administrator has given me a profound understanding of the importance of agency policies and procedures, and structure and function. These are integral to creating an organized, efficient, ethical, and resilient work environment. And I have experienced often from within these systems of control how meaningful and rewarding it is for employees, especially new ones, to feel like their voices are being heard. Non-profit employees want to be heard when addressing problems in the work environment and changing it for the better.
I know there are common mechanisms for feedback in many non-profit businesses staff meetings. It is crucial that management not just pay lip-service to input received. Rather, not-for-profit management must do everything in its power to reflect to employee that their suggestions are valuable and will always be considered seriously. The non-profit employee needs to feel they can influence how the non-profit does business.
If you want to address and assess how the work culture at your non-profit is effecting employee retention, let’s create a plan. You and I will focus on these issues and ensure they’re brought up in future management team planning meetings. I am here at the Human Equation to assist management teams in tackling these issues.
I solve problems that no one else can.
My name is Peter Getoff and my business is The Human Equation. I offer my wisdom to you, derived from over 35 years of non-profit and government agency management expertise. I bring unique and powerful experience in clinical social work, clinical and community psychology, and business development.