Effective strategies for improving NGOs employee retention rates

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

8 Minutes reading time

Whistlehub content team

High turnover negatively impacts nonprofits, but it doesn't have to be that way! Learn how to boost morale and commitment with these effective retention tips.


Nonprofit organizations face unique challenges when it comes to employee retention, with high turnover rates and burnout significantly impacting their ability to make a difference.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the importance of employee retention for NGOs and explore effective strategies that can foster commitment, boost morale, and enhance the overall work environment.

Key Takeaways

  • Nonprofit organizations face unique challenges when it comes to employee retention, with high turnover rates and burnout affecting their ability to make a difference.
  • Effective strategies for improving employee retention rates in NGOs include creating a formal retention strategy, compensating employees fairly, providing training and development opportunities, building a culture of trust, and investing in employee perks and benefits.
  • Investing in employee training and development programs demonstrates commitment to supporting staff members' career growth while enhancing the organization's capabilities. It helps retain high-performing employees by providing them with opportunities to learn new skills that will help them advance within the organization.
  • Providing both lateral and vertical growth opportunities is essential for improving employee retention rates in NGOs. Lateral growth allows employees to develop new skills, broaden their experience, and take on different responsibilities within the organization. Vertical growth provides a clear career path with opportunities for promotion and advancement.

The Importance Of Employee Retention In NGOs

Nonprofit burnout statistics show that high turnover rates can lead to low morale, decreased productivity, and, ultimately, hinder an organization's ability to achieve its mission.

Nonprofit Burnout Statistics

Nonprofit burnout statistics indicate a concerning trend within the sector, with employees experiencing high levels of stress and exhaustion. The following table highlights key statistics related to burnout in nonprofit organizations.



76% of nonprofit employees report burnout symptoms

These symptoms include physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced effectiveness at work.

64% of nonprofit professionals attribute burnout to workload

Increased workloads, coupled with insufficient resources and support, contribute to burnout among the workforce.

49% of nonprofit employees believe they are underpaid

Low salaries in nonprofits often lead to financial stress and contribute to burnout rates.

60% of nonprofit workers cite lack of support for work-life balance

Inadequate attention to employee well-being and work-life balance exacerbates burnout and negatively impacts retention.

More than half of emerging nonprofit leaders feel the need to leave their organizations to advance their careers

This perception can lead to higher turnover rates, with employees seeking opportunities for growth elsewhere.

The High Cost Of High Turnover

High turnover rates in nonprofit organizations can significantly impact their overall success and mission fulfillment. There are various costs associated with constantly replacing employees, such as the time-consuming process of recruitment, training new hires, and lost productivity due to gaps in staffing.

One study conducted by TIAA found that the turnover rate for nonprofits is 19%, which is higher than the national average across industries. This high churn rate contributes to financial strain on NGOs because they must allocate precious resources toward recruiting and training replacements rather than focusing on achieving their core objectives.

In addition to monetary implications, high employee attrition leads to lower morale among remaining staff members who may feel overworked or underappreciated as they take on additional responsibilities left behind by departing colleagues.

Over time, this increased workload may contribute to burnout syndrome resulting from emotional fatigue combined with long working hours – ultimately exacerbating the very problem NGOs seek to counteract through employee retention strategies.

Effective Strategies For Improving Employee Retention Rates In NGOs

Some effective strategies for improving employee retention rates in NGOs include creating a formal retention strategy, compensating employees fairly, providing training and development opportunities, building a culture of trust, and investing in employee perks and benefits.

Create A Formal Retention Strategy

Creating a formal retention strategy is a crucial step in improving employee retention rates for NGOs, as it enables organizations to proactively address potential issues and focus on long-term goals. To develop an effective strategy:

  1. Assess current employee turnover rates and identify underlying causes.
  2. Consult with employees to understand their needs, expectations, and areas of dissatisfaction.
  3. Conduct an analysis of compensation and benefits packages compared to market value and industry standards.
  4. Prioritize investment in talent development, bearing in mind that 84% of nonprofits lack a formal recruitment strategy.
  5. Establish clear policies on work - life balance, flexible schedules, and remote work options.
  6. Offer opportunities for lateral and vertical growth within the organization to retain emerging nonprofit leaders who might otherwise leave for career advancement.
  7. Implement training programs to enhance employee skills and knowledge, boosting engagement and job satisfaction.
  8. Foster a culture of trust by promoting transparency, open communication, feedback channels, and recognition for hard work.
  9. Evaluate the success of the retention strategy through regular reviews of turnover rates, employee engagement levels, and exit interview data.

By implementing these steps in their retention strategies, NGOs can effectively address high turnover rate challenges while increasing both employee satisfaction and overall organizational success.

Compensate Employees Fairly

Competitive compensation and benefits play a crucial role in attracting and retaining valuable employees in non-profit organizations. To improve employee retention rates, NGOs must ensure that their pay scale is fair compared to market standards.

Offering competitive salaries, health insurance, retirement options, paid time off, and other benefits packages can also help retain top-performing professionals. Moreover, investing in professional development programs to enhance an employee's skills could translate into higher job satisfaction and better retention prospects for the organization.

The Bridgespan Group found that offering competitive salaries represents 9% of a successful nonprofit talent strategy while adopting customized management strategies tailored to individual needs represents 22%.

Boost Employee Training And Development Programs

One of the most effective strategies for improving employee retention rates in NGOs is to invest in the training and development of employees. By offering training and development programs, organizations can enhance their employees' skills, improve their job satisfaction, and enable them to take on new challenges. Here are some ways nonprofits can boost their employee training and development programs:

  • Offer continuous learning opportunities through online courses, workshops, conferences, and mentorship.
  • Provide cross - training opportunities that help employees acquire new skills or knowledge that may be useful in other departments.
  • Encourage staff members to attend relevant industry events where they can network with others in their field.
  • Implement a performance management system that includes goal setting, regular feedback, and performance reviews.
  • Develop career path strategies that align with organizational goals and provide employees with clear paths for advancement.
  • Create an organizational culture that values professional development as a key part of nonprofit work.

By investing in employee training and development programs, nonprofits demonstrate their commitment to supporting staff members' career growth while enhancing the organization's capabilities. It helps retain high-performing employees by providing them with opportunities to learn new skills that will help them advance within the organization.

Ensure Lateral And Vertical Growth Opportunities

Providing both lateral and vertical growth opportunities is essential for improving employee retention rates in NGOs. Lateral growth allows employees to develop new skills, broaden their experience, and take on different responsibilities within the organization.

For example, nonprofits can offer cross-training programs where employees from different departments can learn new skills or work on projects outside of their regular duties.

Offering a clear path to promotions or leadership roles can also increase employee motivation and engagement.

By providing both lateral and vertical growth opportunities, nonprofits show that they value their employees' personal and professional development while investing in their future success within the organization.

Build A Culture Of Trust

Building a culture of trust is crucial for boosting employee satisfaction and retention rates in NGOs. To achieve this, nonprofit organizations must create an environment where open communication exists, and employees feel comfortable sharing their feedback.

One way to build trust is by involving employees in decision-making processes that affect them directly. This could be done through team huddles or one-on-one meetings with managers to discuss concerns and ideas for improvement.

Nonprofits should also foster transparency in financial matters and decision-making processes, ensuring that everyone understands how funds are being allocated towards fulfilling organizational objectives.

Building a culture of trust takes time; however, it pays dividends if approached correctly.

Acknowledge And Recognize Employees For Their Work

Recognizing employees for their hard work and dedication is crucial to improving retention rates in nonprofit organizations. Simple acts of acknowledgment, such as a thank-you note or public recognition during team meetings, can go a long way in building employee morale and satisfaction.

According to a study by TIAA-CREF Institute, acknowledging employees for their success helps improve job satisfaction and overall engagement. For example, Compassion fatigue or burnout may be reduced when staff knows they are appreciated for going above-and-beyond to achieve organizational objectives.

Invest In Employee Perks And Benefits

One way to improve employee retention rates in NGOs is by investing in employee perks and benefits. Providing employees with attractive benefits packages can increase job satisfaction and reduce the likelihood of turnover. Here are some examples of perks and benefits that nonprofits could offer their staff:

  • Health insurance: Offering comprehensive health coverage can show employees that the organization values their well-being.
  • Retirement plans: Providing a retirement savings plan such as a 401(k) or pension can help employees feel financially secure.
  • Flexible work arrangements: Allowing employees to work remotely or offering flexible schedules can help them balance their personal and professional lives.
  • Wellness programs: Instituting wellness initiatives such as yoga classes or gym memberships can promote healthy living among employees.
  • Paid time off: Providing ample vacation, sick days, or other forms of paid leave shows appreciation for the hard work done by employees.

Investing in these types of perks and benefits could also reduce costs associated with employee turnover. According to a TIAA study, it costs an average of $15,000 to replace a departing employee. Nonprofits often operate on tight budgets so investing in employee retention strategies like this could save money long-term.

Additionally, providing quality perks and benefits will enable nonprofit organizations to remain competitive when competing for top talent against for-profit businesses who may be able to provide more generous compensation packages. Ultimately, prioritizing the welfare of employees demonstrates commitment to the organization's mission and contributes towards retaining valued human capital.

Ensure Work-life Balance

Nonprofit organizations often face challenges in finding a balance between the demands of their mission and the well-being of their employees. One effective strategy for improving employee retention rates is to prioritize work-life balance.

Providing employees with flexible schedules, paid time off, mental health resources, and opportunities for self-care activities can help prevent burnout and improve overall job satisfaction.

For example, implementing a "no-email policy" after business hours or scheduling regular team-building events can promote a healthy work-life balance.

According to TIAA's Engaging The Nonprofit Workforce report, offering flexible work arrangements increases employee engagement by 87%. Meanwhile, Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project suggests that giving employees emotional support through training and counseling services promotes physical and psychological healing from compassion fatigue caused by exposure to clients' traumatic experiences at non-profits.

Listen And Communicate With Employees

Listening and communication are critical to employee retention in NGOs. Employees want their voices heard and opinions counted, and it's essential for managers to create an environment where this is the case.

Managers should have regular one-on-one meetings with employees, encouraging open discussions that go beyond day-to-day tasks.

Regular town hall sessions and surveys can also help identify concerns or areas of improvement that might be affecting employee satisfaction levels.

By prioritizing communication and listening to their people within a broader framework of engagement initiatives such as professional growth opportunities linked to career path strategy which aligns individual aspirations with organizational objectives or mentorship programs that offer chances for skill building from experienced colleagues increase job satisfaction leading to reduced turnover rates while supporting nonprofit missions.

Tools And Resources For Improving Employee Retention

Explore time-saving tools for nonprofit organizations, strategies for balancing workloads, and ways to overcome the "Overhead Myth." Discover how these resources can help increase employee retention rates and improve overall organizational sustainability.

Time-saving Tools For Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofits can benefit from utilizing time-saving tools to streamline processes, maximize productivity, and achieve their mission more efficiently. Here are some examples:

  1. Givebutter: This tool streamlines fundraising efforts, donation management, and supporter engagement, saving nonprofit executives up to 50 percent of their time spent on fundraising.
  2. Basecamp: This project management tool offers a centralized platform for communication and collaboration among team members and stakeholders.
  3. Lead.app: This mentoring platform provides a dedicated space for mentors and mentees to connect, share resources, schedule meetings and track goals.
  4. Lighthouse app: This feedback tool allows employees to report challenges or concerns they may face at work in real-time transparently.
  5. Social Media Management software – Tools like Hootsuite or Buffer allow nonprofits to manage social media accounts and content all in one place.

By adopting these tools as part of their operations strategy, nonprofits can increase efficiency while freeing up valuable time that can be better invested in reaching the organization's mission goals.

Strategies For Balancing Workloads

To improve employee retention rates in NGOs, it's important to balance workloads and prevent employee burnout. Here are some strategies:

  1. Set realist work expectations and goals that align with the nonprofit's mission.
  2. Assign tasks based on employee skills and interests.
  3. Encourage cross - departmental collaboration to share workload burdens.
  4. Monitor overtime hours, ensuring employees are not overworked.
  5. Offer flexibility in scheduling to accommodate personal life priorities.
  6. Implement time - tracking software or tools to track project progress and deadlines.
  7. Establish a system for evaluating workload balance, allowing employees to provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.

By implementing these strategies, nonprofits can ensure their employees are not overworked or overwhelmed, leading to higher job satisfaction, productivity, and overall retention rates. Research shows that the high cost of high turnover is a challenge nonprofits face; non-profits must work diligently towards addressing retention strategies with an aim at retaining talent by providing an enabling environment that fosters growth through regular learning and re-learning of new skills, mentorship programs that will provide support, career path strategies that give room for upward mobility thereby fostering career development as well as investing in competitive compensation plans.

Overcoming The "Overhead Myth"

One of the biggest challenges facing nonprofit organizations is the "overhead myth." This refers to the common misconception that a nonprofit's effectiveness can be measured by its low overhead costs.

Despite research showing that investments in infrastructure and talent lead to greater mission impact, many donors are still hesitant to support these necessary expenses.

To overcome this myth, nonprofits need to communicate more effectively with their donors about the importance of investing in staff, technology, and other administrative needs.

By showcasing how these investments ultimately benefit their programs and beneficiaries, nonprofits can change donor attitudes toward overhead costs.

By addressing the "overhead myth" head-on and finding creative solutions like new types of fundraising & donations strategies as well as diversify stream incomes such as sponsorships or social Enterprises among others; nonprofit organizations can better meet employee retention rates while building a sustainable organization capable of achieving its mission goals long-term.

The Role Of Leadership In Employee Retention

Effective leadership is critical to ensure employee retention in NGOs. Leaders should provide emotional support, create opportunities for growth and development, ensure fair workload distribution, and secure funding to support employee retention efforts.

Providing Emotional Support For Employees

Nonprofit work can be emotionally taxing, and employees may struggle with feelings of burnout or compassion fatigue. Providing emotional support for employees is crucial for promoting a healthy work environment and improving employee retention rates.

Nonprofit leaders should prioritize creating an open-door culture where staff members feel comfortable discussing their emotions, struggles, and stressors.

According to TIAA's Engaging the Nonprofit Workforce study, 27% of nonprofit employees said they didn't have enough time to manage stress effectively during the day. By prioritizing emotional support and self-care strategies like flexible scheduling or mental health days off from work may help combat high turnover rates caused by burnout among nonprofit employees.

Creating Opportunities For Growth And Development

One effective strategy for improving employee retention rates in NGOs is creating opportunities for growth and development. Offering employees the chance to expand their skill set, take on new responsibilities, and pursue career advancement within the organization can help boost engagement and job satisfaction.

For example, a nonprofit may provide regular one-on-one meetings between employees and managers to discuss personal and professional development goals. They may also offer training resources such as workshops or online courses to improve skills related to the organization's mission.

Ensuring Fair And Efficient Workload Distribution

To improve employee retention rates in NGOs, it is essential to ensure that the workload distribution is fair and efficient. One way to achieve this is by delegating tasks based on employees' skills and experience, instead of giving everyone the same workload regardless of their abilities.

Another approach is to regularly review workload distribution across the organization and make necessary adjustments as needed. By monitoring staff capacity, managers can identify areas where additional support may be required or where responsibilities need to be shifted between team members.

It's also essential to ensure that NGO employees have a say in how their workloads are distributed. Encouraging staff feedback through one-on-one meetings or anonymous surveys enables leaders to address concerns proactively before they escalate into dissatisfaction or turnover.

Securing Funding To Support Employee Retention Efforts

Securing funding is a critical step for nonprofits looking to retain their valuable employees. Financial investment in employee retention strategies is necessary, but it can be challenging to obtain the required resources and support.

Nonprofits should prioritize securing funds to provide fair compensation packages that align with the market value while meeting donor expectations and benchmarking salaries against similar organizations.

Nonprofits may also benefit from using tools like Donorbox that allow them to create customizable donation forms or Givebutter which provides an all-in-one fundraising platform designed explicitly for nonprofit organizations.


In conclusion, nonprofit organizations need to prioritize employee retention by creating a formal strategy that includes fair compensation, training and development programs, growth opportunities, and a positive organizational culture.

The role of leadership is also critical in providing emotional support and securing funding for these efforts. It's essential to listen and communicate with employees regularly while investing in tools to improve workload balance and overcome the overhead myth.

By diversifying income streams through cause-related marketing, sponsorships, corporate giving, grant funding, donations, fundraising events like auctions or live streaming charity auctions using Givebutter software can help retain valuable staff who believe in the mission of the organization.

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