Announcing Some Changes
August 7, 2019
Don’t Panic! What to do if your prospect says “NO”
September 4, 2019

What You Can Do to Improve Nonprofit Staff Retention

Acquisition and Retention are big things in fundraising. We track these indicators and we spend resources and time trying to improve them. But what about acquisition and retention of fundraising staff? Are we doing our best to recruit and keep our best-performing development staff? Are we working to increase the skills of those who have potential?

The statistics speak for themselves. Most fundraisers are familiar with the distressingly short tenure of most development directors (18 months) in the organizations they serve.

But it isn’t just fundraisers that organizations have a hard time recruiting and retaining.

Consistently, studies like the Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey point to the struggles of nonprofits to recruit and retain qualified staff across functions. I know you all see it on the front lines.

Even more critical are turnover costs. The estimate the Center for American Progress estimated the cost of turnover is around 20% so it costs you about $8,000 to replace a $40,000 employee.

Many studies talk about making cultural changes to the workplace and increasing benefits as a way to improve retention and recruitment practices. Things like family leave, flexibility, and staff appreciation are really important.  As is having a culture of openness and transparency where employee issues are addressed when they arise.

But in the end, it’s really about compensation. Organizations say that their biggest challenge in in human resources is hiring and retaining talent within budget constraints.

In the 2019 Nonprofit HR Talent Retention Survey, 59.7% of organizations said that the lack of upward mobility and career growth were the main drivers for voluntary turnover. The second reason cited at 49.6% was compensation and benefits.

The question is: What can we as nonprofit professionals do about this? The issue feels so big and out of our control. But like so many things in our society today, small steps in your own backyard can make a big difference.

Here are three concrete things you can do to move your sector in the right direction:

  1. Educate your organization’s leadership on the cost of turnover in your organization and in your area of expertise. If you are a fundraiser that cost of turnover will probably be easier to quantify and a clear example to illustrate the problem. When people leave and things don’t happen in fundraising, it’s often easier to see direct results in dollars.
  2. Include calculations that illustrate the Return on Investment of hiring and turnover in proposals you bring to your executive and board leadership. Again, this is often more easily done by fundraisers. For example, if your plan calls for an expansion of major gifts, show the Return on Investment for recruiting the right person and keeping them.
  3. Join in on discussions about raising compensation and benefits for nonprofit employees. In Colorado, there are currently discussions about raising the overtime salary threshold. Whether you believe this is the right step or not, take part in discussions happening that will affect you. Here’s a place where you can plug in if you are in Colorado.

I know this feels like a big, overwhelming structural problem. But we know from our work that change is made when people take up the cause in whatever way they can, one step at a time. Fundraisers, with our ability to clearly quantify and illustrate the problems of recruiting and retaining good staff could – and should – be the vanguard on this issue.

There is more we can all do within own organizations to advocate for better compensation and more proactive staff acquisition and retention practices. It starts with us!


Image by fxxu from Pixabay

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