4 Strategies to Decrease Nonprofit Staff Attrition

Fundraising, Guest Post / Tuesday, October 9th, 2018


Your dedicated staff members joined your nonprofit because they believe deeply in your cause.

Maybe before joining your team they were a part of your strong volunteer base or a past major donor. Maybe you hired them as experts in the nonprofit field. No matter how they got their start, your staff is invaluable to your organization’s success.

However, one problem nonprofits of all shapes and sizes face is staff attrition, or the departure of key staff members. Turnover is a massive problem for organizations in the nonprofit sector, even those with teams of highly dedicated, experienced personnel.

To decrease attrition of integral staff members, your nonprofit should focus on streamlining and optimizing in-house operations.

This guide offers 4 strategies to decrease attrition. Your nonprofit should:

  1. Analyze why you’re losing staff members.
  2. Create retention and succession plans.
  3. Fix organizational issues.
  4. Build your organization as a team.

In addition to fair compensation and a positive work environment, helping your staff members maximize their efficiency will keep them motivated and encourage them to stick around. Let’s dive into our first strategy!


1. Analyze Why You’re Losing Staff Members

The first step to decreasing attrition is to figure out why staff members are leaving in the first place. You’ve already spent hours upon hours trying to find the right people to staff your organization, so what’s driving them away?

Don’t worry, turnover is very common for nonprofits. There’s nothing inherently wrong with your organization.

We recommend hiring a nonprofit consultant to help you take the first step in analyzing your organization. They will be able to look at your organization with an unbiased perspective and best identify why attrition is taking place.

Some of the most common reasons for attrition that your nonprofit consultant will look for include:

  • Low compensation for employees. Your nonprofit prioritizes its mission, which might leave less flexibility for employee compensation and benefits. However, if compensation is too low, you will likely see more workers leave for higher paying for-profit jobs.
  • Lack of upward mobility. According to NonprofitPro, only 29 percent of nonprofit leadership positions come from internal operations. Most are outside hires, which can limit the upward mobility of your existing employees.
  • Inflexible schedules. Inflexible schedules and overworking your employees can lead to burnout. More flexibility can actually help your employees get more done throughout the work day while staying committed to your mission.

When an unbiased third party is analyzing your organization, it is less likely that their analysis will be tampered or distorted by personal opinions. It can be difficult for us to point out our own flaws, which is why a nonprofit consultant is often the most effective way to approach this investigation.

Your consultant will likely look into your internal reports and conduct interviews with past employees to collect key information and advise your nonprofit about what to do next.


2. Create Retention and Succession Plans

Once you have discovered the reasons people leave your team, you can create plans to address the issues and retain future staff members. The two plans you should create are retention and succession plans.

Both of these plans will help you take strides in the right direction for your nonprofit. Their differences are outlined below:

  • Succession Plan: Succession planning is the guide nonprofits can follow when attrition does occur, especially with leaders of the nonprofit. This plan outlines recruitment strategies as well as how to minimize the performance risk of leadership turnover. It ensures a smooth transition to new leadership and minimizes the chance of bringing in an unqualified leader.
  • Retention Plan: One study indicates that 84% of nonprofits do not have a formal retention strategy. Written retention plans are important because they help minimize the cost of hiring, training, etc. by decreasing turnover. Your retention plan should include aspects like the current retention rate, the average cost of turnover, strategies to establishing expectations, and office culture policies.

After a nonprofit consultant helps you analyze your organization for turnover explanations, they can also help you create these plans.

Don’t wait until the leadership position is vacant to craft your succession plan. The purpose of having a plan is to make the transition as smooth as possible, so waiting to until your staff leaves is too late.

An added bonus: Smooth transition processes take pressure off employees and help improve their rates of satisfaction throughout the transition.


3. Fix Organizational Issues

When your nonprofit is disorganized, you create extra work for your employees. Many nonprofit staff members end up leaving their jobs because they feel overworked and underappreciated in the workplace. Address this issue by ensuring your internal operations are well organized.

This means addressing strategies for different aspects of your nonprofit including fundraising, community influence, and internal management reports.

For instance, you should plan your fundraising strategy to ensure success with your organization’s annual fund and other projects. This fundraising strategy should include elements such as:

  • Defined goals. Your fundraising strategy should start with your goals. Create a visual goals chart to lay out your benchmark goals and some objectives as to how to reach those benchmarks.
  • Budgets. Take your budget from prior years and use that as a base to plan this year’s budget. Remember to look for your income and expenses from donors, memberships, events, matched gifts, etc.
  • Calendars. A fundraising calendar is where you lay out your benchmark objectives and your plan to reach those benchmarks on a detailed calendar. Try to stick to this calendar, but if you need to adjust, don’t be afraid to adapt the calendar to your needs.
  • Case for support. Your case for support should include all the necessary information to convince people to donate. Make sure it is short, actionable, and relates to your community.

Generating revenue is entirely possible for your nonprofit if you have the proper plans and strategies in place.

Use key performance indicators  (KPIs) to create goals for how you would like to impact your community. And then set a timeline for when you would like to meet these goals and create plans for getting there.

Use KPIs to help define success for your staff members. This will give them a goal to work toward and help them understand where to put their time and effort. With clear goals in place, your staff members are more likely to feel satisfied with their jobs.

With community KPIs and internal KPIs, your staff can better see the output of their jobs and receive the satisfaction that comes with completing a benchmark goal.


4. Build your organization as a team.

Another one of the top reasons that nonprofit staff members leave their jobs is a stressful or unsatisfactory office environment.

Build teams and establish a positive office culture at your organization to help your staff members better work and communicate with one another. This also helps them understand one anothers’ strengths and weaknesses, and stay motivated in the workplace. All of these positive outcomes can drastically decrease staff attrition.

One key area to focus on is reducing any tension between the leaders and staff members. Staff members should always feel comfortable coming forward with their questions and suggestions.

Some of the top team building strategies include:

  • Workshop training with your team members. Top nonprofit consulting firms will help your organization with staff training through workshops in order to build your nonprofit as a team. For instance, a fundraising workshop may help your team learn more about donor motivation as well as work together to become a stronger team.
  • Meeting regularly as a team. Regular meetings can help to refocus your conversations on the things that matter like your mission and goals. Informal meetings also open up the floor for employees to raise questions or concerns to your nonprofit leadership.

Just as you try to engage your volunteers to work as a team for your organization, you need to focus on your staff team.

Encouraging relationships among staff members and between staff and leadership is a great way to increase job satisfaction and prevent turnover for your nonprofit organization. People are less likely to leave when they feel like a valued member to the organization.

Your nonprofit’s staff members are incredibly important to the success of the organization. These 4 strategies will help increase staff satisfaction and encourage your staff members to stay, ultimately decreasing staff attrition.

Aly Sterling is the president and founder of Aly Sterling, a consulting firm that offers fundraising, board governance and strategic planning services to organizations of all shapes and sizes.