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Keeping nonprofit employees happy and engaged: Five new findings

Two crucial questions for any nonprofit that wants to retain their best employees are as follows: How do you keep employees satisfied in their jobs and how can you keep them engaged? Given that budgets and resources within the nonprofit sector are typically lower than those in the commercial world, finding the solutions to these ongoing questions take on added importance for nonprofit employers.

Aiming to help nonprofits with these and other human resources needs, the Unemployment Services Trust (UST) released a 2016 UST Nonprofit HR Toolkit, which includes two e-books—5 Myths Increasing Your Unemployment Costs and the 2015 Nonprofit Employee Engagement & Retention Report—along with HR checklists that nonprofits of any size can use to ensure they are following the best practices in the business.

In the Nonprofit Employee Engagement & Retention Report, UST unveils the results of a survey conducted last year with executives, supervisors, and staff at more than 1,200 organizations from across the nonprofit world.

Below are UST’s 5 key findings:

1. Culture, mission, and purpose are key drivers of satisfaction for nonprofit employees.

To keep employees engaged from the outset, it’s important to prioritize purpose in employee communications. One of the best ways to keep employees engaged and increase retention is setting goals that relate directly to the mission, and celebrating their achievement. Culture is driven by the values that the organization and its managers express, so make sure core beliefs and desired behaviors are communicated from the top down, and are tied to your mission.

2. Nonprofits should focus on improving the things they can, because it can have a ripple effect on the things they can’t.

Want to decrease turnover? Manage employee stress by lightening their workload. If that’s not possible, focus on better communication between supervisors and employees, including constructive feedback, or provide better tools. These can increase satisfaction, which also improves retention.

3. When hiring, focus on the right culture fit: The better employees get along, the more satisfied they are.

Nonprofit employees are unique, in that they have to care about what they do and the impact they are making to be happy. Hire someone who cares, and watch that passion drive your organization’s success.

4. It’s possible to both underestimate and overestimate the importance of compensation.

Bringing wages to a level consistent with personal expectations or needs will allow employees to focus on more important things that directly serve your mission. Once employees feel fairly compensated, however, giving them more money does not increase feelings of satisfaction.

5. Strong leadership is absolutely vital.

Goals, feedback, supervisor communication, autonomy, and resources all have an effect on satisfaction and turnover. Compared to what employees reported, supervisors tended to overestimate their level of communication and feedback regarding performance, indicating that nonprofits have more work to do when it comes to providing the support and guidance that their employees are seeking. A focus on training management will strengthen the sector.

Unemployment Services Trust is a GCN business partner.

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