If you’re a nonprofit leader, I hope you’re spending some time each day getting on social media and reviewing posts and comments from people who work in the industry.

Although I have a busy schedule of travel and meetings, I try to check out what’s happening in social media nonprofit groups because it helps me keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the industry straight from the source.

I’ve been keeping an eye on how team members are treated who work for nonprofits and based on my unscientific experience, I’ve seen a pattern concerning the primary reasons they quit organizations. Turnover has been an issue in the nonprofit sector for a long time (here’s an article from 2014 about how to retain nonprofit staff), and it seems that it’s still a challenge.

The following are five of the reasons I’ve seen that continue to create a situation of high turnover levels within charities and nonprofits.

  1. Money: Are you surprised that this would be at the top? Nonprofit teams care about society, which is why they choose careers in the sector. Team members in nonprofits earn less than someone doing the same or a similar job in the for-profit industry.

Your team is the most valuable asset you have in your organization, and you have to treat them as such. What does that mean? It means giving them everything they need––all the resources––to do the job. That could be a comfortable work environment, modern hardware, and software, and yes, competitive salaries.

Cash flow is not only important for your organization, but it’s important to your team members.

  1. Leadership: I wish things were different, but they’re not. So many nonprofit leaders (including board members) don’t know how to be leaders. Leadership is a quality that you know when you see it.

There are many definitions of leadership, but they essentially share the following qualities: vision, transformation, excellent communication skills, care and concern for team members, respect, and consistency.

There’s no way around it. You can’t succeed in anything, including having a sustainable and thriving nonprofit organization without leadership. Executive directors have to set the course, as do governing boards. And once they’ve established the vision, they have to stay at it consistently every day. Leadership involves inspiring and motivating others to follow.

  1. Too Much Work Load: I believe in hard work, but some of the stories I’ve seen in social media groups and I’ve heard throughout the years are, candidly, ridiculous. If you work in one of my social enterprises, you’ll know that we encourage our team members to take the time they need to recharge their batteries and deal with things in their personal lives. That means we encourage weekends off, if team members are sick, we prefer that they recover at home than come into the office, and of course, when there are critical personal issues, we tell them to focus on that, and we’ll be here when they come back.

Often I see nonprofit employees who are giving their time away because they have unreasonable workloads. Weekends and late hours are common because in many groups there seems to be an expectation that well-intentioned team members should be giving their time without expectation of anything (i.e. money) in return. Workloads are way too heavy, but people want to keep their jobs because they need it and they also care about the cause. It’s like one long guilt trip.

Saying there’s no money for overtime, creating unreasonable workloads and then having unspoken expectations of work without money is simply and plainly wrong, and it’s something that I think is very common in the sector. Leaders tell their team members, “Go home.”

  1. No Mobility: So many nonprofits are so small. The fact that many nonprofits can’t grow and scale up limits work opportunities for employees within the charitable sector. I’ve known of many organizations that have had team members they’ve loved, but because they don’t have the money for expansion, there’s been nowhere for bright, energetic and committed staff to go within the organization––even when they’ve wanted to stay.

There’s one group in particular on one of the social media platforms where there are members who are energetic and committed to the work they do. However, I’ve often seen within this group someone who is asking his or her colleagues for advice on how to remain within a cause they love when there’s no movement to any position in management or anywhere else for that matter.

Talented, hardworking and committed team members are essential to any work group or organization. It’s a significant loss when they leave but would have wanted to remain because they’re no longer challenged (or paid too little) and there’s no place to move within the organization.

  1. Communication: I’m a big believer in communication. I’m someone who prefers to pick up the telephone or grab a meal with a team member and talk to them. Why do so many executive directors miss the opportunity to communicate and interact well with their direct reports and also with junior staff? 

Communication, especially by directors and managers, is essential to increased productivity. Walking around the office, being respectful, seeing people face to face and cutting down on the emails and texts are all “old school” ways of communicating, but here’s the thing––they work. Even in the digital age, people are people.

Teams still want to be inspired by hearing their leaders and managers talk and motivate them. People still want to listen to the tone of your voice and see your body language to provide context. The art of personal communication is not dead. It’s a differentiator, and it sets apart great leaders and managers from all the rest.

There are other reasons I’ve seen as to why nonprofit teams quit, including lack of mentors, culture and no recognition. I’m sure if you’re reading this, you probably have more. No matter what, leaders and managers in the nonprofit sector have to be mindful that it’s better to retain their high-quality employees than lose them.


Author of  “Get Off the Couch: Grip & Rip and Break the Barriers Holding You Back in Life” (Free Digital Download)

© 2017 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.