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The Nonprofit Sector and High Employee Turnover

Updated: Oct 6, 2020




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Throughout my nonprofit career, I observed how nonprofits struggle to maintain a steady roster of employees. Even as a nonprofit employee myself, there were nonprofit jobs I struggled to maintain for a long period of time. Sometimes it was due to issues with leadership, but other times, I felt an overwhelming amount of stress that interfered with my work and my life in general. Honestly, there were also times where I loved the work that I was doing, but struggled financially because the job just didn’t pay well.

These are common things among nonprofit employees and are major cause of high turnover at nonprofit organizations, so let’s dive in a little deeper.


Compensation for nonprofit employees: The belief is that most people working in the nonprofit industry don’t care about pay. The reality is that while we love the work, we still have bills to pay and other major financial responsibilities. You will find that the most successful nonprofits are able to hire highly qualified individuals because they offer competitive pay. "Tax-exempt charitable nonprofits, like all other employers, are required to follow federal and state wage and hour laws that require employers to pay minimum wage. At the upper end, compensation must be "reasonable" and not "excessive," which is a fundamental requirement of maintaining tax-exempt status." (Source: Council of Nonprofits)


Work-life balance: Let’s be real, there’s always more work that needs to be done at nonprofits because nonprofit employees tend to wear many hats. Sometimes, nonprofit leaders place these heavy burdens and expectations on their employees; to stay late, to come in early, and to work on the weekends. The fact is, employees have a life outside of work and nonprofit leaders should be mindful of that to avoid burnout.


Compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma: Nonprofit employees interface with the most vulnerable people in the community. Over time, this can cause compassion fatigue. "Also called “vicarious traumatization” or secondary traumatization, which is the emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events." (Source: The American Institute of Stress). This is quite different from burnout and can have lasting impacts on individuals. Nonprofits that work with vulnerable communities that may expose their employees to traumatic situations should make every effort to have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place, provide flexibility for time-off, and have internal programs that promote open communication, healing, and wellness.


I hope you found this to be extremely helpful! If so, let me know.

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