Attract & Retain Nonprofit Employees

Attract & Retain Nonprofit Employees | vcfo

How Nonprofits Can Attract and Retain Talented Employees

The struggle to attract and retain talented employees has intensified in recent years and shows no signs of subsiding. With for-profit organizations offering top-tier pay rates and shoring up gaps in other areas of hiring and recruitment, nonprofits are finding it tougher than ever to get and keep the employees they need to carry out their mission and serve their communities.

Given this extremely competitive environment, what can nonprofits do to improve their ability to sufficiently staff and sustain their organizations? Here, we delve into a variety of factors, all of which nonprofits need to devote energy and attention to.

Build a Strong Culture

No matter whether an organization is nonprofit or for-profit, creating a positive culture is supremely important in attracting and retaining talent. Happy employees will spread the word about job openings and encourage talented candidates in their networks to join them. Candidates are also adept in the hiring process at sensing when an organization’s culture is strong and something they want to be a part of and when it’s something they should steer clear of. Building a strong, positive culture starts with leadership and shows itself in how employees engage with others and the way things get done every day, beginning with the very first impression the company makes on a potential employee.

Share and Reinforce the Mission

Many people join an organization because they connect with its mission and want to be a part of carrying it out. They are  sometimes willing to accept less money to do so. This doesn’t mean that nonprofits should ever seek to compensate employees at a lower level just because they can, but rather that they should always emphasize the “why” behind the work they do. Being a part of something bigger than me was a core reason why I joined a nonprofit years ago. I wanted to feel like I was giving back and contributing in a way that I couldn’t in a for-profit organization. This is an area where nonprofits typically have an edge over for-profit organizations. Use it!

Hire Outside the Box

All too often, employers get so bogged down in job descriptions that they miss out on great talent. Look deeply at the potential of candidates, not just whether they fit the bill on paper or check the majority of boxes. Evaluate candidates’ energy, foresight, work ethic, and ability to bring fresh perspectives and ideas. In many cases, the primary responsibilities of a role can be taught or learned whereas one’s intrinsic characteristics are already baked in.

As an example, I once hired a contract recruiter whose degree was in criminal justice. Although she did not have a background in HR or recruiting, she showed passion, ambition, creativity, and an eagerness to take on new challenges. She shined in that initial recruiting role, went on to recruit for a Fortune 500 company, incrementally added new HR skills, and eventually came to lead the HR function at an enterprise-level organization. The takeaway here is that nonprofits need to widen and deepen their candidate pools as much as possible to compete with private-sector employers.

Offer Meaningful Benefits

Nonprofits have historically been stronger in this area than their for-profit counterparts, but that gap is closing. Nonprofits do still have unique opportunities to demonstrate investment in their people by being highly sensitive to and actively addressing collective and individual employee needs. This may manifest itself through a combination of wellness programs, traditional benefits (e.g., health, dental, and vision insurance), disability coverage, and a range of employee assistance programs. It can also include resources for mental health, and lesser-seen programs like fitness club discounts.

As noted above, the right combination is key. Engage candidates on what they’re looking for in this area, talk to existing employees about what’s adding the most (and least) value, and put together a package of benefits and programs that demonstrates the organization’s care for employee health and well-being.

Create Real Paths for Growth

Providing growth opportunities at a nonprofit can seem challenging. Often this is due to having a smaller overall range of positions and, in many instances, only one position per role or function. This can lead some employees to feel stuck. Nonprofits should not let that stop them from developing their employees. Developing employees, even when there isn’t an immediate position for them to potentially move into, creates valuable redundancy should unexpected vacancies arise and shows employees that their needs and ambitions are recognized and supported by the organization. This approach fits with the teaching orientation of most nonprofits and pays dividends, even if an employee ultimately leaves the organization for another opportunity.

Be a Savvy Digital Recruiter

Nonprofits can take advantage of a wide range of low-cost and free resources to recruit beyond traditional job boards and channels. Take advantage of outlets like free postings on Facebook but look too at Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok as potential ways to widen your net. Create profiles and post open positions on mission-oriented career websites such as,, and to find candidates who are looking to be part of an organization like yours.

Being a savvy digital recruiter also means paying attention to elements such as e-mail messaging, career pages, landing pages, and the different forms, fields, and steps a candidate must complete to be considered for employment. All elements should be attractive, intuitive, and free of friction that might stop candidates from proceeding. Present these respective elements to others and ask for their feedback on areas that can be improved. In attending to these elements and applying feedback, aim to create repeatable recruitment and hiring processes that support always-up-to-date job descriptions and postings as well as overall efficiency.

Making a Difference

For nonprofits, improving hiring, recruiting, and retention practices will in turn improve their ability to make a difference in the lives of those they serve. Competing with private sector employers for top talent is tough, but nonprofits’ service mindsets, teaching orientations, and do-what-it-takes attitudes put them in a position to follow the steps outlined here and pursue other innovative opportunities to attract and retain the employees they need to carry out their missions.

Looking to strengthen your non-profit’s performance? Request a Free Consultation from a vcfo expert who can help. We’ve assisted more than 5,000 organizations in our 27 years and would love to share how we can make your organization stronger.