5 Strategies for Boosting Nonprofit Employee Engagement

5 Strategies for Boosting Nonprofit Employee Engagement

Julia Claire Campbell Nonprofits

Nonprofits have limited resources and, as such, need to focus on sustainability. From fundraisers to mission-related programs, what can you do to make your nonprofit self-sustaining long-term? One overlooked answer is investing in your employees. 

Nonprofit employees often put in long hours, wear many hats, and are tasked with doing more with fewer resources than for-profit organizations. Burnout and turnover are common in the nonprofit sector, but organizations with strong company culture and high engagement rates tend to see greater retention, fewer mistakes, and greater success.

To help your nonprofit engage your employees, this guide will cover five strategies for building connections, creating a positive work environment, and instilling loyalty. Let’s get started. 

1. Collect employee feedback. 

If you want to make changes to your employees’ day-to-day experience, your first step should be to consult with them. While leadership likely has an idea about what can be improved, employees can provide highly specific insights related to their everyday work. 

Before surveying your employees, consider what you need feedback about. This might include your technology, communication practices, how a new program is performing, or anything else. Keeping your questions specific will make your surveys shorter and easier to complete, increasing responses. 

Don’t stop collecting feedback after your initial round of surveys. Routinely giving employees an opportunity to voice their ideas, concerns, and opinions helps leadership stay more connected to what’s happening on the ground at their nonprofit. 

Additionally, listening to employee feedback helps your team feel more strongly that they’re a part of your organization since their voices directly impact what happens at your nonprofit. This can improve satisfaction, engagement, and retention. 

NXUnite by Nexus Marketing provides a useful formula for calculating employee retention: 

(Total # of Employees – # of Employees who Left)/Total # of Employees x 100 = Retention Rate

If you have a low retention rate, prioritize surveying employees to learn what their concerns and potential reasons for leaving are. Try conducting exit interviews as well to learn why departing employees have decided to move on. 

2. Provide opportunities for growth. 

Employees want to feel a sense of progression in their careers. Knowing they have the ability to move up the career ladder boosts motivation and encourages employees to do their best work. A few growth opportunities you can provide include:

  • New responsibilities. Give your employees the opportunity to branch out and try new roles. For example, if the employee who writes copy for your emails feels comfortable doing so, offer them the chance to write your social media posts as well. Or, if an employee has made an effort to take courses and learn new skills outside of work hours, meet with them to discuss ways they can incorporate their new abilities into their routine duties. 


  • Leadership opportunities. Experienced employees know what they’re doing at your nonprofit, and giving them management opportunities is a clear sign that they’ve transitioned to a more senior role. Provide these employees with the chance to mentor or onboard new employees or lead small teams on projects. 


  • Greater autonomy. Even if hands-off management isn’t your style, consider ways you can grant your more experienced team members more autonomy. This includes less direct supervision, more control over the direction of their work, and even the ability to pitch and work on new projects. Greater autonomy makes employees feel more ownership of their work, increasing their commitment. 

Above all, have honest conversations with your employees about their current roles and how they want to advance. Some may have management aspirations, whereas others may want to move into more senior roles that involve more complex and important work but not overseeing others.

3. Implement an appreciation strategy. 

Employees at your nonprofit are happy that their efforts are contributing to a good cause. However, while nonprofits may perform thankless work, your employees definitely appreciate a thank you now and then. 

Implement a purposeful appreciation strategy to ensure your employees’ efforts don’t go unrecognized. Consider investing in employee engagement software to help systemize how you show appreciation. This could be software for sending eCards, tracking metrics, or providing perks that correspond to employees’ accomplishments. 

If this is confusing, breaking down the different types of recognition might be useful. eCardWidget’s guide to employee recognition outlines the four categories:

5 Strategies for Boosting Nonprofit Employee Engagement

  • Formal. Formal recognition is deliberate, pre-determined, and may be used to assess employees’ performance. 
  • Informal. Quick thank yous at the end of the day, a “good job” after a completed project, and other casual praise are considered informal recognition. While these may be small, regular informal recognition can build a culture of appreciation that employees are happy to work in. 
  • Top-down. When a supervisor or member of leadership recognizes an employee, it’s top-down appreciation. This can feel more formal, and managers should be conscious of how often they recognize all of their employees to avoid leaving out anyone. 
  • Peer-to-peer. When employees show each other appreciation, that’s peer-to-peer recognition. This type of recognition will feel less formal but can increase teamwork. Plus, other employees will be able to spot all the good work others do better than a single manager can. 

Consider which types of recognition you want to implement and how your appreciation strategy can help you accomplish it. For example, an employee of the month award would be a top-down formal appreciation, whereas eCards might be an informal peer-to-peer appreciation style.

4. Align expectations. 

One easy way to avoid disengagement is to be clear about employee responsibilities. Workers who aren’t sure what they need to do or what resources they can use are likely to grow frustrated. Additionally, employees who don’t have clear boundaries for when and where they should be working can have their at-work responsibilities bleed into their off hours, potentially leading to burnout. 

Establish clear expectations by outlining employee behavior and performance standards in your office policy handbook. If employees have questions, encourage them to connect with their managers, especially if they’re remote, as it’s easier for miscommunication to occur when employees are not physically present. 

5. Communicate impact. 

Employees at nonprofits know their work is contributing to social good. However, for some roles, it may be unclear exactly how they are helping. Tasks that lack a clear greater purpose can result in disengagement. 

When assigning new work, give employees context about how their individual responsibilities contribute to your nonprofit’s greater mission. Doing so provides direction, helping employees to make decisions about how to approach their work. Plus, when employees have the full context, they can more easily provide their own ideas for how to improve your programs and initiatives. 

Outside of specific tasks, provide employees with updates about your nonprofit’s accomplishments to help them stay motivated. Doing so also allows employees in different departments to acknowledge each other’s hard work and feel more connected.  

Whether your nonprofit is an enterprise-sized organization or a team of two, engaged employees are essential for producing great work that moves your mission forward. Show your employees you appreciate their efforts, give them space to voice their opinions, and communicate as clearly as possible. With these practices, you can build a more supportive, inspiring workplace environment.