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Overcoming the Nonprofit Sector’s Biggest Challenge of 2019

Based on a study done in 2019 by Statista, the challenges nonprofits face in the US and Canada include donor acquisition and retention, the overall economy, tax laws, organization/local issues, and many more. The number one challenge of 2019 was transitions in staff along with not having enough human resources.

This is an issue that nonprofits have faced for several years, and simply hiring new staff is not the solution. In 2013, CompassPoint surveyed more than 2,700 executive and developmental directors in the US and Canada. The study titled “UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising”, discusses the underlying issues that feed the staff-related challenges:

“[…] our survey data confirm that many of the fundraising challenges facing nonprofits today can be traced to high turnover and other problems in the development director position. But the survey also reveals that nonprofits cannot just hire their way out of the problems they face. Organizations need to make fundamental changes in the way they lead and resource fund development in order to create the cultures and systems that support fundraising success. Fundraising can’t be a priority for just one individual. It has to be a priority, and a shared responsibility, for the board, the executive director and the staff alike.”


Here are some things your nonprofit can do to create a culture that retains great staff and volunteers in 2020:

1. Make Employees and volunteers Feel Valued

It is normal for anyone to want to feel appreciated for their hard work. This can be done in several ways:

• Milestone Recognition
• Reward Program
• Birthday Wishes or Thank You’s (Verbally/Cards)
• Volunteer of the Month Program
• Feature Volunteers on the Website
• Host an Event to celebrate Volunteers
• Attempt Helping with Career Advancement
• Show the Impact they’ve had on the Organization

2. Promote and hire from within the organization

No one wants to feel like they have peaked and have nowhere else to rise up. Just like at any job, if you feel like there is no way to work your way up the ladder, motivation can fall short.

When you believe a volunteer is ready to take on new tasks, encourage the growth it takes to manage more responsibilities. They will learn new skills, and feel proud to have been trusted to do even more.

3. Listen to them

Ask them for their opinions and let their voices be heard. If they know you appreciate what they have to say then they will gain confidence in the fact that that are not “just another volunteer” but one that is valued.

Continue to do this for every volunteer, no matter how long they have been with the organization. It will show your never ending interest in them and that you appreciate any feedback they give.

Never diminish an idea that may not be lucrative. Encourage brainstorming and a safe environment to speak their thoughts freely.

4. Challenge them

Many employees get bored if they are always doing the same thing day in and day out. Yes, they are probably experts in their fields of work. However, they should always have a new goal; a new thing to accomplish and that pushes them. Mentoring them properly and asking for excellence does not need to be seen in a harsh light. Personal and professional development is never a bad thing.

“As many nonprofits struggle to attract and retain talented employees, it is vital to self-reflect and look at your growth opportunities. I believe some nonprofit leaders are afraid to invest in talent development initiatives in case employees leave. Some may leave, but look at the bigger picture. Create an environment promoting learning, growth and development, and you create an attractive future.” – Albert L. Reyes, Buckner International

5. Regular pay raises

Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. If it’s not, look at why. How can human resources/accounting move things around to make it possible?

6. Share the results of the organization

If you hit a fundraising goal, celebrate it! Show everyone what their hard work has done. Recognizing their hard work and the impact they have on peoples’ lives is exactly what everyone needs. This encourages them to continue to work hard and feel good about what they do.

These are just a few of the small things you can do to counteract the biggest challenge facing the nonprofit sector. For more on volunteer and staff retention, check out Keeping Your Best: 5 Things to Give Nonprofit Employees to Get Them to Stay.

About the Author: Sumac is part of the Silent Partner Software family, a company dedicated to providing exception software and services to nonprofits. With over 25 years of service, Silent Partner has helped organizations manage over 3 million donors and contacts across the US, Canada, UK, and Europe. Learn more.

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