Despite the hurdles that come with working in the nonprofit sector, the industry has never failed to attract an energetic and passionate workforce. While resources may be spread thin compared to larger corporations, nonprofit employees are known to put heart and soul into their work.
However, it’s no secret that nonprofits often struggle with hiring and retention. In fact, 81% of nonprofits don’t have any employee retention plan in place. Nonprofit employees are some of the most passionate workers, but there’s still an opportunity for HR to step in and help optimize the nonprofit employee experience.
What better way to support employees than to learn what motivates them? We spoke with six non-profit employees to learn exactly what makes their work so meaningful. Here’s what they had to say:
1. “There’s a ripple effect to the work that we do.”
“GlamourGals organizes and inspires teen volunteers to provide ongoing companionship to women living in senior homes by providing seniors with personal attention and care. Even on my worst day, when I'm flooded with emails and phone calls to return and deadlines to meet, it's so easy to stay motivated when I know that I'm working to empower women. All the hard work truly pays off when I read volunteer journals about the connections they are making with seniors in their community, or learn that they are pursuing careers in medicine, gerontology, or even technology to help slow Alzheimer's symptoms. There's a ripple effect to the work that we do, as a generation of young people become inspired to help make the world a better place.
Working on a small team also gives me a chance to be creative, execute on my big ideas, and be part of our major projects from start to finish, instead of being relegated to one department. This is such a great experience when you're really passionate about your mission and have ideas for all parts of a process.”
- Jessica Wallin, Program Manager, GlamourGals Foundation, Inc.
2. “The entire staff is mission driven.”
“I left my corporate job to work as the Executive Director of Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey. We are a nonprofit that assists the elderly, veterans, and people with dementia.
Although the salary and perks I receive have been greatly reduced, the satisfaction I get from knowing that an older person can remain in their own home and be connected with loving volunteers and therapy dogs more than makes up for it. The thing that makes our agency a great place to work is that the entire staff is mission driven. Everyone on the team is doing their best to make this world a kinder place for vulnerable people who are often forgotten.”
- Lynette Whiteman, Executive Director, Caregiver Volunteers of Central Jersey
3. “That someday was today.”
I started fostering nearly 12 year ago, while also pursuing a career as a fashion designer, which always seemed to be slightly out of reach. I began to question if i would ever get there. But then I looked down at the furry face of my little foster dog, and it hit me: today I achieved a goal; I saved a life! That “someday” I always said I'd volunteer (when I had time and money) was today.
The mission to save lives every day inspired me to found Motley Zoo Animal Rescue and for more than seven years I did the work (unpaid). This decision changed the entire course of my life. Since then, the org has grown so much, and I am so proud of what we have achieved. There is nothing like knowing your day really matters, and everything you do makes a difference. That’s what keeps you going when life is hard.
I wish everyone discovers what would make them feel this way too. the answer is often volunteering, but people are so busy doing everything, they often don't make time for what really matters...and doing so could make their lives more fulfilling.
- Jamie Thomas, Executive Director, Motley Zoo Animal Rescue
4. “I am in a position to actually do something.”
I am the senior editor for a nonprofit called Vision Hope, which works among disenfranchised people in war zones and severely deprived areas. The work takes a huge emotional toll; just thinking about the plight of orphans in Yemen who watched their family members die in the war, or Syrian children in trauma-burdened families that fled to Jordan, can be devastating sometimes. But I love that I am in a position to actually do something about these crises. I don't have to just look at news stories and wonder, “Well, what can I do?” I can actually use my skills and experience to help people in these dire situations, and I also help mobilize other people who want to help.
- Jesse Allen, Senior Editor, Vision Hope
5. “Seeing my impact is much more satisfying.”
I left a managerial IT position at a major insurance company, in which I ran a team of 100+ people and commanded company-wide respect, in favor of a position where I work twice as hard, have no clout, and make almost $30,000 less per year.
Taking a $30,000 salary cut to work for a nonprofit? Worth it! I wear many hats in our organization––I do the work of an executive assistant, I've had some accounting work thrown my way, I file government paperwork, and somehow gardening was recently added to my list of duties. Mainly, though, I work out of and manage the Equality House. I like to say that my job description is to enable our founder to follow his heart.
I really debated taking the position because I was afraid of making so much less money and losing all the authority I'd gained, but I don't miss it at all! It's worth it because I'm now helping others (and myself) see the good in the world instead of just the bad. On top of that, I get to provide a way for the best people in the world to create an exceptional future. I work myself ragged every day, and it feels amazing.
Actually seeing my impact on my organization––and, therefore, my impact on the world––is much more satisfying than having to take my supervisor's word for it in a large corporate environment.
- Cat Jones, Program Coordinator, Planting Peace
6. “We give them a voice.”
I used to work in media as a journalist, but I wanted to do more for society. For months, I applied only to nonprofits until I found my current job. Every day, I know I work for an organization who has been fighting for a better and more inclusive world for kids and young adults with disabilities for the last 35 years. Sometimes I am tired, but I still want to go to work every morning. I am constantly thinking about how we can better help families who don't know they have the right to special education and disability services. We give them a voice in a world where many don't listen, and that feeling is amazing.
- Pia Fouilloux, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, INCLUDEnyc