Nonprofit job satisfaction: asking tough questions


Last week, the Chronicle of Philanthropy released two surveys related to troubling levels of job satisfaction by workers in the nonprofit sector. For this Rich TIP, we thought it would be worth looking at three of the major survey findings and probing further with questions you may need to consider.

Compensation.  A number of nonprofit employees have taken pay cuts in this recession, and others’ earnings remain flat.  In the surveys, half of the workers said that salary issues are a reason for their dissatisfaction and a reason to leave.

  1. Even if you have managed to maintain salary levels or provide slight increases in the last three years, are there “invisible” cuts in your organization, i.e., workers expected to absorb additional duties formerly performed by others?
  2. Are you turning a blind eye to your organization’s shortcomings in compensation based on a naïve belief that a certain number of professionals will always choose the nonprofit sector because serving others offers intangible rewards?
  3. Even given the bleak employment climate with few options for workers to seek a better position elsewhere, what is the ongoing cost of a disengaged, dissatisfied staff?

Office strife.  In the surveys, three out of four nonprofit employees cite internal politics as hampering their ability to perform.

       4.       If your office climate is toxic and a threat to productivity, would you know or are you happily isolated from the fray in a leadership role?

       5.        Is it possible that the negative influences of a few people could be making work difficult for everyone?

       6.       Have we allowed poor communications and conflict resolution practices to become “just the way life goes?” Can you re think staff meetings, project meetings, and performance reviews to be more candid and open so that fewer issues fester out in the hallway?

       7.       Of your valued employees who left in the last 36 months, can you honestly say that office politics were not a factor?

Recognition. In the surveys, well over half of the employees said that their hard work was not valued, and 40% cite a lack of trust and respect as eroding their morale.

       8.       Putting compensation aside, then, how else do you reward exceptional performance? Do you ask for ideas from all levels and actually listen to their responses?

       9.       When is the last time you wrote an employee a handwritten note of appreciation? Do you afford your staff the same etiquette that we all extend to our donors?

       10.   Would you be willing to ask a facilitator to explore whether employees lack trust about board operations, financials, decision-making, etc.?

If these findings are applicable to you and thought-provoking, you’ll find the full survey at





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