Nonprofit Missions Won’t Advance Without Greater Employee Satisfaction

nonprofit employees in meeting

This piece was originally posted on the Chronicle of Philanthropy and has been reposted by Classy with permission.

To the Editor:

Key findings from the recent survey commissioned by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Association of Fundraising Professionals this month should be concerning to nonprofit leaders.

In polling nonprofit fundraisers across the U.S. and Canada, it was revealed that 51% of development professionals plan to leave their organizations within the next two years.

Reasons cited include physical and mental burnout, a tendency to operate in a silo, unrealistic fundraising goals, and feeling underappreciated.

Though startling, this trend isn’t just plaguing the nonprofit industry. In fact, Gallup’s long-running survey of U.S. workers last year found that only 34% of respondents reported feeling “engaged” in their current job. Analysts and business leaders alike have long pondered how to overcome the remarkably low metrics of employee engagement across varying industries.

That’s why I ask this question of nonprofit leaders when I meet with them: How does the nonprofit sector stack up against the accelerating world around us? Are we really doing everything we can as a sector to evolve? Are we challenging each other enough to change the status quo?

I’m certainly not the first person to question whether the nonprofit industry is keeping up with its for-profit counterparts. However, as a business executive myself—and specifically a fast-growing-startup CEO—I do recognize a link between the speed in which a company evolves and the satisfaction of its employees.

If advancement opportunities don’t exist, it’s difficult for employees to see themselves working for that particular organization for a long period of time. This is true of for-profit and nonprofit companies.

An encouraging finding from the survey proves that the mission and focus of the nonprofit is not what’s driving people to look for positions elsewhere, as the majority of respondents require a strong connection to the cause in order to work for a specific charity. So with a passion for the mission but growing disillusion with their role, how can today’s fundraising professionals spark dialogue within their organization to create necessary change?

Taking the Reins

Through my work with various nonprofit organizations, and in speaking with hundreds of nonprofit professionals each year, I’ve had the opportunity to learn how some people are able to take the reins and improve their own roles. They all have something in common: an innate desire to question how things are currently being done—and the follow-through to suggest or implement alternative approaches.

For fundraisers, this could mean auditing your organization’s fundraising tactics and considering how they could be improved.

In a survey that Classy commissioned earlier this year, we found that 4 in 10 nonprofit professionals don’t feel their organization was leveraging technology to their advantage compared with other nonprofits. With the rise of online fundraising and of consumer expectations for seamless web experiences, development professionals can’t risk being held back by technology.

Fundraisers can help drive these conversations by determining if other tools or services could be used to help make their jobs easier and then auditing these tools against their current tech stack.

But this evaluation doesn’t—and shouldn’t—have to fall solely on a single person at an organization, though that’s a trend I’ve observed more often than not.

A Shared Load

As I’ve continued to digest these new survey results from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and the AFP, what immediately comes to mind are my own conversations with dozens of nonprofit employees who are championing a digital revolution of sorts at their organizations. These folks often carry a heavy burden on their shoulders—driving systemic change at a resource-strapped nonprofit is no easy task—so perhaps a feeling of defeat or burnout just comes with the territory.

But does it have to? It seems that this burden can be better shared across an organization instead of teams relying on one person to move those hypothetical mountains.

That’s why technology isn’t the only barrier to better fundraising within a nonprofit organization. Using communication to break down silos and offer suggestions that can be implemented companywide can help development professionals feel more empowered within their organization.

For instance, this tendency to lean on the fundraising professional for 100% of funding is an antiquated practice that leads to unrealistic expectations and, in turn, burnout. In today’s world, where donors engage with an organization through a variety of touch points, every nonprofit employee can participate in fundraising at some level.

Fundraisers should look inward and speak with managers or colleagues who might have a wealth of ideas about how to engage with donors or potential donors. Not only will this help fundraisers achieve their goals but it can also foster an organizational culture of teamwork and help other employees feel a greater sense of responsibility for their nonprofit’s success.

I encourage nonprofit leaders and fundraising associates to consider ways to challenge themselves, bring up new ideas, and, ultimately, focus on improvement for themselves and for their organizations. After all, doing good should feel good, and that’s a notion I think every organization, regardless of mission, size, or cause category, can get behind.


Scot Chisholm is chief executive of Classy, a social enterprise that creates world-class online fundraising software for nonprofits.


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