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By October 31, 2019No Comments

By Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Unlike people who work for profit-making companies, employees for nonprofits often aren’t motivated by paychecks alone. The mission often is the chief reason nonprofit workers give their all to organizations that try to change the world for the better.

Still, every employee wants to feel important, compensated, and appreciated. As much as a nonprofit would love to boost salaries, pay hikes are not always possible. So, smart nonprofits find other ways to reward and retain valued employees.

A 2015 Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey found that perks and benefits are major factors in weighing a job offer. Also, the survey found that 80% of employees would rather have more and better benefits than a pay hike. (A standup desk is one of the most popular benefits.)

The four top benefits include healthcare insurance, including dental, paid time off, paid sick days, employer-matched 401(k) or other pension plans. All of these benefits cost money. In 2016, these benefits added 30% to 37% to an employee’s total compensation package, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Interestingly, many perks included on “most popular” lists include perks that cost companies nothing or little. They include:

  • Flexible schedules
  • Casual dress
  • Free lunch
  • Employee development

Here are some ways you can show your appreciation without exploding your budget.


Although sabbaticals are common in academia and within religious organizations, few companies offer extended paid or unpaid time off for company leaders to renew and reboot. However, companies are starting to recognize the benefit of sabbaticals for both employers and workers. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management showed that the percentage of companies offering sabbaticals rose to nearly 17% in 2017, a big boost since 1977 when McDonald’s became the first U.S. corporation to offer a sabbatical.

Since 1997, the Durfee Foundation has awarded more than 100 sabbaticals to outstanding nonprofit leaders in Los Angeles. Nonprofits get $60,000 for their leaders to spend three months traveling, learning, reflecting, and overall renewing themselves.

Sabbaticals don’t have to cost nonprofits a lot. You can offer unpaid time off for varying periods that help workers reboot.

Foundation research shows that sabbaticals work best when the leave is uninterrupted; the leave-taker has little or no contact with the office; an in-house executive leads the team during the leader’s sabbatical; and that everyone has access to additional learning and staff development.


The 9-to-5 office is becoming a dinosaur. More and more employees value companies that support flexible hours that allow staff to work from home and take unlimited vacation. (BTW: studies show that workers take fewer vacation days when they are unlimited.) A FRACTL survey found that about 50% of respondents said they’d give “some” or “heavy” consider to a lower-paying job that offered flexible hours.

Flexible hours help employees better achieve that elusive work/life balance. Workers can pick up the kids from school, visit a doctor when they need to, and collect dry cleaning before the shop closes.

For employers, flextime can improve staff morale, improve focus on work because employees attend to tasks when they’re most alert and motivated, and reduce operational costs such as heating and cooling office space.

Flexible spending accounts

Flexible spending accounts (FSA) allow workers to put aside money into a special account established by employers to pay for specific healthcare and dependent care expenses with tax-free dollars.

Workers can elect to save up to $2,700 from their annual salary for health expenses not covered under their health insurance, and up to $5,000 per household for dependent care.

Not only does this perk cost you nothing, it saves you money on payroll taxes.

Casual dress code

Does your staff really need to dress for success? Employees who never leave the office appreciate being able to wear casual clothes to work. Further, a casual dress code costs you nothing.

Different staffers may need to dress differently. Make sure everyone understands what dress code they are expected to follow.

Worker discounts

Explore if your vendors will extend discounts to workers. These discounts can help employees save on electronic equipment, computers, maybe even telephones.

You may also be able to negotiate a group rate at local movie theaters, sports arenas, and health clubs, which saves employees money on entertainment and fitness costs.

Summer hours

Can you close an hour or two earlier on summer Fridays, so workers can get a jump on beach traffic and enjoy extended daylight hours?

Early-close Fridays boost morale during a time of year when business often is slower, even for nonprofits.

Make the most of your benefits

Your employees are not statistics, and national surveys that track national preferences may not match the benefits your particular employees value most.

Here’s what the Society For Human Resource Management suggests you do to make the most of the decisions and resources you devote to worker benefits.

  • Conduct surveys and analyze organizational data to determine which benefits your workers truly want and use. Make sure employees know the purpose of the survey – you don’t want to raise or lower expectations unnecessarily – and understand the timeline for any changes.
  • Compare your benefits to others in your industry, which will show where you’re lagging and where you shine. Consider increasing benefits in areas where you lag behind your competition. Ballyhoo benefits that are better-than-industry-standards on your website and social media.
  • Pair new benefits with company values and strategies. If your nonprofit helps the homeless, give paid time off for employees to volunteer for social welfare groups.
  • Review internal communications materials so that employees understand the benefits available.

Free Webinar

Join us for The Future of Benefits in the Nonprofit Sector on Wednesday, November 13th. The event is free to attend.

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