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Getting Your Nonprofit Staff to Buy Into Your Mission

By August 22, 2023October 19th, 2023No Comments

One of the main upsides of nonprofit work versus private and public sector work is knowing that your team is motivated by more than just earning a paycheck. Although people join nonprofits for a variety of reasons, including opportunities to get valuable experience in a particular field, for most their belief in the mission is part of their remuneration.

Although it is safe for you to assume that on some level your team is dedicated to the mission, you also shouldn’t take this for granted. Research shows that nonprofit workers are more subject to burnout than workers in other industries. Feeling they are making a difference not just by showing up to work but also by directly impacting their organization and the cause is important to your team, so you should create a framework for them to feel that their input and effort are important to the organization and the mission.

Let’s take a look at several effective ways you can nurture and maintain buy-in among your employees.

Buy-in starts at the very beginning

The best place to start improving buy-in is by taking a look at your hiring process and what candidates your job listings attract. Work with everyone involved in the hiring process to come up with ways not only to assess a candidate’s ability to do the job but also to get a sense of why they believe in your organization’s mission.

Job interviews and assessments are a good way to gauge a candidate’s ability to assess and provide honest feedback. For example, asking them whether they have new ideas or positive criticisms of how the organization presents itself is a great way to see if they are willing to take ownership of the organization’s performance.

You should also assess your onboarding process and whether it provides new employees with a valuable perspective on how their work directly impacts the organization and mission. Equally important as providing the details of their responsibilities is explaining the why of their role — how does what they do daily help the mission? Having confidence both in their work and the value of it will set them up to be driven by more than just their wages and benefits.

Creating a collaborative culture

You should also take an interest in the ways employee decisions and feedback are implemented. Fostering open, respectful discussion of issues, challenges, and goals between employees is important, even if you aren’t able to take action on every piece of feedback. This can come in many forms, depending on your organizational structure, but it’s best to emphasize in-person or more personal forms of communication, such as one-on-one meetings and video chats.

A key element of this effort should be educating managers and employees on constructive criticism and avoiding personal criticisms or negative language. Simultaneously, you should assess how managers are communicating important updates or responding to feedback. You will probably lack the resources or capability to implement every idea you hear from your team, so it’s vital that you communicate why some ideas are unfeasible at this time and recognize their value even if they aren’t put into action right away.

Welcome feedback, provide the same 

In addition to fostering open discussions, you should explore the ways that you can help employees feel comfortable expressing feedback to managers. Whether this is through standup meetings or anonymous surveys, letting your team know they have a voice and that their feedback is valued and actionable is a great way to help them feel invested.

Because nonprofits are mission-driven, a common source of burnout is the frustration employees feel with work they do not believe is sufficiently pushing the mission forward. For example, someone who is heads-down seeking donations may not have perspective on what the money they raised is doing. If your employees express this disconnect, you need to be able to proactively solve it, for example by providing weekly or monthly updates on the progress of projects, feedback from the beneficiaries of your work, or other positive reinforcement.

Another easy way to show engagement and recognition of valuable work is to highlight the work of individual employees or departments or to have a weekly organization meeting where team members discuss what they’ve been working on and why it matters. In addition to breaking down organizational silos and providing opportunities for cross-department insight and collaboration, this allows employees to get positive reinforcement not just from managers but from their peers.

Find creative ways to provide benefits, even if they aren’t financial 

Most nonprofit employees understand that they are likely to make less than they would in a similar role at a private company, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t find ways to reward their work. Even if you can’t compete on salary and benefits, you can gather info about what they need to do their best work and find ways to provide it. Research shows that employees value their organizational culture and mission highly, so much so that these factors are more often cited than wages and benefits when an employee burns out or seeks a new job.

Finding nonfinancial ways to support or reward your team could mean scheduling flexibility, remote or hybrid work opportunities, or other benefits. When you gather feedback, you can work to get an idea of what passions and skills each team member is drawn to and find ways to offer training and networking opportunities to them, for example, giving them time off to attend a training seminar or hosting an in-office lunch and learn.

We can help you focus on your mission

The 501(c) Services team is made up of nonprofit professionals with decades of experience working for and managing mission-driven organizations. Our experience working in the nonprofit field led us to create our own mission, which is centered around enabling nonprofits like yours to do the best work possible without worrying about running out of resources or burning out your staff. If you’d like to learn more about how our services can help your mission, get in touch with us.


501(c) Services has more than 40 years of experience helping nonprofits with unemployment outsourcing, reimbursing, and HR services. Two of our most popular programs are the 501(c) Agencies Trust and 501(c) HR Services. We understand the importance of compliance and accuracy, and we are committed to providing our clients with customized plans that fit their needs.

Contact us today to see if your organization could benefit from our services.

Already working with us and need assistance with an HR or unemployment issue? Contact us here.

(Pictures by: Scott Webb, Dcstudio)

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel and has been pulled from multiple sources

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