By Matt Kouri and Tara Kirkland
Texas nonprofits employ more than 430,000 people and generate $83 billion in annual revenues. These organizations require a strong and stable workforce to run optimally, yet often can’t offer the salary and benefits package that companies and even government can provide.
Greenlights for Nonprofit Success (Greenlights) recently conducted new research in Central Texas and integrated it with national studies to identify five major career trends in the evolving nonprofit workplace. These factors will challenge the way nonprofits find, leverage, and retain talented staff, but also create new opportunities for the savvy leader. Successful CEOs must stay in front of these workplace trends to build the next generation of nonprofit leaders and meet their organizational missions.
Compensation Is More Important Than Ever
Any nonprofit that wants to attract and retain quality staff must prioritize compensation, particularly salary. A third of respondents were “unsatisfied” with their salary in the survey, and 77 percent indicated a higher salary would increase their likelihood to remain in the nonprofit sector. Nationally, 34 percent of organizations cited “inability to pay competitively” as the biggest challenge to staff retention.
One significant factor in compensation competitiveness is the increased professionalization of the sector. Many of today’s professionals view nonprofit work as a true career path, rather than a simple call to service common in earlier generations, and many have pursued advanced degrees to develop their skills and knowledge of the sector (including 50 percent of survey respondents).
Also driving the demand for compensation is the increasing amount of student loan debt making it difficult for young professionals to remain in low-paying jobs. Across the country, 65 percent of early-career nonprofit professionals have student loan debt. Thirty percent have more than $50,000 in college debt.
As the economy continues to rebound and the nonprofit sector continues to professionalize, there’s an increased need for high quality staff. In fact, 43 percent of nonprofit organizations nationally report they are looking to add additional staff within the next year.
At the same time the sector is growing, the number of retirements and resignations is also increasing. In Central Texas, the survey revealed almost 50 percent of CEOs plan on leaving their current posts in four years or less, and 80 percent of Central Texas nonprofit professionals age 35 and under plan to leave within four years. National data supports these local findings, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting the average worker today stays at a job for only 4.4 years. Based on this data, nonprofit CEOs must think creatively about retaining an increasingly mobile talent pool. Salary is a major factor, but there are other ways nonprofits can lower employee attrition. National research found that a strong manager can ease salary dissatisfaction, for instance. Professional development opportunities, manageable workloads, and schedule flexibility can also contribute to nonprofit career longevity.
Desire for Shared Leadership Is on the Rise
For many in the nonprofit sector today, traditional hierarchical leadership is being replaced by a focus on shared leadership and decision-making. Few nonprofit professionals – only 24 percent of survey respondents – are interested in ever assuming the CEO position, but they are committed to making an impact and aim to advance professionally in their careers.
Nonprofit CEOs should consider how organizations can be restructured to promote shared leadership and an inclusive culture that values input and distributes decision-making where appropriate. Young professionals often want to be involved in planning and strategic work, and they highly value working on teams, so this will only become more important as this generation grows into leadership roles.
A New Focus on Impact
For a resounding number of nonprofit professionals, the desire to make an impact is a top career goal (85 percent of respondents). Yet while nonprofit professionals of all generations are seeking to make a difference through their work, they don’t see a career in the sector as the only way to do it. The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) found that only one-third of professionals surveyed nationally were “100 percent committed to building a nonprofit career,” for example, but 70 percent were committed to “building a mission-driven career.” The research found only about a quarter of professionals are, “100 percent committed to working in the nonprofit field.”
While nonprofits may be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to salary, they are uniquely positioned to attract talent who are mission-driven. Today’s nonprofit professionals want to make a tangible difference and earn what feels like fair compensation for the work they are doing. If an organization can’t help them meet either of these goals, expect them to move on.
Personal and Professional Boundaries are Increasingly Blurred
Technology is a major factor in blurring the boundaries between personal and professional life, in three main ways.
First, growing up in an age of instant access to information, Millennials often view work and leisure as one and the same. While Boomers and Generation Xers have tended to focus more on creating work-life balance, Millennials are more likely to be “hyperconnected,” always attached to their jobs and the web, regardless of physical location. Millennials also tend to place greater emphasis on having friends at work and both Generation X and Millennial workers tend to place a high value on building life skills at work – skills such as personal finance, time management, or a new language.
Second, nonprofit employees are increasingly asked to generate social media content as part of their jobs. Because of this, employees increasingly expect access to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter which are used for both personal and professional use. To keep them happy, nonprofit CEOs must make it easy for employees to create and access content, while ensuring appropriateness of the content and protecting the organization’s reputation and brand at the same time.
Lastly, technology has not only shifted how we work, but where we work. Rather than traditional office spaces, there is a movement toward establishing “flexplace” policies that give staff greater autonomy about where work can be done. While some staff prefer to work from home, many employees are electing to work at “third places” – coffee shops or other public meeting spaces. In addition, flexible work time is also increasingly desired by employees. A 2009 national survey found that both Boomers and Millennials desired flexible work arrangements and viewed it as a meaningful form of compensation.
Top 10 Recommendations for Nonprofit CEOs:
Matt Kouri is President and Executive Director and Tara Kirkland is the Director of Consulting Services at Austin-based Greenlights for Nonprofit Success. Greenlights mission is working with nonprofits to help them achieve their goals. The research referenced in “The New Nonprofit Workforce: Emerging Trends and Recommendations” is available on their website at: www.greenlights.org
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