10 Ways to Improve Morale at Nonprofit Organizations | npENGAGE

10 Ways to Improve Morale at Nonprofit Organizations

By on Mar 4, 2019


How’s the morale in your office? Are your staff members excited to work together? Or are you plagued with high turnover? How your staff feel about their work affects your bottom line, as donors and volunteers are turned off by a revolving door of staff members.

As a fundraising consultant, I see a lot of nonprofits, and I notice immediately whether staff morale is good or troubled. If I notice, your donors and volunteers notice, too. Here are ten quick tips to improve your nonprofit’s culture:

  1. Give all staff off every federal holiday. It creates bitterness and resentment when people have to work President’s Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day. Chances are your board isn’t paying attention to these minor holidays, and your employees appreciate it when they get a three-day weekend. My rule is “If the post office is closed, so are we.”
  2. Titles are free. Give people a nice title that they can use proudly. I’m surprised when I find that someone is the sole fundraiser on staff, and has been for years, and yet their title is Development Coordinator or Development Manager. It doesn’t hurt you to give people a nice title.
  3. Set people up for success in their roles. When I see a title that contains two things, like Director of Communications and Development, I think that’s a red flag. It means the person was hired because of a background in one thing, like communications, but they’re really expected to perform a completely different task, like development. They can do an outstanding job at the thing they’re good at and still be fired for not performing in the other task.
  4. For heaven’s sake, have a training budget! Every staff member should have a budget to go to a conference or a training lunch and get updated in their skills. They shouldn’t have to justify every training and professional membership. This is a lot cheaper than having to hire a new person every 16 months (according to Penelope Burk of Cygnus Applied Research, fundraisers under 30 stay an average of 16 months at their first three jobs). As a subset of this, give people the time and budget to go to conferences. Conferences are not a party, they’re a valuable opportunity to learn new things and bring them back to work.
  5. Be honest with people when you’re looking to employ them. If the board thinks that they’ll hire a fundraiser, for example, and that person will raise all the funds, tell them that. Don’t say “You’ll manage the board members meeting with donors” if none of the board members are willing to do that. Honestly up front prevents a lot of turnover down the road.
  6. Deal with the problems you have, don’t expect a new hire to solve them. I know an executive director who faced a drunk employee her first day on the job. She called the woman in and said “This will be your brightest job or your briefest. Come in drunk again and you’re fired.” The woman came in drunk again and was fired. The new executive director told the board “By not handling this in advance, you made me look bad to the other employees, that I had to fire someone my first week.” (Later that woman thanked her, she needed the wake-up call of being fired to deal with her drinking.) If you have a problem, don’t expect someone to solve it, and don’t just let it carry on for months or years, deal with it.
  7. Consider having one week a year where you close your office. Everyone can count on it for a vacation or stay-cation, as they won’t be getting emails from colleagues. It’s a chance where you can have vendors update your website, or get building maintenance done, or just get the offices painted. People really appreciate having the time off. I had one nonprofit client that closed the office the last week of August every year and people loved it.
  8. Consider expanding your paid vacation. According to the Associated Press, about half of employees will pay a week’s salary for an extra week’s vacation when offered the opportunity. Comparatively, the European Union mandates four weeks’ vacation a year to start! When employees look to work at other places, they’ll think “I don’t really want to go back to two weeks’ off a year” so it helps with turnover.
  9. Have one time a week that management sits down casually with any staff who wants to come and talk. I worked at one nonprofit where we had drinks at 5:00 on Friday, whether you were still working or not. We had a bottle in the office, and plenty of sodas and non-alcoholic beverages as well. It was a nice opportunity for the younger staff to chat with long-time employees.
  10. Food helps people be happy. My sister’s office had a birthday cake and paid lunch brought in every month and they celebrated whomever had a birthday that month, and it was great for morale. My father’s office had free food in the fridge and people would eat and talk over breakfast or lunch, and it was a good way to network and get things accomplished, and people didn’t go out to lunch and overstay their lunch break.

For nonprofit organizations that are concerned about budgets and salaries, these are all ways to help keep your employees and improve morale, with little impact on your bottom line. For their sake, I hope you’ll consider implementing them.

Keep working on improving morale with this adivce from experts Expert Advice for Improving Culture & Morale at Nonprofit Organizations


Katherine Wertheim, CFRE is a fundraising and board development consultant. She has raised millions of dollars and taught fundraising to thousands of people in 22 U.S. states, Asia and Latin America. She is a Master Trainer with the Association of Fundraising Professionals, one of 242 in the world. She is based in Ventura, CA and consults nationwide. Her website is www.werth-it.com.

Comments (23)

  • Shelly Gammieri says:

    I love these! My morale was lifted just reading them -thank you!

  • Joe says:

    These tips are great. I also feel that sometimes some employees experience low morale if they feel that they’re stagnating. Providing an opportunity to grow not only helps with morale, but also can greatly benefit your institution in the long run.

  • Karen says:

    These are great, and inexpensive, ideas. Thank you for sharing, Katherine.

  • Claudia says:

    This is a really great article and touches on a lot of things I can see being impactful.

  • Crystal says:

    These are great, thanks! More vacation days are great but you also have to make sure that your staff aren’t stretched to thin that they feel they can’t use them. This plays into work culture too. On a different note we got a new staff frig yesterday and it was the best thing. It made people so happy to have a nice big frig to put their food and drinks. I think people will be smiling for the rest of the fiscal year over it.

  • Barb says:

    Great tips!

  • Shelby says:

    You also need to work to build a community. Moral is better when staff care about one another.

  • Christine says:

    Good tips. It’s important that the mandatory week off be paid & not taken out of staff’s PTO balance. My Org has an annual staff retreat where we all get offsite for three days of team building and general training. I love it & wish we could do it twice a year! I’m sure not all my colleagues feel the same way but to me it’s a great opportunity to get to know each other better, hear about the work that our different teams are engaged in, and develop our Org’s culture.

  • Tatiana says:

    I work in a perfect place. Thank you for this article. Everything is true.

  • Joe H says:

    If employer-review sites (Glassdoor) and job board sites (LinkedIn, Indeed, etc.) surveyed organizations on these benefits, that would ad some serious value to their business model. Yes, some sites do indicate typical perks like fitness center, retirement benefits, or PTO volunteer hours, but the ones listed here are highlights that point to a deeper understanding of true work-life balance in the company’s culture.

  • S. Watson says:

    Time off and titles are so important. I worked in an office that closed one week a year, and it was a liberating vacation without emails from coworkers. I disagree with the federal holiday part though. I prefer having a few floating holidays that can be used whenever I need them to a random Monday off here and there.

  • Angie Stumpo says:

    These are all such easy ways employers can improve morale significantly. I just found out yesterday my employer is finally giving PTO to part time employees. I went part time after the birth of my daughter 3 years ago, so I haven’t had paid time off since and it makes SUCH a difference knowing I can take some time without having to make it up later or going unpaid. It truly is the little things!

  • Courtney says:

    I absolutely love this. Thank you for sharing!

  • Susan Chomsky says:

    I love Katerine’s ideas. Discussing morale throughout the company and finding ways to show appreciation is really worthwhile.

  • KaLeigh says:

    This are all fantastic & so honest.

  • Amanda says:

    All of these are great morale boosting ideas! I’m going to take them to our next staff meeting in the hopes we can implement as least one!!

  • Ladonna says:

    Great tips! I can’t think of an organization where that these wouldn’t boost the morale of staff.

  • Larry says:

    Nice read! Now, I will look for a follow-up on how to make the big boss see they are the beginning of the fallout.

  • Wendy Reed says:

    I’m curious what you’d suggest when morale is low because the non-profit’s mission is compromised at the highest levels, or the employees can’t otherwise see that they can make a difference regarding their work (for ex those working on climate change, biodiversity, human rights, women’s rights, etc).

  • Jennifer Vincent says:

    It sounds silly, but food really is an excellent morale booster in my office. It’s not going to make a huge difference to someone who needs direct intervention, but to the rest of the (non-surly) office dwellers, someone showing up with food is an excellent boost to the day/meeting.

  • Stephanie says:

    Wonderful Tips! Enjoyed the read 🙂

  • Rosalinda Miguel says:

    These are all great suggestions re time off, professional development, and improving work culture.

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