Employee Engagement

What you need to know about not-for-profit engagement

Lydia Watson

Here’s a question: what motivates you to go to work everyday, whether that’s powering up your laptop in the spare room or commuting to the next town? Is it payday? Or your relationship with colleagues? The likelihood is that it’s a combination of factors.

For charity workers, there’s often an assumption that the cause is enough – when you’re working to promote wildlife conservation, disease prevention, or an end to homelessness, what more motivation do you need? But not-for-profit leaders need to recognise that employee engagement doesn’t happen by accident.

Boost nonprofit engagement with our guide to employee surveys

The impact of employee engagement on business performance

In its simplest form, employee engagement is about the emotional connection people have to their work – with a sense of purpose, empowerment, and good workplace relationships coming into play. It’s not just about being happy – which is why beer o’clock policies and ping pong tables don’t quite cut it.

But why should it be a priority, and not a nice-to-have? There’s a clear consensus that highly engaged employees create more successful organisations – leading to higher profits, improved customer satisfaction and lower absenteeism. At not-for-profits, that’s especially key – stretched budgets means keeping your workforce productive and present is crucial.

An image of people playing table tennis

Is a clear purpose enough to engage charity workers?

Of the 800,000+ employees and 14 million volunteers in the not-for-profit sector, how many are motivated by the cause itself? It’s worth acknowledging that it does play a large part. 27% of managers would take a pay cut to work somewhere with a strong sense of purpose, that goes beyond financial goals.

The types of employees you attract are also more likely to be motivated by having an emotional connection to their work, and to doing ‘good’ more generally. Identifying with the mission is clearly a big motivator, meaning your people are willing to make financial sacrifices. But relying on that sense of organisational purpose alone is not enough.

Not-for-profit and nonprofit engagement: the challenges

Let’s be clear. Just because measuring engagement in your not-for-profit is important doesn’t mean it will be easy. Here’s some of the challenges you should be aware of:

  • Not-for-profit managers deprioritise engagement

That strong sense of purpose that charities and other not-for-profits offer is often seen as enough. Just 55% of managers in the sector think it’s their job to share that sense of purpose, and push for further engagement. And that’s an attitude problem you need to tackle head on.

  • It’s hard to get an accurate measure

That sense of purpose? It can skew your results. What people say and how they feel might not match up – and studies show where not-for-profits score around 80-90% for engagement, 65% of those surveyed said the survey overstated engagement levels.

  • You’re tackling stress from poor work-life balance

When your day job involves working towards something genuinely important – in an undeniable, universal sense – then it’s easy to devote yourself, heart and soul. But that brings the risk of burnout. Organisations might not think stress plays into engagement, but neglecting it will lead to higher absenteeism and turnover.

  • Staff can may be more disengaged and disgruntled

Reports have seen disengagement from 40% of not-for-profit employees – a considerable amount, though varying from small quibbles to serious issues. But where does that come from? Pay can be a problem. Despite many willing to take salaries lower than market rate, it can go too far – with 47% unsatisfied with what they earn, in relation to their skills and effort made.

It’s also down to less-tangible aspects, like knowing their contributions are meaningful. 57% feel bottlenecked or blocked by a “lack of authority”, and unable to complete their tasks. That frustration matters, especially in a high-stakes, high-pressure environment – and has led to 3.1% of nonprofit workers being actively hostile.

5 steps for boosting engagement at your not-for-profit:

  1. Make sure your leaders and managers recognise the benefits: get everyone on board when it comes to engagement, by shouting about its business benefits.
  2. Give your people a genuine sense of purpose: it’s a fact, employees really care. Lean into this by frequently talking about your organisation’s purpose, and wider impact.
  3. Enable and recognise each person’s contribution to the cause: give your teams the tools they need to succeed, and be vocal about how they’re furthering the cause.
  4. Remember to reward those contributions too: don’t assume your people will put up with disproportionately poor pay and a lack of progression – they’re only human.
  5. Adjust your metrics to accurately reflect engagement levels: adjust the way your measuring engagement to make sure it’s telling the whole story…

How we can help you see your true engagement levels

It’s difficult to accurately measure engagement in an organisation with a defined, overarching cause. Personal ties and emotional motivations can blur results, leading to a ‘disparity’ between the results and the reality – which means it’s hard to take proactive measures.

We can help you with that. Our advanced language analysis tech is the key – identifying sentiment and hidden themes, so you really know how employees and volunteers feel. Couple that with research-led question sets, and you’ll get a clear picture of where you are, where you need to be, and how to get there.

It’s time to start the conversation

You may also want to read…

7 Bell Yard

Tel: (+44) 0203 915 6200
Email: hello@qlearsite.com