Skip to Main Content

Episode Five of Waste No Potential Podcast Released - LISTEN NOW


The nonprofit guide to turning the Great Resignation into the Great Attraction.

December 01, 2021By
Illustration of women

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the Great Resignation and the more than 19 million US workers quitting their jobs from April to September 2021. But what does it mean for nonprofits? Over the last two years, workers have been reevaluating their careers, questioning the way they work, when they work, and how fulfilling their work is. This creates opportunity for nonprofits, an industry in which employees make an impact daily. If your organization can provide additional benefits like flexibility, autonomy, and competitive compensation, nonprofits can pull ahead in the increasingly competitive race that is recruitment and retention, ultimately giving you more people to efficiently further your mission.

Attracting top talent in the current market is challenging, particularly when most advice isn’t geared for nonprofits. So we put together a guide on everything nonprofits need to know about turning the Great Resignation into the Great Attraction. From understanding the market, to stakeholder engagement and tips on bringing in top talent, we’re here to help you make the most of this opportunity.

Defining the elements of “The Great Resignation.”

The Great Resignation doesn’t live on its own; it’s also prompting the Great Reflection and the Great Attraction. But what do each of these mean and how can you capitalize on them?

  • The Great Resignation: The term was first coined before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019 by Texas A&M's Anthony Klotz. He predicted a mass, voluntary exodus from the workforce. The pandemic exacerbated the notion, encouraging workers to reevaluate and consider reducing their work to focus on other areas of life like retirement, career change, or for many mothers, prioritizing childcare.
  • The Great Reflection: Organizations looking to remain competitive in recruitment aren’t sitting back. They’re taking the time to reflect on why employees are leaving and form effective responses. It’s not an easy task, requiring leaders to understand what employees need, act and make fundamental changes.
  • The Great Attraction: The organizations that do reflect on how they can better serve their employees can capitalize on the millions of people currently looking for a new role. Attracting top talent is challenging, but nonprofits are uniquely positioned to do so as a result of years of burnout.

What are workers looking for?

What workers are looking for

How we got here.

This year, as we’ve emerged from lockdowns, it’s clear that employees are burnt out, looking for more fulfilling and flexible work, and pay is not their sole priority. Instead of offering real change and listening to the needs of their employees, organizations offered bonuses that just aren’t going to cut it. Employees need fundamental improvements, and if they can’t find them at their current workplace, they are going elsewhere.

We’re seeing job postings everywhere from LinkedIn to café sandwich boards. Resignations are highest with midcareer employees and you may notice salary often isn’t the focus when trying to fill positions. Instead, job posts list perks and benefits that demonstrate how a company prioritizes employees' health and wellness, plus ways their team members stay connected.

Women have also been disproportionately affected by job loss during the pandemic and one in four women were considering leaving corporate roles due to burnout. This could leave a larger hole in the nonprofit workforce than in other industries due to its demographics. The majority of staff for many nonprofits is women who are in mid-level positions that are more inclined to leave for another opportunity, entrepreneurship, or family focus.

1 in 4 women were considering leaving their corporate roles during the pandemic due to burnout

What the Great Attraction means for nonprofits.

Nonprofits are uniquely positioned to respond to the struggles associated with the Great Resignation and to turn it into the Great Attraction.

The nonprofit industry already experienced high turnover before the pandemic with a voluntary annual turnover rate of 19%, 7% higher than the all-industry average. So what sets nonprofits apart now? Making an impact. Working at a nonprofit means employees are doing more fulfilling work, which is a high priority for workers, especially for Gen Z and Millennials.

However, nonprofits also have broad recruiting needs, not just for staff but for volunteers and donors. Here’s how nonprofits can use the Great Attraction to bring on top talent for each area of recruitment:

Illustration of two men and a woman

Staff: There’s a conception that nonprofits can’t attract top talent because their wages aren’t competitive. While wages are still an important part of attracting top talent, it’s not candidates’ sole priority in 2021. Nonprofits have a unique opportunity to market a workplace that is impactful and fulfilling.

  • Reflect on what employees are looking for regardless of sector, and then communicate how your organization offers those benefits.
  • Set up the ability to accommodate freelancers, who are a great way to hire on an as-needed basis. More people are shifting to freelance work and will look to diversify their projects, balancing both higher-earning contracts with ones that may pay less but are more fulfilling.

Volunteers: Determine your strategy based on generational differences.

  • Volunteers vary greatly based on generation. Millennials don’t give in the same way Boomers do, so we can’t expect to attract them using the same blanket techniques.
  • With people looking to make an impact and feeling comfortable gathering again, there is potential to recruit those without volunteer opportunities through work. Consider targeting university students, recent grads, and retired individuals to get them involved. Engage with them to determine their interests and demonstrate the impact they can make with your organization.
  • Use social media for outreach with younger volunteers.
  • The right tech makes all the difference. Salesforce’s V4S, plus extensions like Philanthropy Cloud and Experience Cloud, support nonprofits with volunteer management and create meaningful work for volunteers to keep them coming back.

Donors: There are lots of opportunities to engage with donors, but your strategy will likely differ based on mission. For example, health organizations and natural disaster relief have seen increased giving, while the arts have seen a decline. Regardless of outlook, it’s important to demonstrate to donors the direct impact their funds are making.

  • Remind healthcare donors that we’re still in a pandemic and their help is valuable while being aware of donor fatigue.
  • For arts and other industries, it can be helpful to provide a reference to what each dollar means for your mission. It could be a marketing campaign around the amount of money that allows a child to go to art camp, not only providing them with a creative outlet but supporting mental health and an affordable child care resource for parents.

Seven tips to maximize your nonprofit’s recruiting opportunities in the Great Attraction.

1. Demonstrate how a role at your organization will make a difference.

Impact is your number one tool and selling point in recruitment. People, particularly young people, want engaging, fulfilling, and impactful work and you can offer it because it’s at the heart of what you do. In order to leverage this moment of innovation, you will need to consider your nonprofit’s investment in people and technology and the significant return on investment that will bring.

2. Engage your employees and volunteers.

Ask them questions about what’s important to them. By listening, having empathy, and then delivering on those requests, you’ll be more likely to keep existing talent around.

55% wanted a hybrid work model

3. Stay remote or adopt a hybrid approach.

The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found that 55% of respondents wanted a hybrid work model, splitting their time between home and the office.

It’s time for organizations to ask, is going into the office really necessary for your mission and productivity? Working remotely, or having a hybrid model is a clear differentiator in retention. However, in order to be successful with hybrid work, you need the technology to support it. A report by Forrester on new hybrid workforces says that without an intentional strategy, firms “run the risk of increasing feelings of disconnection and exclusion that lead to burnout in virtual-first and hybrid working arrangements.”

The solution? Technology that fosters communication. “Engaging field and operational workers with apps designed specifically for remote communication will increase their feelings of connectedness, while helping them feel recognized for their contributions,” says Forrester. (Insights-Driven Employee Experiences Are Shaping Our New Hybrid Workforces, Forrester Research, Inc., September 21, 2021)

4. Be flexible.

For many workers, flexibility is a top priority and the reason they decide to stay or go. This isn’t just when and where employees work, but having autonomy in their projects and their execution. People are interested in freelancing and entrepreneurship more than ever because they want to get away from the standard work model. If you can offer similar autonomy combined with stable income, you’ll fare much better in retaining and attracting talent.

5. Create alignment among your leaders.

Your leadership team needs to understand the benefits of flexibility and why offering perks and benefits might cost money, but it pays off. In the words of our CEO, Greg Malpass, “Just because it made sense, doesn’t mean it makes sense.” Ensuring the leadership team buys in demonstrates trust throughout the organization, and gives more autonomy.

6. Take a look at your culture.

While you may be doing great work externally, you also need to be fostering a positive environment internally. This includes investing in your employees’ health and wellness, work-life balance, and encouraging employees to rest and take vacations. Big for-profit companies have historically offered happy hours in exchange for working long hours, but smart organizations know valuing people and investing in them is more important than ping pong and kegs.

7. Skills can be taught, culture can’t.

Working with great people is more fulfilling, so hire people that can add to your company culture rather than just based on skill level. Hiring good people, and then prioritizing their needs to keep them engaged will also save you money, as resignation and disengagement are costly. Replacing workers requires one-half to two times the employee's annual salary, while lost productivity of not engaged and actively disengaged employees is equal to 18% of their annual salary.

Connect team members and stand out to new ones by communicating your impact.

As we head into 2022 the Great Resignation doesn’t appear to be slowing down, leaving for and nonprofit organizations alike tackling the challenges around recruitment and retention. However, with a recruitment strategy and meaningful conversations with your current employees, your organization can be well positioned to capitalize on the Great Attraction.

Addressing the needs of today’s workforce, including flexibility, hybrid work, and wellness initiatives are important, but leading the way with positive change will be the key differentiator in the coming months for nonprofits. There’s no doubt that demonstrating the impact your organization makes, and how fulfilling it is to contribute to your mission day-to-day, can make your organization stand out in the sea of “We’re hiring!” posts.

Looking for more ways to connect your team?

Check out our nonprofit guide on how Slack and Salesforce can transform your internal communication, volunteer engagement, and grant management.