The Reasons Behind “Churn” in Nonprofit Organizations

The Reasons Behind “Churn” in Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofits are known for their high turnover rates, sometimes known as “churn.” Why is there so much churn at nonprofit organizations?

Amanda Luzzader
Amanda Luzzader
Content Writer
The Reasons Behind “Churn” in Nonprofit Organizations

A recent article by the job-search firm ExactHire reported that the annual turnover at nonprofit organizations is 19 percent. That is, nearly one in five nonprofit employees can be expected to quit their jobs every year, while the all-industry average is closer to one in ten. If that’s not dramatic enough for you, Forbes reported in 2020 that 45 percent of all nonprofit workers would or will seek new positions in the five-year period between 2020 and 2025.

If you own, manage, or work at a nonprofit, you’ve probably seen dramatic turnover in your organization regardless of whether you’ve seen the workplace data. Nonprofits are known for their high turnover rates, sometimes known as “churn.”

Why so much churn at nonprofit organizations? In a blog article by TechImpact, a nonprofit that assists other nonprofits with large-scale tech projects, the top fifteen reasons for high turnover rates at nonprofits are as follows:

  1. Low Pay. Nonprofits continue to struggle in this area, and it is an obstacle to not only retention, but hiring new talent, too.

  2. Lack of Upward Mobility. TechImpact reports that this has been and continues to be a primary reason why nonprofits lose employees.

  3. Excessive Workloads. In short, many nonprofits expect their personnel to work long hours, often in fields that are already stressful.

  4. Lack of Internal Promotion. TechImpact states that only 29% of nonprofit leadership positions are filled from within, leaving workers feeling passed over and unappreciated.

  5. Lack of Career Development. Unlike the private sector, nonprofits apparently do not offer their employees opportunities to grow and expand internally.

  6. Lack of Mentoring. TechImpact implies that a lack of professional mentoring leads to a lack of productivity, which in turn can lead to personnel turnover.

  7. Lack of Stretch Opportunities. A stretch opportunity, according to TechImpact, is one that allows an employee the chance to take on extra responsibilities or projects that are just a little above their capabilities but allow for possible promotion and growth, and such opportunities are rare in nonprofit organizations.

  8. Lack of Rewards and Recognition. While one might assume nonprofits would be good at providing intangibles like internal appreciation, according to TechImpact, nonprofit workers say this is not the case.

  9. Poor Leadership. Perhaps because workers at all levels (including leadership) are overworked, underdeveloped, and underpaid, nonprofit leaders fail to effectively lead their troops.

  10. Poor Vision. Again, perhaps because of endemic training, development, and high-turnover, nonprofits can suffer from confused, conflicted, or inadequate organizational vision.

  11. Poor Communication. A lack of effective communication at nonprofit organization leads to second guessing, duplication of effort, and mixed messages.

  12. Poor Culture. It may be hard to believe, but poor leadership, vision, and communication–along with overwork and low pay–can lead to an unfriendly, disunified workplace.

  13. Lack of Job Evaluation. Perhaps hand-in-hand with other items on this list, most employees need feedback, evaluation, and guidance to feel like they’re in a career instead of just another job. Nonprofit organizations are apparently not delivering this need to employees.

  14. Inflexible Schedules. TechImpact reports that nonprofit employees want a better life-work balance.

  15. Overwork. TechImpact states that employee productivity at nonprofits dropped after 50 hours per week.

To be clear, the reasons given by nonprofit workers for leaving their positions do not apply to all nonprofit organizations, and not all nonprofits face the same challenges, but this list can serve as a useful guide to increasing retention and attracting new talent with staying power.