Authors: Phil Bushnell


While there are many emerging workforce challenges confronting nonprofit organizations, there are also challenges confronting the employees working for nonprofits.

While there has been considerable discussion about the burdens placed at the organizational level there has been little discussion about the burdens placed on the employees. A thriving nonprofit sector relies heavily on a thriving workforce.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association conducted a study titled "Nonprofit Workforce Impacts: Reflections from Colorado Nonprofit Association" to better understand COVID-19 impacts on the people working for nonprofits that can help guide organizations toward maintaining engaged workforces. A number of insights can be gleaned from this study.

For example, the majority of the workforce experienced an increase in workload and number of job functions due to COVID-19. The following chart shows the percentage of respondents that stated an increase in these areas:

Salary or Wages 25%
Number of Hours Working per Week 47%
Number of Job Functions 66%
Workload 69%

The increase in responsibilities combined with workload has led to increased anxiety within the workforce. As a result, according to the study, the majority of the workforce felt anxious and burned out at the beginning of 2021.

Anxious 70% Grounded 30%
Burned Out 77% Not Burned Out 23%
Disconnected 54% Connected 46%
Discouraged 49% Hopeful 51%
Unmotivated 52% Motivated 48%

Other insights from the study indicated that more than a quarter of those with increased workloads and job functions were having to do more with the same amount or less time. And, the majority (75%) saw no change in wages or salary.

Despite the responses listed above, 89% of the workforce indicated that they have been supported by the nonprofit community somewhat well or better.

Not at All Well 11%
Somewhat Well 45%
Moderately Well 26%
Very Well 18%

So how do we move the continuum from not at all well up to very well? The Colorado Nonprofit Association offers the following suggestions:

  • Offer trainings and opportunities that address the Human side of working in the nonprofit sector
  • Send communications that reflect personal and professional experiences
  • Advocate on issues that impact the nonprofit sector and workforce
  • Cultivate partnerships where we can both challenge and be challenged to think differently about how to support people.

Social services are essential to community vitality. They contribute to citizens' quality of life and embody the highest societal values. But while the last year and a half has been especially challenging on the sector, employees remain at the core of all social service organizations. That's why wellbeing is so important and should be at the center of a comprehensive approach that aligns your people strategy with your overall organizational goals. It focuses on the full spectrum of organizational wellbeing — taking a strategic approach to investing in employee wellbeing at the right cost structures to support diverse workforce needs.

An organizational wellbeing strategy is a carefully constructed and thoroughly communicated compensation and benefits strategy that is pivotal for maintaining an engaged and productive workforce. Organizational wellbeing includes the following components:

Physical and emotional wellbeing. Cost-saving opportunities are available through tactics focused on enhanced specialty drug controls and better access to voluntary benefits.

Career wellbeing. Engagement strategies are underutilized, as are communications related to compensation philosophy.

Financial wellbeing. While retirement readiness is critical, financial wellbeing initiatives also need to address diverse spending and saving goals.

As social service organizations continue to operate under tighter constraints than most, adopting more strategic approaches to total rewards and communication will better position the industry for the future.

Since large-scale compensation and benefit changes aren't typically seen in this sector, intangible opportunities drive the employee experience. The good works that social service organizations do give them a unique competitive advantage in attracting like-minded talent. And employees who are committed to the mission are often more loyal and willing to accept lower compensation.

However, because that dedication to a common purpose isn't limitless, employers need to structure their total rewards in ways that not only fit a shared goal but also aim to balance the organizational budget with individual financial circumstances.

Taking a more holistic and comprehensive approach to employee wellbeing and communication will optimize investments in total rewards and foster better connectivity of individual contributions to organizational success.

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