Why People Want to Work for Nonprofits

Work/Life Balance and Employee Benefits Rank High

Screenshot of Communities in Schools website
•••  Communities in Schools

Are you looking for a job that promotes work/life balance, that treasures your contribution, and that is all about giving back? Then a nonprofit job might be right for you.

I went looking for clues to why nonprofit jobs are popular and found them in the Best Nonprofits To Work For, published annually by the NonProfit Times.

Year after year, the essential characteristics of highly ranked nonprofits remain remarkably consistent.  I've compiled a list of the qualities that the employees of these nonprofits value about their organizations and the most attractive benefits.

First, how does the NonprofitTimes compile its list? They invite nominations from people who work in nonprofits and then ask them to fill out questionnaires that elicit feedback on seven dimensions:

  1. Leadership and planning,
  2. Corporate culture and communications,
  3. Pay and benefits,
  4. Training, development, and resources,
  5. Engagement,
  6. Role satisfaction, and
  7. Work environment.

The top best nonprofits scored an average 90 percent in six of the seven dimensions. That’s a high bar, but 50 of the nominated nonprofits cleared it. On the other hand, since there are some one million nonprofits in the US, it’s clear that many organizations need some work, from culture to leadership, to pay and benefits

Great Nonprofits Offer Benefits That Employees Love

Although it’s likely that most nonprofits cannot pay as well as private companies or large government agencies, they often make up for it by providing excellent benefits. Great nonprofits don't skimp on benefits. They make every effort to be competitive with the private sector and even go beyond what is expected.

They often offer some combination of the following:

  • Sabbaticals
  • Dental plans
  • Retirement plans such as 401(k) and 403(b)
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Onsite fitness facilities or help with memberships at outside facilities; on-site weight loss classes; walking clubs; free blood screenings and flu shots.
  • Healthcare insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Flexible scheduling of work hours; opportunities to work from home; carpooling services
  • Family care time off
  • In-house hiring and promotions
  • Short and long-term disability programs
  • Generous vacation time
  • Bonuses that can be added to salary or used for professional resources.

How the Top Nonprofit Got There in 2018

In 2018, the top nonprofit on the NPT's Top 50 list was Communities in Schools, which tackles a myriad of student problems from poverty to guns by working directly with and within schools.

One of the things that qualified this organization for the top award, as mentioned by its employees, was its leadership stability. Communities in Schools did welcome a new CEO recently, but over its 40-year- history there have been only three leaders.

Turnover in nonprofits at all levels is notorious, yet leadership stability has proven a reliable marker of excellence. All of the top 50 nonprofits ranked in the NPT Best Nonprofits to Work For were remarkable on this leadership stability measurement. Tenure of the CEO averaged nine years or more — that stability and steadiness at the wheel results in better overall outcomes and calmer, happier employees.

Large nonprofits scored better on leadership stability than did smaller groups. It is telling that among smaller nonprofits not on the Top 50 list, CEOs lasted on average only about four years. For these smaller nonprofits, it's likely that turnover is not restricted to leadership. Small groups often have fewer employees and resources, creating stress for everyone. Long hours and the need to accomplish more with less can affect nonprofit workers as much as those in businesses.

Some other nonprofits that made the 2018 top 50 list include the Wounded Warrior Project, Alzheimer’s Association, Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, and the Better Business Bureau.

What Drives the Best Nonprofits to Be Loved by Their Employees?

The researchers who determine the list of Best Nonprofit Employers each year for The NonProfit Times found that organizational excellence is driven by these ten things that employees say they like about where they work and what they do:

  1. I feel valued 
  2. I trust the leadership 
  3. I like what I do
  4. I believe I can make progress
  5. I'm treated like a person, not a number
  6. I like the people I work with 
  7. I can advance 
  8. I can trust this organization 
  9. I make good use of my skills and abilities
  10. I'm given the technology, equipment, and resources I need 

Check out the annual list of best nonprofits to work for. Some might be in your area. Even if they are not, the attributes that make these nonprofits attractive can serve as a guide for evaluating any nonprofit that you might consider as a future employer.

And for those leading nonprofits, the list and why these organizations were picked give valuable clues about becoming another nonprofit people want to work for.