The “Great Resignation” and How to Address Nonprofit Staff Turnover

Ways nonprofit leaders can stay on track to achieve organizational goals in the midst of the tight labor market.

Written by Anna Lipscomb

On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations face a new problem: The Great Resignation. According to the Forbes Business Council, in April of 2021, more people quit their jobs than during any month in almost a century, and the numbers are not slated to change any time soon (McFall, 2021). This Great Resignation does not spell impending doom; it simply means it is time for a change. There has been a societal shift in the way the workplace operates. To survive and retain top talent, organizations will need to adapt. 

Our nonprofit sector is no exception to this rule, particularly as we historically suffer from high turnover rates. Forbes Business Council states that even before the pandemic, “the voluntary annual turnover rate is 19% [within non-profits]—far outpacing the all-industry average of 12% (Strub, 2020). To explain these high rates, a study by Nonprofit HR found employees in nonprofits feel overworked and underpaid, see little opportunity for advancement inside their organization, and are frustrated at the lack of flexibility within their schedule (Strub).  The pandemic has only exacerbated these problems.  

Robyn Ezzell, a senior executive search consultant who specializes in nonprofit recruiting for the firm Find Great People, states:

“We are currently in a candidate-driven market, and we have been since before the start of the pandemic. The candidates have the power, and they know it.”

Enhanced by the resignation of the Baby Boomer generation and pandemic burnout, candidates recognize the characteristics they are looking for in an employer and refuse to settle for less.  These factors make it challenging to recruit highly talented people at nonprofit salary levels. 

How can nonprofit leadership combat these trends?

  • Acknowledge faults within your organization and be open to change.  
  • Take the time to listen to your employees, hear their opinions, and determine how they feel they could be better supported.
  • Emphasize employee retention, which means creating an environment where people want to be!
  • Prepare for a generational shift.  As Baby Boomers exit the workforce, younger generations have a new perspective on life, the workplace, and how they would like to be managed.
  • Adopt new policies. Consider a new work-from-home or hybrid work policy, allowing more schedule flexibility and offering a new incentive program.
  • Place trust in your employees to get their job done.
  • Look for ways to involve employees in your organization’s mission.  Nonprofit professionals are drawn to the field because they want to serve.  By continually reinforcing the connection between their job and the advancement of the mission, you will encourage them to see beyond just a paycheck.


Turn Disruption into Opportunity

With some closing words of support, 2021 is the perfect time to turn disruption into opportunity. As a leader within your organization, you can either become defensive or take time for introspection.  Acknowledge organizational flaws, focus on employee retention and building culture, and find the right people who best serve your organization and its mission.

An article from Inc. entitled, “The Great Resignation: Why Millions of People Are Quitting (and How Employers Can Earn Them Back),” states, “bottom line? Money matters—until it doesn’t. Because you can’t buy great employees. But you can definitely earn them” (Haden, 2021). It’s time to get creative, listen to your staff, deliver on your promises, and connect everything back to your mission.  Your nonprofit will endure The Great Recession and be stronger for it.  

About the Author

Anna Lipscomb is Marketing Events Coordinator for the Winkler Group, a national capital campaign and strategic planning firm headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina.  A graduate of Clemson University, Anna is passionate about community development, sustainability, and the arts. 


Haden, J.
(2021, August 10). The Great Resignation: Why Millions of People Are Quitting (and How Employers Can Earn Them Back).

McFall, M. (2021, August 13). The ‘Great Resignation’: An Opportunity to Rethink Employee Empowerment. Forbes.

Strub, C. (2020, February 10). 45% Of Nonprofit Employees To Seek New Jobs By 2025: Report. Forbes.

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