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Nonprofit HR’s Blog

There are over 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States. With such a large and diverse population of organizations, it is difficult to narrow down exactly what makes certain nonprofit employers rise above the rest. After much thought, I have laid out 4 key characteristics that the strongest nonprofits exemplify when it comes to being great places to work.

Extraordinary Leaders

A nonprofit employer of choice has extraordinary leaders throughout the organization. You know them when you see them. These leaders serve as compasses for their employees, volunteers, donors, target populations and other stakeholders. Great leaders chart a course that others instinctively follow. Leaders create monumental and memorable shifts in how the organization conducts business. They are entrepreneurial geniuses that genuinely enjoy making business propel forward. Leaders don’t stop at the speed bumps that get in their way, but know exactly how to overcome them to achieve greatness for a better world. Leaders are constantly saying “there has got to be a better way” and they are on a course to find what makes an organization unique and operate beyond just being sustainable.


Over 15 years ago an executive coach entered my life when I was transitioning to leading a human resources function for a large nonprofit. Humbled by her generosity, I intuitively knew this was a turning point in my career. Through her coaching, I learned that authenticity was critical. Relating to teams, having conversations with other leaders, and communicating the change that I believe I was hired to institute was a powerful realization. It was like having permission to be real with people. For me, it was an innate way of being. Authentic behaviors have almost evaporated from workplace cultures, which is an immeasurable loss. People both inside and outside of organizations crave candidness; which is a key characteristic of some of the best talent. Organizations that practice authenticity at all levels are better for it.


Nonprofit employers of choice don’t hesitate in hiring decisions. Their recruiting and hiring practices are well thought out and designed to attract and retain the best talent. Your top talent leaving for a better opportunity indicates that something was missing that your workplace couldn’t provide.

Your best talent is also highly engaged, inspired by their work and can see the impact of their efforts come to fruition over and over again. These individuals are solution/mission focused, embrace change, and come in the organization with a leadership/coaching mentality to add immediate value to the bottom line and/or to programs.

Nonprofit employers of choice are committed to retaining their best talent. They also engage top performers on a regular basis in retention conversations. By the time employers conduct an exit interview, it’s too late.

Personal and Organizational Values Intersect or Align

Nonprofit employers of choice offer people an opportunity to live beyond the moment, where personal and organizational values often intersect. Creating or emphasizing continuity between the organization’s mission and the employee’s values is a great retention strategy. A benefits program is a great opportunity to make this connection; a nonprofit with a health-focused mission might provide a wellness program with perks like free or subsidized individual coaching, fully-paid insurance premiums or on-site group classes. Similarly, a youth and education focused organization might offer employees subsidies for childcare.

Organization leaders should be role models for demonstrating and creating opportunities for value alignment. For example, If work-life balance is a value within the organization, the leaders should be sure to live that practice.

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