A Flexible Work Structure Could Help With Your Nonprofit’s Employee Retention.

Is your nonprofit thinking of implementing a more flexible work structure? If you want to attract and retain high-quality talent - it should be.


Employee retention is and should be a critical issue for nonprofit leaders to address. In a sector that worries about covering costs, high employee turnover is could be insanely costly for nonprofits. According to Bloomerang’s State of the Nonprofit Workplace 2019nonprofits can average a turnover rate of 19%. Groups like the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance do a simple break-down of the direct and indirect costs to nonprofits from high employee turnover. They even have a calculator one can use. However, as the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance points out in the break-down, high turnover isn’t just the dollar amount associated with entering and leaving employees.

The Nonprofit Revolving Door

That turnover rate becomes a loss in terms of dollars, knowledge and most importantly – opportunity. Lost opportunity at what an exceptionally talented hire can do for a nonprofit’s mission. And while the turnover rate can be similar to the average of other sectors, the nonprofit industry suffers particularly from the “revolving door of staff members”, as noted by Nonprofit Pro. Employees are changing between organizations more rapidly than the leaders of those organizations can keep up.

Nonprofit leaders and executives understand too well the struggles of managing overworked, underpaid staff all trying to advance their organization’s mission. Adding constant turnover to that team building and management makes it hard for leaders to inspire, motivate, and help build an engaged workplace culture.

There are a few different theories and a few different strategies leaders can employ. One, in particular, is a favorite amongst nonprofit employees – flexible work structures.

A Top Priority for Nonprofit Professionals

Bloomerang asked about 1,000 nonprofit workers in a survey about different parts of compensation or workplace environments that were important to them for their State of the Nonprofit Workplace 2019. The number one for workplace qualities was flexible work hours. FlexJobs’ 2019 Annual Survey participants responded similarly. Hands down flexible work and remote hours were top priorities for nonprofit job seekers when choosing a new workplace.

Some interesting insight from FlexJobs’ 2019 Annual Survey:

Potentially a sign of job seekers having more control and more opportunity in this tight job market, 30% of workers have reported leaving a job because it did not offer flexible work options and 14% considered leaving a job but decided to stay despite the lack of work flexibility. Sixteen percent are currently looking for a new job specifically because of work flexibility issues.

Leaders in the nonprofit sector are dealing with revolving door employee retention and one reason could be because their workplace is not flexible enough. Organizations could be losing high talent and the opportunities that come with that high talent to workplaces that offer telecommute or remote, or in general more flexible work structure.

Earlier this year Forbes published “Flexible Working: The Way Of The Future”. They defined work flexibility as “any role that breaks the traditional norm of a rigid 9-to-5, five-day week structure. At its core stand individuals with potentially greater freedom over when, where or how to fulfill their particular roles.” Forbes predicts that flexible work and particularly some work from home will be the workplace of the future.

Different Structures for Different Organizations

Benefits to flexible workplaces include better employee retention, a wider and more diverse pool of candidates to pull from, better productivity, and a competitive edge to compete for high-quality talent. It will always be a good practice to “meet an employee where they are at” in terms of when and where they might be most productive. So what does this look like and how can this work in a more structured environment?

Some popular flexible work structures are:

  • Telecommuting or remote work. This structure allows for some or all work hours to be conducted in the home or coffee shop or wherever the employee feels most productive. Some workplaces will treat this as a benefit one can gain after working with the organization for a year. Some workplaces automatically give a set number of days or hours out of the week as remote or telecommute hours. And some workplaces allow candidates to be completely remote with some exceptions for meetings or events. This structure works well for national organizations, leaders that are willing to work with high-quality remote talent, or organizations that have many moving pieces with several work meetings or events that happen outside of the office. Start-ups and smaller nonprofits might also take advantage of an all-remote work structure to cut down on administrative costs associated with a brick and mortar office.
  • Variations with work hours. The idea behind variances with work hours is that; a.) not everyone is productive at the same time and the same day and b.) people might have other obligations such as family or school or something else that is set on certain days and times. Flexible work hours can include; early arrival and leave time, late arrival and leave time, a decompressed work week with Monday through Thursday or Tuesday through Friday, part-time hours, or even the getting rid of a clock-in/ clock-out system and allowing employees to come and go as long as they meet deadlines with quality work. This structure works well in offices that might still need a brick and mortar office, conduct several in-office meetings through-out the week, and has a diverse workforce with generational differences and family life differences.
  • Unlimited Paid Time Off. One popular trend growing is unlimited paid time off. An employee can take as much time off during the year as they please. Typically, the expectation is that the employee will still work during this paid time off if an emergency arises. This structure fits well as a competitive benefit for organizations with the bandwidth and resources for employees to be out for periods of time perhaps because of big-project task-based work or because of downtimes for some employees at set times of the year.

Of course, there are several other flexible work structures and the different structures can be mixed and matched to fit an organization’s needs. It might be best actually to mix and match as each employee might be more productive with one structure over another. A great example of a mixed and matched flexible work structure would be allowing some employees to work remotely, allowing some to work a mixed remote structure, and allowing some to work completely in office. Some employees might want to work remotely, others might want a physical separation between work and their home for that work-life balance.

Making Flexibility Work

There are several tools and resources out there to make any structural work. Technology truly does make it easy for people all around the country and the globe to work together.  Zoom, GoTo Meeting, Skype for Business, Google Hangouts, and more all facilitate video conferencing for meetings. Monday, Asana, Slack, Office 365 and others are all great options for project management software to help with keeping teams on track and collaboratively working toward deadlines together.

Research and open conversations with staff, board members, and human resources would be needed to decide which structure works best for each nonprofit. The tools and resources that could help facilitate a flexible work environment might also include a learning curve if the nonprofit doesn’t already have video conferencing or project management systems in place. The time put in the front end of setting up flexible work structures would outweigh the reward in terms of a more engaged, productive team.

The nonprofit sector is already working hard hours at complex work to try to make this world a better place. That work can be rewarding, but also grueling. Employee burn-out and low retention are costing nonprofit leaders money, time, and opportunities. A flexible work environment could help immensely as a tool for leaders to attract and retain high-quality talent for their nonprofit. Flexible work structures require nonprofit leaders to trust their teams. Having that trust on the front end however, also indicates to an employee that their leader is willing to invest in them.