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The Best Way to Retain Staff

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Lawrence Jackson


Retaining skilled and valuable staff seems to be a perennial challenge for all organisations, irrespective of size and industry, although it could be even greater for nonprofits due to the unique characteristics of the sector. But does the ethos, contribution and defining character of charities also present some opportunities to attract, engage and retain staff in a way for-profit companies cannot?

The changing nature of the world of work, driven by a combination of demographics and technological innovation, will also be a factor in this equation. Yet the ability to remunerate at commercially equivalent levels is the obvious and probably most talked about issue. And while

this is certainly true in some of the small- to medium-sized charities, the larger ‘brand name’ organisations are on more of an even playing field.

When I worked for the Royal Blind Society, the first charity I ever worked for and which is now amalgamated into Vision Australia, the policy at the time was to pay at the midpoint of the commercial level for market comparative positions, which still made the Royal Blind

Society an attractive target for employees.

It also actively invested in training and development. Yet the strongest pull was probably that of its cause, which it tended to underplay and sometimes not even mention in mainstream media advertisements. This may have been considered a negative, which perhaps it was and

still is for some people, but these are probably not the staff who are going to be attracted to working at a charity in any case.

Beyond this, perhaps the greatest challenge nonprofits face is the ability to offer meaningful career development opportunities. This is primarily due to the size and rather flat nature of organisations. Capable and ambitious staff seeking personal growth and challenge can feel stifled, leading to frustration and then departure for seemingly greener pastures, only to find the same problem in a different organisation.

In response to this, I suggest charities should adopt a broader policy of actively investing in their staff via development programs and hard and soft training – despite knowing some staff will leave prematurely. The payback will be the reputation a charity can obtain from becoming known as one that invests in and develops people. In other words, an employer of choice where you go to learn and develop your skills, which in turn will attract the best and brightest as the cycle continues.

Finally, I believe the real advantage of the sector lies in the nature of its missions and purpose. While salary levels and career progression are extrinsic motivators, we don't do enough to tap into the intrinsic motivators – the very reasons why we attract so many of our staff.

I’m also not sure we make enough of the opportunity, especially on the fundraising side, to let staff play a part in our mission and feel they are really making a difference. Doing so can include workplace giving programs, staff volunteering, site visits, client experience gathering etc.

The edge and major potential advantage we have may lie in this very area, which I sense could be further leveraged for increased staff engagement and retention. Is this not why companies wish to partner with us, volunteers want to work with us and donors want to support us? Perhaps it’s time to better partner with ourselves, starting with our own staff for the benefit of community, society and the planet.


Ariane Gallop


The Victor Chang Institute is internationally recognised for the quality of its scientific discoveries. However, federal government funding for medical research

remains at an historic low and as a result we will be largely reliant on fundraising to continue our work. The commitment to more than double our fundraising over four years has seen the fundraising team grow from three staff to a team of 10 in the last three years. To effectively meet this challenge, I needed to build a committed and loyal team and, as such, it was important to recruit to our organisation’s values and team fit.

The cost of replacing a position is estimated to be around 150% of the annual salary for that position so it is incredibly important to retain staff. In our sector staff no longer hold sacred tenure with their

current employer over looking for a job that better suits their lifestyle and career goals. In my experience job satisfaction is key to keeping talented people and this is largely influenced by factors relating to employee engagement and to a lesser extent remuneration.

It is essential to respect and value your staff's skills and expertise. Effective leaders hire staff because they believe they can complete the work successfully. I firmly believe strong performers value independence and flourish when they can take ownership of their programs and explore their own ideas. If you have agreed on strategy and budget, and your staff are well briefed, let them take the ball and run with it. Often, they will rise to the occasion and you will get the benefit of empowered and loyal people who produce pleasing results.

In the fast-paced environment in which we live, flexible work arrangements are highly sought after. These can vary from working from home arrangements to making it easy to attend school activities

or family emergencies. Allowing my team members to balance their work and personal demands demonstrates that the organisation cares about their wellbeing and that we trust them to get their job done.

It is also vital to give credit where credit is due. Financial rewards such as a raise or a bonus are always welcome, however not always possible. Acknowledging success and thanking staff validates their contribution, and as a result their motivation and loyalty grow.

Engaging with team members about their lives also builds rapport. Taking an interest in their families and lending an empathetic ear on occasion can go a long way when challenges arise or budgetary

constraints prevent you from giving them a pay rise.

Finally, competitive salaries are critical. We benchmark our salaries against industry standards and encourage our staff to take advantage of the before tax benefits provided by salary packaging.

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