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Survey-Backed Insights to Keep Your Nonprofit Ahead of Changing Workplace Trends

By March 30, 2022

The pandemic initiated a massive worldwide shift in how and where work gets done, and nonprofit organizations were not spared. While many changes have been positive, others have been more challenging for both leaders and employees. Nonprofits around the world are still figuring out what the workplaces of the future will look like. They’re looking for creative ways to retain staff, keep them happy and engaged, deal with burnout, bridge skills gaps, and implement new technology to help it all come together.

A few months ago, released the fourth edition of its Nonprofit Trends Report, which revealed how nonprofits in North America, Europe, and Australia are struggling, but also succeeding and learning from the past two years. Here are some of the report’s insights into these ongoing shifts in the nonprofit workplace.

Staffing, Retention, and Burnout

In the trends report, 85% of those surveyed said staff retention will continue to be or increasingly become a challenge. According to Urban Institute’s 2021 Nonprofit trends and impacts report, U.S. nonprofits lost an average of 7% of their part-time paid staff in 2020. In a 2021 survey by NonprofitHR, more than a third of those surveyed (35%) said they left their jobs due to dissatisfaction or disengagement with the current organization or culture.

Why are people leaving their jobs? An article in Harvard Business Review says workers are feeling lonely, tired, and burned out. Research at the University of California at Irvine found that employees check their email an average of 74 times a day. Smartphones keep employees connected, even on weekends or vacations. And working from home resulted in many employees feeling like they live at work.

So what can employers do to attract workers, prevent them from burning out, and encourage them to stay? Strategies like reducing workload and stress levels and offering mindfulness instruction can help, but they treat burnout as an individual condition. Maybe even more important is building an empathetic, inclusive workplace with a culture of equity and belonging that creates opportunities for advancement for all within an organization.

Bridging Skills Gaps

Nonprofits can also support retention by helping current employees build new skills or upgrade existing ones. The 4th edition of the Nonprofit Trends Report found that 31% of organizations surveyed said employee skills no longer meet their organization’s needs. One solution is for nonprofits to create upskilling programs accessible by employees either at a low cost or no cost, with paid time to complete training.

These should be targeted at helping workers build the skills they need to stay in their current job or be promoted. Another strategy might be to offer partial or full tuition reimbursement (with a commitment to stay for a certain period of time) so employees can complete certificates, diplomas, or degrees through educational institutions.

Successful upskilling requires commitment on both sides. A recent Harvard Business Review article on this topic says that “empowerment, engagement, and planning are critical. Listening to your employees’ needs and wants, then acting on them, will position you for future success.”

Layoffs, Virtual Offices, and Outsourced Jobs

Of organizations surveyed for the Nonprofit Trends Report, 30% said they laid off or furloughed staff in the past year, with the average reduction in staff numbers also at 30%. However, another 33% changed the size of their organization based on increased demand, and almost half (48%) of those surveyed expected to add employees in the next 12 months, with 72% of U.S.-based organizations planning to increase headcount.

As mentioned above, many workplaces went fully remote during the pandemic, and it’s unclear how many will require employees to return to the office full-time. Of those surveyed in the 4th edition of the Nonprofit Trends Report, 78% said they are likely to go fully virtual (86% in the U.S.) and 79% said their organization is likely to outsource jobs in the next three years.

Virtual workplaces can create a sense of disconnect for those used to working together in person. But there are ways to make remote workers feel more welcome and engaged. Organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant recently told a group of higher education CMOs that a great way to do so is to provide structured time for the kinds of informal interactions that used to happen spontaneously in the office. Things like virtual water cooler chats or one-on-ones between employees who don’t know each other in person can build connections and make people feel they are part of a team. Grant also says making work conversations a safe place for both humor and honesty can contribute to employees’ wellbeing and comfort.

New Technology and Data Management

Technology usage and digital transformation projects made serious gains during the pandemic, with organizations everywhere moving online and automating processes. So it’s no surprise that 79% of those surveyed in the report say they expect to implement widespread usage of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in the next three years, and are hoping to automate time-consuming processes like donor management, gift processing, payroll, and financial reporting. Smart tech can also play a role by streamlining workflow, using chatbots to provide information to the public, and improving worker health and safety by encouraging screen breaks and supporting work-life balance.

But digital maturity — which must necessarily accompany any increased reliance on technology — remained a challenge for many of the nonprofits surveyed, with just 22% reporting high digital maturity and over three-quarters of respondents (76%) saying they still need to develop a data strategy for their organization.

This is problematic because the majority of nonprofits surveyed also report that they expect to be doing most of their work online within the next three years. An article in Forbes Magazine suggests that organizations seeking to improve their digital maturity should ensure leadership is on board and driving the process, set digital priorities and build a strong internal data infrastructure, collaborate with external vendors as needed, streamline donor information, and remain adaptable.

About the Authors


Lori Freeman, VP, Nonprofit and NGO Solutions and StrategyLori Freeman
VP, Nonprofit and NGO Solutions and Strategy –

Lori Freeman is the VP, Nonprofit and NGO Solutions and Strategy at, where she leads a team of industry leaders working to deliver global solutions for organizations of all shapes and sizes. She has worked and volunteered in the nonprofit industry for more than 25 years. Lori’s passion is helping nonprofits leverage technology to deliver more impact and to connect the helpers.