How satisfied are nonprofit employees? A new countywide survey identifies key factors contributing to satisfaction and dissatisfaction

The United States is currently facing historic levels of turnover and career change across all job sectors. In August, job openings in the U.S. reached a historic high of 11 million. In November, a record 4.5 million people quit their jobs. Turnover in nonprofit organizations is 19% compared to 12% for all industries. Staff turnover in nonprofits erodes program results and disrupts operations. High turnover and job vacancy rates put pressure on remaining staff, causing burnout. Recruiting and onboarding new staff is expensive, driving up operating costs. Ultimately the impact of high turnover falls on our communities, particularly people who depend on nonprofits for basic services. Everyone working in the nonprofit sector, government, philanthropy and our communities have a stake in this problem.

Countywide Nonprofit Employee Engagement Survey

King County Nonprofit Employee Engagement Survey Report

Funded through the King County Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL) and administered by our partner 501 Commons, the King County Nonprofit Employee Engagement Survey was completed in 2021. The Employee Engagement Survey, the second portion of the King County Nonprofit Wage Survey, aimed to better understand what contributes to successful employee recruitment, retention, and satisfaction in King County’s nonprofit sector. The survey included questions about non-wage benefits and other items that contribute to employee job satisfaction such as supervisor relationships, paid time off and workplace culture. 1,178 people representing 263 organizations participated in the survey. The resulting report provides insights into what attracts and retains employees in nonprofit jobs using direct feedback solicited from nonprofit employees in King County. It also identifies risk factors – especially low pay – that cause employees to leave their organizations.

The results of the King County Nonprofit Wage & Benefits Survey, the first portion of the King County Nonprofit Wage Survey, were released earlier this year. The survey results confirmed that nonprofit workers are not paid enough to live in the communities they serve, or make their career path sustainable, especially as the demand for services has been increasing. You can learn more and read the Putting People First: Wage & Benefits Survey report here

Factors contributing to satisfaction and dissatisfaction

The Employee Engagement Survey was the first of its kind to be offered to all nonprofits serving King County. The survey results offer key insights into nonprofit employees’ experiences, opinions, and preferences.

As expected, employees report that they work in nonprofits to make a difference and support important causes. They also believe it best utilizes their skills, education, training, etc. Respondents reported that the top three reasons they work for a nonprofit are to:

  • Make a difference/give back to the community (80%).
  • Support an important cause (51%).
  • Best utilize my skills, education, training, experience, and abilities (45%).

Alternatively, below are the top reasons a nonprofit employee might consider leaving the nonprofit sector.

What should nonprofits do?

It is much less expensive to retain a productive employee than it is to recruit one. Focusing on “re-recruiting” current high-performing employees when there is turnover could be beneficial. The survey results point to ways employers can retain employees:

  • Provide flexible work arrangements
  • Improve pay and benefits, or at least state your intention and plan to do so
  • Provide resources for professional development, ways for employees to develop and use new skills, and advancement opportunities
  • Recognize and celebrate employees. Build an appreciative organizational culture
  • Offer different avenues for input and feedback

While salary clearly plays a role in employee retention, there are also other factors that significantly contribute. In addition to working to improve salaries, nonprofits chould:

  • Clarify their compensation philosophy
  • Benchmark salaries to similar nonprofits using the King County Nonprofit Wage and Benefits data. Go to:
  • Ensure that salaries are internally equitable and compliant with the Washington State Equal Pay and Opportunities Act.
  • Make compensation processes and policies as transparent as possible

Retaining talented nonprofit employees is a problem long in the making, but it can be addressed if our collective community, including funders, philanthropy and nonprofits, work together to invest resources in the types of programs that can improve conditions in our community and region.   

Read the King County Nonprofit Employee Engagement Survey results here.