How to retain exceptional talent in the charity sector

8 minutes
Tracey George

By Tracey George

As the world evolves and societal needs shift, the demand for exceptional talent and innovative solutions within the charity sector has never been more pressing. Charities looking to strengthen their talent retention strategies must go the extra mile to foster an environment that cultivates success and empowers remarkable individuals to continue to make a meaningful difference.  

Given the multitude of economic and societal issues affecting the lives of ordinary people, it is unsurprising that charities and non-profits are finding it hard to cope with the rising demand. This problem is greatly exacerbated by the sector’s above-average staff turnover rate, an unwelcome trend that can hamper the success of many organisations. Considering that 80% of non-profit organisations do not have a talent retention strategy in place, the third sector must do more to make sure that high-quality candidates are incentivised to remain in their charity jobs. 

In this guide, we’ll explore why retaining exceptional talent is so fundamentally important for charities and non-profits. We’ll also delve into the most effective strategies organisations can implement to reduce staff turnover rates and keep hold of top-tier employees. 

Why Retaining Top Talent is Essential for the Charity Sector 

With issues like ongoing talent shortages and resource constraints affecting the charity recruitment space, charities, and non-profit organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to retain talented individuals. With 79% of charities claiming to have experienced an unprecedented surge in demand in the first few months of 2023, it is clear that the need to retain top talent is becoming all the more pivotal. 

People are becoming ever-more reliant on charities' vital work, not least due to socioeconomic challenges such as the cost-of-living crisis and limited government funding. The combination of the rising demand for charitable services and the sector’s above-average staff turnover rate is undoubtedly a cause for concern. 

According to an analysis of labour turnover between 2021 and 2022 from XpertHR, the charity and non-profit sector’s turnover rate was the highest of all sectors surveyed. The research found that charities experienced a total labour turnover of 18.1%, as opposed to a turnover rate of 11.7% for private sector companies. These statistics demonstrate the very particular problem that the charity sector has with talent retention, and by not addressing this ongoing issue, charities risk losing exceptional talent. 

Although talent retention is not an issue solely affecting charities and non-profit organisations, the third sector is nevertheless disproportionately impacted by it. Let’s examine the key reasons why many organisations struggle to retain outstanding professionals in their charity jobs: 

  • Resource Constraints: One of the biggest challenges charities face is limited financial resources. Without sufficient resources, it’s not uncommon for charity workers to feel unable to accomplish their goals, something which may convince them to seek employment elsewhere. 
  • Work-Life Balance: With limited financial resources and a greater need for services impacting the sector, charity workers may experience difficulties in maintaining a good work-life balance. Charity work is incredibly rewarding, but in times of unprecedented demand, burnout can lead to the desire to look for different roles. 
  • Increased Competition from the Private Sector: Many private companies are not restricted by the same resource constraints that charities and non-profits are, meaning that they are able to pay better than their third-sector counterparts. With this sort of competition from for-profit firms, charities are at risk of losing their best and brightest staff. 
  • Lack of Development Opportunities: Opportunities for career growth and professional development might be limited within some charitable organisations, not least because of challenges in sustained funding. Employees, especially those ambitious for career advancement, may seek other avenues if they feel their growth is stagnating.

One sure-fire method of overcoming these talent retention challenges is by partnering with a dedicated charity recruitment partner. You can learn more about the advantages of working with a recruitment agency by reading our ‘Benefits of Using a Specialist Recruiter for Charity Roles’ guide. 

Effective Talent Retention Strategies for Charities  

As we have established, the importance of retaining exceptional talent in charity jobs cannot be understated. With outstanding professionals at the heart of your organisation, your charity will be well-equipped to provide the crucial services that your communities need. However, with challenges like a lack of funding and increased competition from the private sector continuing to pose problems, it can be difficult to keep hold of the team members you need to drive sustained success. 

A cursory glance at the figures reveals the extent of the charity sector’s talent attraction and retention problem. According to a study by Pro Bono Economics and Nottingham Trent University’s National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory, more than 54% of charities have active job vacancies, and 83% of those charities are finding it difficult to recruit and retain the right candidates. 

However, by implementing effective talent retention strategies, you’ll have a greater chance of ensuring that your charity jobs are filled with outstanding professionals who are motivated to remain at your organisation on a long-term basis. Here are the key actions your charity should take to retain talent: 

1. Promote a Sense of Purpose 

Promoting a clear sense of purpose and direction is essential for retaining candidates in the charity sector. Many professionals seek charity jobs precisely because they want to make a significant difference, so having a well-defined mission is likely to attract candidates who are dedicated to your cause. 

Analysis taken from the Deloitte Insights Global Marketing Trends Report reveals that purpose-driven organisations tend to experience 40% higher levels of workforce retention. While this research is not specific to the charity sector, it nonetheless highlights the importance of providing staff with a mission that they can get behind. By providing your staff with a set of achievable and mission-oriented goals, you can expect them to feel motivated enough to stay at your organisation. 

There are various methods you can employ to create a sense of purpose for your employees, including: 

Regularly Emphasising the Mission

Frequently reminding employees of your organisation’s goals is a great way to ensure that everybody is aligned with the overarching mission. With a clear understanding of your charity’s unique vision, your team is much more likely to be engaged and motivated. 

Showcasing Success Stories

Publicly displaying how your charity positively impacts the communities you serve is a surefire way of inspiring talent to remain part of your team. By sharing success stories, testimonials, and real-life examples via social media, you’ll be able to connect your employees to your mission on an emotional level. 

Recognition of Impact

Highlighting the individual and team contributions that your staff are making toward achieving your charity’s goals is an effective method of instilling an element of togetherness and fulfilment. You can do this in various ways, including implementing formal recognition programs and incorporating recognition into performance reviews. 

Encouraging Employee Involvement

To help your employees feel valued, encouraging them to be involved in decision-making processes and voluntary events that promote your organisation’s cause is imperative. This active involvement can deepen their connection to the mission, further enriching their commitment to your organisation. 

With a satisfied team of high-quality professionals who are inspired to keep performing at their best, your organisation will be equipped to overcome staff retention difficulties and continue positively impacting people’s lives. 

2. Invest in Training and Development Opportunities

Earlier, we alluded to the fact that some charities struggle to facilitate training and development opportunities due to tight budgetary constraints. While investing in training and development programs can be difficult, managing to provide staff with continuous learning opportunities can precipitate a significant boost to talent retention levels. 

Companies that manage to provide their staff with the chance to learn new skills that enrich their careers are more likely to retain talent. According to research conducted by LinkedIn, 94% of employees stated that they would remain at an organisation longer if offered more learning opportunities. Charities and non-profits that are battling high turnover rates should take note of this key finding and ensure that their talent retention strategies incorporate training and development. 

Figures from our recent salary survey suggest that the third sector has started to pay closer attention to the power of investing in staff development. We found that 58% of respondents claimed to have been offered the same amount of training as 12 months ago, up from 50% reported in 2021. By offering staff the opportunity to nurture their talents, you’ll be demonstrating that you value their input and are willing to invest in their career progression - two significant factors that will keep excellent professionals at your organisation. 

Here are the top tips you should follow to ensure that your training and development initiatives are as effective as possible

  • Utilise a wide variety of training methods and resources to cater to different learning styles. 
  • Outline a list of clear objectives that explain how the training program aligns with your charity’s goals. 
  • Collaborate with external training providers with expertise in the charity sector.
  • Ensure that the expertise of senior staff is shared with junior team members via mentorship schemes or any shared learning initiatives.
  • Keep up to date with the latest industry trends to make sure that the training content is relevant.

3. Offer Competitive Compensation and Benefits Packages

Given the financial pressure that the charity sector is under, it is understandable that many charities and non-profits often struggle with salaries similar to firms in the private sector. Research suggests that charity workers are paid 7% less on average than professionals in similar roles within other sectors. However, it is important to note that there are indications that this pay gap is closing, with figures showing that non-profits in the USA reported salary increases of almost 6% in 2022. 

Although pay constraints may at first appear to be a disadvantage for attracting and retaining exceptional talent to charity jobs, there are ways that charities can structure their compensation and benefits packages to stave off competition from other sectors. On the salary front, the situation may be improving in some areas, but instead of focusing your concerns on pay, providing other valuable incentives may be the best way to secure the best-performing employees at your organisation. 

It is important to look into the sort of incentives that professionals in the charity sector care about, the most significant of which is having a clear purpose. As we alluded to earlier, having a well-defined mission can be enough to excite and inspire people to work at your organisation for the long term. However, this alone is not sufficient to keep someone at your charity for an extended period of time. 

According to our salary survey, the three most desired perks were working from home, flexible working, and pension contributions. Here are the most sought-after benefits that candidates in the charity sector are looking for: 

  • Flexible working schedules that allow employees to better manage their work-life balance. Our survey revealed that 64% of respondents would consider leaving their current job if there were a lack of flexibility, a figure that highlights the importance of offering this benefit. 
  • Enhanced employer pension contributions, the average of which is 8% according to our salary survey.  
  • Money-saving perks like free parking, a cycle-to-work scheme, and subsidised gym memberships.
  • Leave entitlements such as days off for volunteering and paid sabbaticals.
  • An employee assistance programme dedicated to staff wellbeing. 

Retaining Exceptional Talent in the Charity Sector: Key Takeaways

The imperative to retain exceptional talent within the charity sector has never been more crucial. As societal needs evolve and demand for charitable services rises, the challenges faced by non-profit organisations in retaining top-tier professionals are evident. The high turnover rates, exacerbated by resource constraints, limited growth opportunities, and competition from other sectors, underscore the critical importance of implementing effective talent retention strategies.

By embracing these strategies and creating an environment that empowers and inspires exceptional individuals, charities can fortify their teams, drive sustained success, and continue making a meaningful difference in communities. Through concerted efforts focused on talent retention, the charity sector can navigate challenges and ensure a dedicated workforce committed to advancing its important causes. 

Our Dedication to Non-Profit and Charity Recruitment 

Established in 1996, our award-winning recruitment agency has been connecting outstanding talent to charity jobs throughout the UK for many years. With a combination of charity recruitment expertise and a passion for seeing top talent succeed, we take pride in helping job-seekers and charities achieve their goals. Once you have told us about your hiring needs or career goals, we’ll go above and beyond to bring them to fruition. 

Reach out today to discover more about how we can support you.

  • 020 7198 6000
  • TPP Recruitment, Northern & Shell Building, 4th Floor, 10 Lower Thames Street, London, EC3R 6AF