High staff turnover continues to plague Chinese nonprofits

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In the past decade, the number of non-profit organizations in China has grown with big progress recorded in their level of professionalism. But poor staff retention continues to be a major weakness for most organizations.


The problems faced by many organizations today can often be traced back to the rapid turnover of staff. Organizations cannot raise sufficient funds, and in turn, they cannot provide staff members with a good salary and stable career development. When an organization lacks a stable team, fundraising and project execution become more difficult, making it harder for an organization to survive and progress.


However, non-profits are not businesses. They can’t simply replicate the management style of a corporate and use money and KPIs to retain staff. 


Compared with businesses, the overall income level of the non-profit sector is at a low-to-medium level, so it is difficult to rely on income to attract people. Besides, the potential for salary increases for employees in the non-profit sector is relatively limited — even as they accumulate years of experience. 


Therefore, non-profits must use other methods to motivate their staff, such as organizational values, a sense of belonging, and the sense of achievement brought about by the recognition of their colleagues and beneficiaries.


Without the guarantee of a high income and jobs or even a stable income, non-profit organizations must establish a strong culture and weak control. To achieve this goal, efforts can be made in the following ways.


First, organizations should establish an organizational culture, continuously reinforce their mission and values to members, and establish a system and culture in line with the values of the working environment.


Second, organizations should create a culture of good communication and encourage staff to express different opinions from the leaders and their supervisors. This can be done by holding regular seminars.


Third, organizations should cultivate the professional ability and influence of their staff, so that they can become the spokespersons and experts of the organization and feel a sense of belonging.


Fourth, it is necessary to encourage employees to truly participate in the decision-making process, so that they can become creators of organizational culture and development, and ultimately creators of social impact.


Fifth, organizations should clarify the principles and bottom lines of organizational work, formulate clear rules, and regularly review and update these rules to ensure that all staff are aware of them. When major principles are clarified, leaders should respect individuality and staff members’ different working styles. 


Last, leaders should examine the institution of their organizations, retain only the necessary administrative procedures, and eliminate those redundant ones. If one rule or procedure makes most staff feel uncomfortable, it is necessary to discuss with all staff how to improve it.