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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

Effective Staff Management: Motivating Employees

Updated: May 29

Effective staff management is essential to work completion, employee satisfaction, and retention. Managing staff isn’t easy especially with employees now working hybrid, virtual, or leading programs off-site. Motivating employees is essential whether staff work in the office or virtual. Understanding employee motivation can be a helpful tool for supervisors in task and project completion.

What are strategies to help employees stay motivated during organizational change?

Nonprofits have experienced significant changes in the past few years. Organizational change can come in the form of staff and volunteer transitions, expansion of programs and responding to evolving community needs. Organizational change can cause uncertainty among employees.

Supervisors and managers can help prepare, motivate and frame for their staff as change occurs whether it is internal or external change. Understanding what motivates employees and how to manage change and frame change can help teams be more effective especially in the nonprofit sector which is so mission-driven.

During organizational change, supervisor can help motivate employees in the following ways:

  1. Create Goals: Set clear, achievable goals that can be accomplished during the actual period of change. A sense of accomplishment during times of change can help employees stay motivated and create meaning in their role. As a supervisor, celebrate achievements and acknowledge employees' work along the way to keep morale high.

  2. Flexibility: If possible, be flexible and accommodate employees' needs. Flexibility could involve offering remote work options or adjusted schedules, to help employees manage their personal and professional responsibilities.

  3. Communication: Transparent and frequent communication about the reasons for the change, its implications, and the organization’s vision for the future can help employees understand and buy into the process.

Organizational change can occur for a variety of reasons and is often a constant. Some examples of change might be expansion of programs, new volunteers, staff changes, funding opportunities or new organizational procedures. How do you keep staff motivated, focused and create stability at your organization during times of change?

Reflection as a Supervisor:

How do you motivate employees during times of change?

How do you frame organizational change to employees?

How do you keep staff motivated, focused and create stability at your organization during times of change?

What Motivates Employees? What are methods to support staff retention?

People choose to work for nonprofits for the mission, impact, collaborative environment, make a difference, earn a competitive salary and share their talents and skills in a meaningful way. Everyone has a driving factor that has led them to work in a nonprofit. If you are a supervisor, do you know your staff’s motivating factors? Do you ask them beyond just in the interview process?

Understanding employee motivation can be a helpful tool for supervisors related to staff retention. Some motivating factors discussed in Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory can be a useful framework for supervisors.

Factors that Motivate Employees from Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory

Achievement: Feeling a sense of accomplishment and recognition for one's work.

Recognition: Being acknowledged and appreciated for contributions.

Responsibility: Having autonomy and authority over one's work.

Growth and Advancement: Opportunities for personal and professional development, including promotions, advancement, leadership opportunities, pay increase, bonuses and benefits.

The Work itself: Finding the work interesting, challenging, and meaningful.

Let’s explore how supervisors might be able to implement these concepts into practice.


Employees want to experience a sense of accomplishment at the end of a task and see a project through to the finish. Completing a goal is motivating and gives employees a sense of accomplishment. Achievement in the workplace gives employees a sense of pride and accomplishment.

In practice, supervisors need to help employee sets and achieve goals, acknowledge the end of a large project, structure projects so that employees have autonomy to be creative while still in alignment with expectations and offer incentives through pay, benefits, promotions and opportunities for growth.

Strategies supervisors can use to create a culture and sense of achievement within an organization:

  1. Set Clear Expectations and Goals: Ensure that employees understand the objectives and expectations of their work or projects. Clear, specific goals provide employees with a roadmap for success and enable them to track their progress along the way.

  2. Break Down Projects into Milestones: Break down large projects into smaller, achievable milestones. This allows employees to experience a sense of accomplishment as they make progress toward the larger goal. Celebrate each milestone reached to recognize their efforts and keep motivation high.

  3. Encourage Collaboration and Teamwork: Foster a collaborative work environment where team members can support and rely on one another. Encourage open communication, idea sharing, and teamwork to accomplish shared goals. If your team is hybrid or remote, explore using slack, organizing short, structured morning staff meetings to top based on priorities or hosting staff lunches to build rapport. When employees feel like they're part of a successful team effort, they're more likely to experience a sense of accomplishment. If your team is hybrid or remote, explore using Slack.

  4. Empower Employees with Autonomy: Trust employees to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Provide them with autonomy and the freedom to explore different approaches to problem-solving. When employees have control over their work processes, they are more likely to feel a sense of accomplishment when they achieve successful outcomes. At the start of a project, clarify when employees have to check in with their supervisor for review versus which decisions they can make on their own.

  5. Celebrate Successes: Take time to celebrate successes and achievements, both big and small. This could involve shout outs on slack, organized staff lunches, gift cards or half-day summer Fridays for team members. Remember, these celebrations do not replace advancement, compensation or benefit increases; rather they add to the culture of recognition, reinforces the importance of accomplishments and boosts morale within the team.

Implementing these strategies can help employees feel a sense of achievement within an organization.

Goal Setting

Setting goals is motivating for employees and helps with task completion. To help employees set goals, establish a timeline for when a goal should be achieved. Perhaps the timeline is connected to an upcoming gala, fundraising campaign, the launch of a new program or end of a fiscal year. Goals that have clear timelines are more achievable. Next, supervisors should help employees create actionable goals that are easily tracked whether in a project management system such as Trello or in the organization’s calendar.

Smarter Goal Framework

The purpose of the SMARTER goal framework is to ensure that goals are well-defined, actionable, and aligned with organizational objectives. The SMARTER framework emphasizes ongoing assessment and adaptation of goals over time. This framework provides a structured approach to goal setting, enabling nonprofit professionals to clarify objectives, track progress, and make necessary adjustments to ensure continued relevance and effectiveness of goals. The idea of the SMARTER framework is to help nonprofits achieve greater clarity, focus, and accountability in pursuit of their goals.

SMARTER Image: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound, Evaluate, and Reward


Milestones are a helpful way to achieve goals by breaking down the overarching objective into smaller, manageable tasks or achievements. Milestones help achieve goal attainment in the following ways:

  • Progress Tracking: Milestones serve as markers of progress towards a larger goal. By breaking the goal into smaller components, individuals and teams can track their advancement more easily.

  • Focus and Direction: Milestones provide focus and direction by guiding efforts towards specific, achievable targets. They help prevent individuals from feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of the overall goal and instead encourage them to concentrate on one step at a time.

  • Adjustment and Adaptation: Milestones allow for regular evaluation and adjustment of the approach. If progress is slower or faster than anticipated, milestones provide an opportunity to reassess strategies and make necessary adjustments to ensure the ultimate goal is still achievable.

Objectives, Goal Setting, & Milestones worksheet. Write your objective, 3-5 goals, and 3-5 milestones. Be specific!

Recognition & Transparency in Advancement

People work in the nonprofit sector for inspiration and a paycheck. To retain great employees, employees must be acknowledged for work and organizations need to retain talent through raises, promotions, and competitive benefits. In the nonprofit sector, staff are the programs and without talent, missions won’t move.

Advancement: Opportunities for growth within the organization and transparency in how someone can move up to a different position. Compensation and advancement opportunities need to be transparent to retain employees. An article from SHRM points out, "To ensure pay structures are fair, explain pay ranges and compensation strategies that link pay with market rates". Many states now require transparent and equitable compensation practices including posting salary ranges on job descriptions when hiring.

Responsibility and Independence

Employees want the ability to be autonomous and independent in their work. In practice, supervisors should frame projects with goals, deadlines and metrics to allow employees to do their work independently. Check in on a regular basis and frame in advance how often you will check in employees.

The check-in process is different for every organization; it may be through daily or weekly 1:1 supervision meetings, a project management system such as Trello or towards the end of the day when your staff has had enough time to work on the task. The framing gives employees enough guidance to be successful in their tasks.

Personal Development

No one wants to stay stagnant in a position, it gets boring! Once employees have gone through training, orientation and onboarding and have shown progress in their position then it is time to give opportunities to learn new skills and develop professionally.

In practice, supervisors may want to have a rough estimate of time and length it takes to train, orient and onboard new employees whether it is 1 month or 6 months. The orientation, training and onboarding timeline is then determined for all positions in an organization. After the onboarding period, opportunities for learning new skills could then be made available through professional development, mentors, coaches, special assignments, or shadowing opportunities."

How do you incorporate these motivating factors into the supervision and employee management practices at your organization? Would you be able to discuss these ideas during strategy sessions, senior leadership team meetings or brainstorming discussion related to employee leadership, recruitment or retention? Thinking about ways you can start to explore these practices could be a step in integrating these practices if they are not yet part of your organization's culture.

Interested in exploring the role of a supervisor, improving your staff management and employee supervision? How do I become a better supervisor? Register for our next session of the "Effective Staff Supervision: How to be a Better Supervisor" workshop series here!


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