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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

Motivating Nonprofit Teams: 5 Challenges to Expect

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

This is a guest blog post by David Hutchinson from Cause Leadership.

Motivation is a powerful force that makes employees more productive at their workplaces. However, it only flourishes in a positive environment where the management has set clear expectations, feedback, and recognition.

So, what makes an employee lack motivation? Here are five challenges that nonprofit teams experience and what a leader can do to help them get on the right track.

Unclear Responsibilities & Tasks

Conflicting and unclear job roles and responsibilities cause tension and stress among the employees, thus making them feel demotivated.

The employees may fail to perform a particular task because they are not solely responsible. They will ignore the job and wait for someone else to come and complete it.

Unclear roles and responsibilities make the employees develop a toxic finger-pointing culture. The employees will always blame others as they are not solely responsible for managing that task.

Since ambiguity kills performance, a good leader should ensure that all employees know their responsibilities and tasks. Giving clear and defined responsibilities ensure the organization runs smoothly.

Not Hiring the "Right" Candidate

Not every person who applies for a job is suitable to manage the role posted. Hiring candidates who lack passion, integrity, resiliency, and positive energy will negatively affect your organization's productivity.

Ensure you build a formidable team by recruiting employees with the right talent. It will then be easier to motivate, engage and retain all your employees. You can also involve an executive search for nonprofits to help you in hiring candidates with the following traits:

Work Ethic: Candidates with strong work ethics can thrive even in challenging environments.

Passion: Only hire employees who are genuinely happy about their responsibilities because they will always be motivated to work harder.

Resiliency: Work with employees who can own their mistakes and strive to improve.

Positive energy: Only consider candidates who believe in relishing change.

Lack of Board Diversity

Lack of board diversity can make employees lose interest because they feel under-represented in the organization. As a result, employee resentment can grow, lack of confidence can increase, or can withdraw from the team. A wise leader will create a more diverse board to increase employee satisfaction.

However, a leader cannot overlook essential factors such as professional background, competence, and reputation when creating a diverse board. To make an effective board, you should ensure both social and professional diversity intersect.

Fear of Making Mistakes

Fear of failure makes the employees avoid doing new or challenging tasks. They are afraid to be judged or punished if they make mistakes when completing the task. Fear makes them less motivated to try to achieve new goals.

A good leader should encourage the employees to take risks and embrace their mistakes. Allowing your employees to make mistakes will make them more innovative. In addition, the employees will feel motivated to try new things, thus improving performance.

Too Many Excuses

Some employees will give endless excuses because they believe they lack enough capacity to complete a task. Such employees lack self-efficacy and will not feel motivated when completing specific tasks.

Also, some employees are impacted with disruptive emotions such as anger, anxiety, or depression, thus giving endless excuses not to conduct a task.

A good leader should create a culture where excuses are not accepted. Ensure you make all expectations obvious by assigning different tasks to different employees. All employees should know the scope of their work and make the deadlines clear.

Alternatively, you can create a system of accountability whereby all employees should be responsible for their performance. This approach will motivate the employees to work harder to meet the set goals.


Employees can grow to feel disengaged and demotivated. Things such as lack of board diversity, not hiring suitable candidates, too many excuses, fear of making mistakes, and unclear responsibilities could be the source of employees' lack of motivation.

As a leader, addressing these warning signs will make your employees feel valued at the workplace. As a result, your team will be more committed and engaged, thus increasing productivity.

Author Bio

Since 1997 David Hutchinson, the president of Cause Leadership, a nonprofit executive search firm, has successfully placed senior-level candidates with a broad spectrum of organizations in the charitable sector. He also has a great interest in helping charitable organizations diversify, become younger in their leadership, and better represent their own clients.

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