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Nonprofit burnout statistics: The high cost of high turnover

Charitable giving is on the rise, but unfortunately, so is nonprofit burnout. Discover why the nonprofit burnout rate is an urgent issue, the true cost of nonprofit turnover, and ways nonprofits can address burnout among employees and executive directors.

Kylie Davis
May 11, 2022
Nerd Mr Butter

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Charitable giving is on the rise, but so is nonprofit burnout 

Charitable giving has never been more popular as over half of all Americans (56 percent) chose to give back to good causes last year. Times Union reported the grand totals for charitable giving in 2021 will likely surpass 2020’s record of $471 billion (a 2.8 percent increase from 2019—an impressive feat given this took place during a global pandemic).

Charitable giving may be at an all-time high, but unfortunately, so is the nonprofit turnover rate among employees, especially for those in leadership. 

The nonprofit sector (which is made up of more than 1.8 million nonprofit organizations and employs more than 10 percent of the nation’s workforce) is losing key staff members at an alarming rate. All due to an entirely preventable cause: burnout. In fact, 30 percent of nonprofit employees are burnt out, and 20 percent are in danger of burning out, according to a survey conducted by Opportunity Knocks.

The nonprofit sector faces historically high rates of burnout and turnover

Society for Human Resource Management reports that the voluntary turnover rate for nonprofit organizations is 19 percent. This is higher than the industry average of the overall labor market (12 percent). This turnover is costing the nonprofit sector more than most people realize.

With 1 out of every 10 employees working for a nonprofit, a large portion of our nation’s workforce is feeling overworked, under-resourced, and disengaged. Leaders in particular (60 percent of nonprofit leaders) reported feeling “used up” at the end of the workday, according to DDI World’s Global Leadership Forecast for 2021.

We asked the Givebutter Fam

The Givebutter community consists of thousands of changemakers working to make the world a better place. They too have felt the effects of burnout firsthand.

We polled our audience and found that 95 percent of nonprofit professionals have either experienced burnout themselves or have seen it impact a key staff member in the past 3 years alone. These results come from 40 responses we received on LinkedIn, Twitter, and our Facebook Group.

One user even touched on the sentiment so many nonprofit employees are feeling toward their work by responding to our survey, “Maybe better to ask who didn’t.”

Why is the nonprofit burnout rate so urgent?

The true cost

Studies estimate that losing an employee can cost a company 1.5–2 times the employee’s salary. This cost takes hiring, onboarding, training, ramp time to peak productivity, loss of engagement among other employees, and higher organizational errors into consideration.

Cost, of course, is dependent on the level of the employee being lost. The true cost of turnover can range from $1,500 for an hourly employee, to 100–150 percent of a technical employee’s salary, and more than 200 percent of a C-suite employee’s salary.

The interruptions to the mission

When one employee leaves, the remaining employees are left with more work and less time to complete that work. Unless the organization is keen on extensive documentation, staff who managed a lot of tasks and relationships leave with institutional knowledge that their team may not have access to. All of this can cause large interruptions to a nonprofit’s mission. 

One employee leaving could be the domino effect that causes other employees to question if they should stay with the organization, leading to even more turnover. This dangerous cycle forces many nonprofits to hit pause on accomplishing their mission. 

More time is poured into recruiting, onboarding new employees, and helping remaining employees take on an increased workload during the transition. Less time is spent advancing the nonprofit’s mission and services.

The Great Resignation

Employees across multiple sectors are more willing to leave their jobs in search of better value than in previous years. Whether it's for a higher wage, better benefits, or increased flexibility. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that nearly 4.3 million people quit their jobs in January of 2022 (48 million total in 2021). The workforce is currently facing what experts call the “Great Resignation.”

This is not good news for the nonprofit sector—the third-largest employment sector of the United States—that already has a reputation of having to “do more with less.” Most job seekers aren’t looking for a job that requires long hours and doesn’t offer fair wages, adequate resources, standard benefits, or ample opportunities for advancement.

What can nonprofits do to address the alarming burnout rate?

How nonprofit employees feel about how their time is spent can have a huge impact on turnover. Job satisfaction leads to greater employee engagement. Greater employee engagement leads to increased productivity and a decreased chance of that employee leaving the organization. This is easier said than done, however, as most nonprofit executives find about one-third of the aspects of their job are depleting or somewhat depleting.

So how can this sector address burnout and help employees reduce stress? Keep reading for research-backed ways nonprofits can combat executive director burnout and help employees take back control of their time.

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Balance everyone’s workload

Studies show that nonprofit executive directors who are experiencing burnout (and consequently their staff) had a few things in common. They weren’t delegating tasks, casting vision, communicating strategic direction, or helping staff members stay focused on the mission on a day-to-day basis. 

Please hear this, nonprofit leaders: You cannot (and should not!) shoulder this alone! A great way to avoid burnout is to dust off your coaching skills and start delegating. Meet with team members regularly to discuss what their responsibilities are and ensure they have everything they need to do their job well.

Set aside time for personal and professional development

When surveyed, nonprofit employees reported they want to work in a place where they can advance professionally and develop skills. Likewise, many executives identified coaching, peer networks, and leadership development programs as the top three most effective strategies for nonprofit leadership development and support.

Here’s what Givebutter CEO and Co-Founder, Max Friedman, recently recommended on this topic in an interview: 

“A key solution for me around this problem [of burnout] is surrounding yourself with mentors who have been through what you are going through. Having people who’ve been there before, whether they’ve gotten burnt out themselves or not, but just people you can lean on when you are feeling burnt out, “Hey, how did you handle this situation? What did you do with that? Can you connect me with someone who’s done something similar?” Those are the people who have been lifesavers when I don’t know what to do, or I’m at the end of my rope. When I’m unsure where to turn or facing a challenge that feels too big, mentors have always been where I’ve gone—where I turn more than any other thing.”

Read Max’s full interview to learn how to put fun into fundraising →

How nonprofit workers spend their time outside of work is just as important. Simple self-care activities, such as getting active, taking a break from screens, and connecting with loved ones can help employees achieve a better work-life balance.

Looking for more ways to prevent burnout? Read this article from one of our Givebutter Experts →

Confront the Overhead Myth

Too often nonprofits (and their funders) have unrealistic expectations for the value of an employee’s time. Many are tempted to skimp on overhead costs in order to funnel more funds “toward the mission,” but this is actually to the detriment of the organization. Even so, Stanford Social Innovation Review found that 56 percent of surveyed executive directors plan to reduce overhead spending in the next year. 

Givebutter Expert, Sherry Quam Taylor, weighs in: 

"For decades, the nonprofit industry has been held to unrealistic expectations and outdated metrics that keep organizations from growing. The most insidious? “Nonprofits should be able to do more on less.” Not only are nonprofits supposed to change the world or solve huge crises, they’re expected to do it on shoestring budgets."

The bottom line? When you invest in the people behind the mission, your effectiveness at meeting the needs of that mission actually increases tenfold. Set up employees working in the nonprofit sector for success by investing in them long-term.

Download Sherry’s white paper The Big Fundraising Secret to learn more about the overhead myth →


On Thursday, May 5, 2022, we polled our cumulative 5,327 followers on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook Group and asked the following question: “Have you, or a key staff member, experienced burnout in the past 3 years?” We also referenced the following sources for statistics related to nonprofit burnout. 👇

Click here to view the full list of sources

Building Movement: The Leadership In Leaving, 2013

Bureau of Labor Statistics: Job Openings and Labor Turnover, 2022

Daring To Lead: Executive Wellbeing, 2011

DDI World: Global Leadership Forecast, 2021

Forbes: Leaders And Employees Are Burning Out At Record Rates: New Survey, 2021

G&A Partners: Calculating The Cost Of Employee Turnover, 2016

Josh Bersin: Employee Retention Now a Big Issue: Why The Tide Has Turned, 2013

Lending Tree: 56% Of Americans Donated To Charity In 2021, At Average Of $574, 2021

Nonprofit HR: 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices SurveyTM Results, 2015

Northern Illinois University Center For Nonprofit And NGO Studies: The Nonprofit Sector Ia Sn Economic Engine, 2020

Opportunity Knocks: Engaging The Nonprofit Workforce: Mission, Management, And Emotion, 2011

PeopleKeep: Employee Retention: The Real Cost Of Losing An Employee, 2021

Society For Human Resource Management: Human Capital Benchmarking Report, 2016

Society For Human Resource Management: To Have And To Hold, 2019

Society For Human Resource Management: To Have And To Hold, 2019

Stanford Social Innovation Review: Combatting Burnout In Nonprofit Leaders, 2014

Stanford Social Innovation Review: The Nonprofit Starvation Cycle, 2009

The Fundraising Coach: How Much Time Should A Nonprofit CEO Spend On Fundraising?, 2022

Times Union: Americans Gave Record $471B To Charity In Last Year; 2021 May Be Even Better, 2021

Urban Institute: National Survey Of Nonprofit-Government Contracts And Grants, 2013

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