A Case for Employee Engagement Surveys

Why Charities Profit from Employee Engagement

employee engagement survey for non-profits

Not-for-profit charitable organizations have a unique characteristic that triumphs over the hearts and minds of their employees. It’s called meaningful work.

The histories of charities are commonly founded by groups and individuals with a passion for a certain something, or family members and friends seeking constructive outlets for grief.

Corporate social responsibility is the very foundation upon which not-for-profits are built and grow.

A lot of people chose not-for-profit work because it’s a link for them to someone they loved and lost, to something they adore, admire or aspire to.

But the alluring attributes of not-for-profits don't vaccinate employees against reacting to other factors that help or hinder a connection to their jobs and workplaces. While the meaningful piece is in place, not-for-profits still need to figure out what else can be done to help their workforce stay motivated and stay put.

Employee engagement surveys highlight key drivers of engagement — those factors in the work environment that make people tick and stick around.

The elephant in the not-for-profit board room: $money$

Not surprisingly, Board directors and executive members at the helm of charities argue donors don’t want their dollars spent on internal initiatives that seemingly have absolutely nothing to do with funding research, or delivering services into the hands of the community or the greater good of the world. But where would any charitable organization be without the passion and commitment of employees who advocate, raise funds and deliver services?


Despite being a charity, not-for-profits are just as much about generating revenue and running with fiscal prudence as their business counterparts down the street. To be able to give back, donors and volunteers take precedence just like investors and customers take precedence in the for-profit world.

Employees, the third piece of the equation, are often forgotten or relegated to the back seat of the bus, so to speak.

When heading down the employee engagement survey path the question that inevitably surfaces is cost and whether to handle the process in-house.

Sue Ward, Regional Manager of Human Resources for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, is quick to counter the idea of DIY surveys. “Even if you’re a not-for-profit, the reason that it’s such a worthwhile investment is because you’re working with an expert independent third-party that brings integrity to data and benchmarks, and a confidential process employees trust.”

It’s not uncommon for skeptical employees to intentionally misidentify themselves as a way of protecting their anonymity. When survey data is amassed, a department’s number of employees may show fewer or more team members than the actual situation, effectively making data unreliable. Honesty is nebulous.

Credible data provides benchmarks about how your employee population perceives and responds to existing situations from a high-level organizational view, by department, division, geographic location or any combination therein.

Credible external benchmarks give you a clear sense of where your organization sits in comparison to like-minded, like-sized organizations.

Credible, correlated data serves as a roadmap to navigate change, pinpointing areas likeliest to enhance employee experience and bring about improvements.

In the case of Heart & Stroke, nation-wide unification was underway. Restructuring was being discussed, albeit from behind closed doors. Previously autonomous regional and community offices were having to work together. It was a big deal for employees. It was a big deal for management to find out how people were feeling about centralization. And above all else, it was a big deal to give employees a say in the way forward and to prove their voices were being heard.

Acting on findings is no easy feat, profit-driven or not.

The shoe-string budgets of not-for-profits makes action planning based on employee engagement survey results all the harder.

shoe string budget

It’s easy for board members and senior management to get caught up in the cause, to focus on stretching dollars and finding new revenue streams; neglecting employee engagement issues in the process.

Visionary leadership gets waylaid by other demands for attention.

Cost and time factors sideline professional growth and development opportunities.

Strategic directions take shape at the board level but communication never quite cascades all the way through to the frontlines.

While it’s true that being cause-driven and offering employees meaningful work is a definite advantage for charities, whether profit driven or not, all organizations engage employees best by engaging them in decisions and directions that affect the success of their workplaces and by extension their own personal and professional lives. It’s tapping into that deep, rich employee commitment that makes a world of difference, literally and figuratively.

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