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Tips for Retaining Talent at your Organization

When you make a great hire, your next task is figuring out how to keep them at your organization. A high-performing addition can bring new energy to your team and help take work to the next level. But retaining your top people can be a challenge, with an employee’s average tenure declining and changing growth opportunities and needs. We explore common missteps that can lead to your people seeking work elsewhere as well as best practices for keeping your top talent satisfied.

As Idealist is best known as a job board, it may seem counterintuitive for us to wade into the waters of talent retention, but our larger goal is supporting nonprofits — and we see retaining high-performing staff as a key part of that. Additionally, given how hard it is to find the right people for the right positions, growing talent at your organization can help you promote from within (while continuing to use Idealist for all your other hiring needs, of course!).

So, let’s dig in:

Keeping talent starts with engagement.

It’s critical that your employees are invested in the mission of your organization and are recognized for the work they do to contribute to it. This is especially important to name when your top performing folks are going above and beyond. Check-in meetings are regular opportunities to share praise, highlight particularly strong work and talk about professional development. To bolster engagement with the organization’s mission, make sure there are also opportunities for your staff to hear about new initiatives or priorities.

Take “pulse checks” throughout the year to see how your people are feeling.

Another benefit of regular check-in meetings is the ability to ask questions about how your people are feeling at work and about the work they do. In addition to reviewing the tasks and progress for the week, solicit their feedback on their overall experience and screen for any red flags related to dissatisfaction or lagging engagement. Some simple questions that may provide informative responses include: “How has this last quarter felt for you?” “Has the work felt challenging?” “What were the projects that you felt most aligned to your strengths and why?”

Set goals that are measurable and explicitly link to larger organizational priorities.

Setting goals is an important way to prioritize work and set a big picture vision for your people and their roles. Writing goals that are measurable also supports engagement as your staff will be able to identify specific accomplishments, like bringing on three additional funders or increasing the number of applications by 20%. Make sure individual goals are connected to the overall aims of the organization to help illustrate how their contributions support the larger mission.

Support and scaffold growth. Just because there is potential doesn’t mean things transfer automatically.

Identifying specific abilities or skill gaps with your people can help you think about what is needed for them to take on new work or a larger role. Set your high performers up for success with clear onboarding plans and chances to ask questions to ensure they can take full advantage of opportunities and avoid feeling overwhelmed or lost.

Don’t assume your employee’s aspirations.

Supporting professional growth is a balance of responding to the needs of your organization as well as the needs of your people. When opportunities come along it’s important to know what your high performers desire for their own career growth. Just because it’s a promotion doesn’t necessarily mean it aligns with the next steps they have in mind for themselves. Take the time to hear about what your people hope to gain from their current role and what kinds of things they would like to be in a position to do in the next three to five years to help you determine where there might be development opportunities for them.


We hope these pointers provide some guidance and provoke your thinking about those you work with and, in particular, those you are really hoping to develop and keep at your organization. What have you found that works in retaining top performers? What hasn’t worked? Let us know at

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