Motivating Staff Beyond Money

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
~Winston Churchill

Your organization’s strength lies not just in the mission, but in those who support and promote your goals. How do you ensure that they don’t burn out, and keep them motivated and committed to the mission? How do you inspire staff when it comes to a large project that means extra work is involved, for example, when preparing for an accreditation review or launching a major fundraising endeavor?

To work for a nonprofit is a choice borne from something other than the pursuit of financial compensation. The hours can be long, with no tangible overtime bonus, yet the dedication and commitment must be recognized somehow—even with a limited budget.

A first step is understanding your employees and what motivates them. Certain individuals crave public acknowledgment while others prefer more “behind the scenes” rewards. The following are a few ideas that can work to motivate your team:


Oftentimes all that is needed is the sense of job purposefulness and a certain sense of autonomy. By allowing staff to showcase their unique strengths and apply them to your organization’s mission, any success is twofold—personal and team-wide.


The simple act of praising achievement can be enough to keep staff feeling engaged and useful. Recognition from leadership and team members should not be dismissed as trivial. When people are giving their all, any kind of reward or praise goes a long way.


Creating an atmosphere of collaboration where everyone feels they have a vital role in your mission is crucial. When there is an active exchange of ideas, with leaders welcoming input, the successes are the reward. When goals are achieved or a milestone is reached, make sure that everyone is included—that each contribution is noted.

Work to One’s Strengths and Interests

Leadership must be cognizant of the stresses and be creative in how to keep morale high. Staff that is focused on the mission, and is given the freedom and support to play to their strengths—allowing the artist to help with design; the numbers-oriented to work on budget; the writer to help with copy—will go a long way to job satisfaction. Keep in mind that a person’s strengths and interests may align with a project that is outside of their daily work activities. Don’t be afraid to let people to color outside of the lines.

Leadership Opportunities and Connecting with Others

When it comes to organization-wide projects, such as preparing for national accreditation, there is a terrific opportunity to create cross-functional teams. One example might be the creation of a new performance improvement team where people from different departments and different levels of the agency come together to review data points and brainstorm ideas for improvement. You may have a front-line staff member on the same committee as a director from another department. This can be a great opportunity for the staff member to showcase his/her talents and be in front of leaders whom they may normally never come into contact with. There is also the opportunity for work skills development and potential leadership opportunities in the future.


Keeping your team engaged without financial incentive isn’t difficult, in fact, as budget constraints are usually known from the start, the expectation isn’t there. What will set you apart, however, is how you build your staff up to believe that they are vital to your mission.

Do you have other ideas on how to motivate staff beyond financial rewards? We’d love to hear them, so please comment below.

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