Scrum Can Help Nonprofits Retain Employees

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Nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in meeting the complex and ever-changing needs of our communities despite their often-limited resources. Several recent surveys of the nonprofit sector highlight that a “more with less” approach is demotivating the underpaid workforce resulting in an influx of staffing and retention problems.

  • The 2020 HR Practices Survey stated that, “62% of the Nonprofits surveyed were having difficulty keeping their organizations staffed. Additionally, 22% indicated that employee engagement, motivation, and retention is a major HR issue that needs to be addressed.”[i]
  • The Nonprofit HR Survey stated that “45% of responding nonprofit employees indicated that they will seek new or different employment in the next five years. Of that group, the top reason cited was that the organizations do not pay enough.” [ii]

A recent study conducted by the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University offers some hope of other strategies that Nonprofits can take to retain employees beyond increasing salaries.[iii] “Nonprofit employees’ intentions to quit can be reduced when their intrinsic motivation levels are improved.” Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in a behavior because it is personally rewarding; essentially, performing an activity for its own sake rather than the desire for some external reward.[iv]

Implementing an Agile framework, such as Scrum, in a nonprofit setting can help to intrinsically motivate the workforce, boost team morale, align employees around high-value work, and empower team members. Scrum is derived from the theory that knowledge comes from experience, also known as Empiricism. An empirical process involves making the best decisions possible with the information that is available today.

In order to implement an empirical process, nonprofits need a working environment that fosters transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Team members make their work visible, look for opportunities to improve the flow of work, and adapt new ways of working that translate into value for the organization. Working in this manner increases the level of trust, gives employees a chance to be heard, and empowers them to be part of the solution. Scrum makes progress towards goals more visible, connecting employees with the bigger picture and providing them with a sense that even the most mundane activities are contributing to something valuable and meaningful within the nonprofit community. Small cross-functional teams help the organization eliminate communication pathways, better organize the flow of work, and create a fun working environment.

Scrum can help nonprofits improve employee retention by:

  • Increasing intrinsic motivation
  • Establishing and maintaining a sustainable pace
  • Prioritizing high-value work that is important to the nonprofit
  • Providing heightened mission alignment
  • Creating a greater sense of personal ownership
  • Empowering teams to come up with creative and innovative ways to remove waste, improve processes, and automate

One of the best ways to get started with implementing Scrum at your nonprofit is to read the Scrum Guide and walk through our Scrum in Nonprofits checklist which is available on our resources page.



[i] NONPROFITS LOSING TALENT TO OTHER SECTORS. (2020, February 12). Retrieved from

[ii] Strub, C. (2020, February 10). 45% Of Nonprofit Employees To Seek New Jobs By 2025: Report. Retrieved from

[iii] Renard, M., & Snelgar, R. J. (2017). Can non-profit employees’ internal desires to work be quantified? Validating the Intrinsic Work Motivation Scale. South African Journal of Psychology48(1), 48–60. doi: 10.1177/0081246317704125

[iv] Lee W, Reeve J, Xue Y, Xiong J. Neural differences between intrinsic reasons for doing versus extrinsic reasons for doing: an fMRI study. Neurosci Res. 2012;73(1):68-72