December 12, 2012

Foundation Employees Want to Feel Their Work Matters, Survey Finds

Foundation jobs are often viewed as the most-desirable positions in the nonprofit world, but a new study finds they do not guarantee happiness.

Employees at the nation's grant makers rated their job satisfaction an average of 5.3 out of 7, according to a study based on a survey of more than 1,000 people conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

Employees are far more likely to express satisfaction with their jobs if they feel they are respected, their ideas are valued, and they can use their skills and creativity to make a positive difference, according to the study. Those factors were more important than pay or workload, the study says.

To encourage a feeling of "empowerment" among employees, the study recommends, foundation leaders should clearly communicate goals, conduct employee reviews that are fair and helpful, and give workers the sense that they are valued.

While that advice may sound obvious, says Ellie Buteau, vice president for research at the Center for Effective Philanthropy, "our data supports that it's not easy for staff to feel empowered. It happens through concerted effort on the part of leadership."

Foundation leaders would be wise to make that effort, she says, in part because of the link between employee happiness and job performance.

"It's of interest to everyone that foundation staff are doing the best they can do," she says. "Given that foundation staff are working on such important issues, foundation job satisfaction, I think, should matter greatly."

In addition to an analysis of the survey, the study, "Employee Empowerment: The Key to Foundation Staff Satisfaction," profiles two organizations—the Commonwealth Fund and the Skillman Foundation—that have achieved high levels of employee satisfaction.