Supervisory Support, Job Satisfaction, and Leadership development in Non-Profit Organizations.

AuthorAnderson, Matthew

"Non-profits" has become shorthand for organizations trying to do good in the world. Indeed, non-profit organizations, as their name suggests, do not attempt to make money, but instead provide services they deem important to society, and can include political organizations, schools, churches, social clubs, and charitable organizations. Non-profit organizations frequently seek formal government recognition of their as status, as in many countries (including the U.S. and Canada) such a status makes the money they raise tax exempt and donations to their organization can be tax deductible. When a non-profit does not share the same vision of public good as the larger population, their status can be called into question, such as is the case with the National Rifle Association. This paper, however, will focus on the large portion of non-profits that are charitable organizations, delivering human/social services, usually driven by mission statements, and centered on services to vulnerable populations such as providing meals, shelter, educational services, children and youth services, employment/financial services, and Human Emergency services to vulnerable populations in need. These organizations all have one thing in common, in that none of the organization's net earnings go to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual hence the term, "non-profit" is the universally accepted name and description for such organizations. (1) Nonprofit organizations make use of volunteer staff and services, yet the focus of this paper is job satisfaction, and retention as it correlates to supervisory relationships among paid staff members. These non-profits are 501(c)(3) organizations commonly known as "true nonprofits" by those who work in the industry. A 501(c)(3) is a charitable organization that receives IRS tax exemption status. 501(c)(3) charities are the most popular type of nonprofit. There are more than 1.5 million registered 501 (c)(3) organizations in the United States and they are funded primarily through charitable donations and government grants. Examples of these organizations include churches, public charities, educational organizations, scientific and literary organizations, child welfare organizations, organizations fighting homelessness, and public testing organizations. Some well known 501(c)(3) organizations include the American Cancer Society, United Way, Catholic Charities USA, ASPCA, and the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.

Middle managers in non-profit organizations work directly with frontline staff that do the work associated with the vision and mission. Frontline staff are usually responsible for doing the work associated with organizations achieving their goals and objectives. In human/social service non-profits like child welfare agencies and organizations delivering services for homeless individuals and families, middle management supervisors of frontline staff have an inordinate amount of influence on the overall perceptions that frontline employees have of the work they were hired to do, as well as influencing employee perceptions on how the organization treats and values employees.

Supervisory leadership attracts research attention relative to its impact on job satisfaction, and "supervisory support" has been found to influence employee job satisfaction throughout a number industries. (2) An examination of the non-profit industry demonstrates that non-profit organizations, particularly "human service/social service" non-profit organizations in metropolitan areas with high levels of poverty servicing individuals at the community level, and who are in close proximity to the populations they serve, face a human capital crisis characterized by high turnover, low performance, and leadership deficits making the need for an emphasis to be placed on increasing and maintaining optimal levels of job satisfaction. According to, non-profit organizations have a voluntary turnover rate of 19 percent out pacing the all industry average of 12 percent. This retention problem has been known for years. According to the 2017 Non-profit Employment Practices Survey, 81 percent of nonprofits did not have a formal retention policy, ultimately decreasing efficiency as recruitment was not optimized, monetarily and temporally, resulting in high turnover rates.

The 2018 Nonprofit Finance Fund State of Non-profit Sector Survey found that 86 percent of the organizations participating in the study reported increased demand for their services, with over half reporting a lack of labor and ultimately, lead to nonprofits overworking employees, thereby perpetuating the industry's reputation of over working and under paying employees. The Evans School of Public Policy and Governance in November 2020 reported that factoring in the impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic, funding for non-profits was down 30 percent and volunteerism was down 30-50 percent, with revenue losses expected to continue trending for some time to come. This reduction in funding negatively impacts the ability of non-profits to offer competitive salaries, hindering their ability to recruit and retain qualified employees. (3) Nonprofits have higher voluntary turnover rates while overall turnover rates on par with business organizations in the for profit sector, yet community based non-profits earn poor employment reputations that make the non-profit retention issues seem more pronounced. (4) Non-profits are not accustomed to evaluating their own performance metrics, are accustomed to working with too few staff doing too many jobs, lack solid recruitment and training plans, and compensate front line staff at low rates of pay. (5)

Considering these issues these organizations have with retention, performance and leadership deficits, the purpose of this paper is to explore past literature with regards to job satisfaction and supervisory support, and additionally analyze the literature to make recommendations to nonprofit leadership. Non-profit organizations make use of volunteer staff and services; however the focus of this paper is job satisfaction, and retention in correlation to the supervisory relationship of paid staff members.


The literature review is the key ingredient to this research analysis. Identifying relevant studies was a systemic process. To capture as many studies that were relevant to this analysis, Ebscohost and Proquest search engines were consulted with the following key words setting the parameters: Job Satisfaction, Abusive Supervision, Supervisory Support, Organizational Citizenship Behavior, Social Exchange Theory, and Transformational Leadership. Articles selected on abusive supervision did not analyze studies exclusively in non-profit context, yet these were deemed relevant and served the purpose of helping to define and describe abusive supervisory...

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