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When I Grow Up I Want to Be Happy:

Job Satisfaction in the Nonprofit Sector

Marissa I. Missan

University of Delaware

When I Grow Up I Want to Be Happy:

Job Satisfaction in the Nonprofit Sector


A unique component of nonprofit work, commonly referred to as the “double

bottom line,” highlights the equal importance of income and mission to a nonprofit

organization. This is relevant to the individual worker, not only the organization overall.

The core of nonprofits is different than that of the private sector. It is multi-faceted. Where

the private sector works for monetary profit, the nonprofit sector seeks to address a cause

through the acquisition of money. Studies have shown that this key difference speaks to the

motives of nonprofit workers and contributes to increased job satisfaction.

According to Roeger, Blackwood, and Pettijohn, the nonprofit sector employees

10% of the nation’s workforce (Lee, 2015, p. 295). Employing one in every ten workers in

the nation, the sector is intertwined into society’s economic and social construction, the

sector addresses a vast array of important national concerns. In Handy and Katz’ study (as

cited in Lee, 2015, p. 301), it has been identified that the nonprofit sector’s salary is

demonstrably lower than those of the public and private sectors. Although this may

initially be concerning, for Pritchard, Dunnette, and Gorgenson established that those who

feel underpaid are less satisfied with their work (Lee, 2015, p. 301), motivations of

nonprofit workers tend to lead to higher job satisfaction levels than their private sector

counterparts. “Brandel (2001) states that the nature of nonprofit organizations places an

expectation on employees to work for the mission, not for monetary compensation” (Lee,

2015, p. 301). The nonprofit sector is unique in its emphasis on mission, and the

motivation and satisfaction of employees are affected as a result.

Job Satisfaction and It’s Relevance

Job satisfaction is influential to the individual and organization. According to

Locke (as cited in Lee, 2015, p. 296), job satisfaction is the “‘positive emotional state

resulting from the appraisal of one’s job.’” This definition explains the influence of one’s

work on job satisfaction. Additionally, Williamson and Anderson (as cited in Lee, 2015, p.

296) found that feelings of job satisfaction have “behavioral consequences, including

increased employees’ commitment to organization, organizational citizenship, retention,

and performance,” implying that the reverse relationship is also applicable. Job satisfaction

is influenced by and affects one’s work, making it relevant for employers and employees

when making decisions.

A key reason to focus on job satisfaction as an employee and employer is its

connection to job commitment and performance. “High turnover rates have a negative

impact on nonprofit organizations’ productivity. Therefore, reducing turnover and

improving performance through increasing employee job satisfaction is a critical

management task” (Lee, 2015, p. 296). A lower turnover rate saves time, money, and

energy recruiting and training workers in an organization.

Focusing on job satisfaction can decrease turnover rates, for “satisfaction and

commitment are positively related to each other” (Brown & Yoshioka, 2013, p. 8).

According to Mowday, Steets, and Porter (as cited in Joo and Lim, 2009, p. 48),

“Organizational commitment refers to an individual’s feelings about the organization as a

whole. It is the psychological bond that an employee has with an organization and has been

found to be related to goal and value congruence, behavioral investments in the

organization, and likelihood to stay with the organization.” These reasons identify why

organizational commitment is important for the nonprofit sector. Additionally, because

“Nonprofit organizations rely on the mission to attract resources and guide decision

making,” it is important to recruit and maintain employees that deeply believe in the

organization’s mission and goals in order to increase organizational commitment, job

satisfaction and productivity (Brown & Yoshioka, 2013, p. 5). Furthermore, Asforth and

Mael’s study (as cited in Lee, 2015, p. 289) explains that “an employee’s pride in the

organization positively affects organizational identification and, therefore, strengthens their

feelings of self-worth, which in turn, increases the level of job satisfaction” (Lee, 2015, p.

298). For this reason, when organizations and employees have shared values, both job

satisfaction and productivity are increased. Recognizing and nurturing this relationship will

lead to a better organizational fit and satisfied employee.


Based on the concept of job satisfaction and its impact on job productivity, it is

clear that a focus on value alignment can improve the workplace, helping a nonprofit

address its goals. “The congruence between an organization’s ethical values and the values

deemed appropriate by its employees affects their job satisfaction” (Lee, 2015, p. 299).

Therefore, an organization must clearly identify and promote its values. On the other hand,

those seeking employment must compare their personal values with the nonprofits to

which they apply, because “employees’ job satisfaction has a […] positive association to

their perception of congruence with organizational values (Brown & Yoshioka, 2013, p. 7).

Organization and individual values are deeply related to job fit and organizational success.

Therefore, a nonprofit will have better resources and advocates if its values align with

those of its employees.

Unlike the expectation of high monetary compensation for work in the private

sector, values seem to play an arguably larger role in the nonprofit sector regarding job

satisfaction. Instead, “the nature of non-profit production requires employees who are

motivated more by the desire to produce a quality product than by monetary rewards”

Benz, 2005, p. 157). Therefore, nonprofit employees need to be motivated by factors

besides money. “The result of higher worker well-being in non-profit firms cannot be

attributed to differences in monetary compensation or fringe benefits” (Benz, 2005, p.

157). Therefore, the high satisfaction of nonprofit employees is not credited to financial

benefits. “Nonprofit employees were more likely to say that they come to work in the

morning because they love their jobs and want to help people, and much less likely to say

they come to work for the paycheck, security, or benefits” (Brookings, 2016). As this

Brookings survey demonstrates, the emphasis on helping others is a higher motivator than

income for many nonprofit workers. Based on the current research relating value

identification to job satisfaction, it can be hypothesized that this “higher worker well-

being” can be attributed to this alignment of organizational and individual values.

The nonprofit sector’s environment contributes to its high levels of employee

satisfaction. “People working in non-profit firms seem to be motivated by more than just

monetary concerns, and they specifically value the working conditions offered by non-

profit firms, which results in a high job satisfaction” (Benz, 2005, p. 174). In Hackman and

Oldham’s study (as cited in Knapp, Smith, & Sprinkle, 2017, p. 654), autonomy, one of the

“five core job characteristics […] may lead to positive individual-level outcomes.”

Autonomy is a common benefit to working in the nonprofit sector, and is influential job

satisfaction “because workers have higher order needs for responsibility and

independence” (Knapp, Smith, & Sprinkle, 2017, p. 655). In other words, individuals are

fulfilled when they experience a sense of responsibility for their work choices. Lee and

Wilkins (cited in Lee, 2015, p. 301) found that an “individual’s desire for increased

responsibility and autonomy predicts nonprofit employment over government

employment.” This shows that, although both the nonprofit and public sector may share

many common values, the nonprofit sector has increased job satisfaction due to the levels

of autonomy that employees enjoy. It is so important that Onyx and Maclean (as cited in

Lee, 2015, p. 301) found nonprofit workers choosing the sector with the intent of having

independence in the workplace. It is a key component of the nonprofit environment that

nonprofit workers experience.

The emphasis on values is a key intrinsic motivator, which is better than extrinsic

motivation for employee satisfaction and commitment. According to Amabile, Intrinsic

motivation “‘arises from the individual’s positive reaction to qualities of the task itself; this

reaction can be experienced as interest, involvement, curiosity, satisfaction, or positive

challenge” (Joo and Lim, 2009, p. 52). This type of motivation is relevant to the inspiration

behind nonprofit employees and the work they do. Amabile and Kramer state (as cited in

Joo and Lim, 2009, p. 48) that “People are more productive and creative when they are

intrinsically motivated primarily by the passion, interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and

challenge of the work itself—not by external pressures or rewards.” This motivation, based

on values and the desire to help others, is key to understanding why people are more

satisfied in nonprofit work.

Nonprofit Satisfaction Levels

Overall, research demonstrates that job satisfaction is highest in the nonprofit

sector. According to Benz’ study, “non‐profit workers [are] generally more satisfied with

their jobs than for‐profit workers (2005, p. 176). This can be attributed to the nature of

nonprofit work to be driven by values. Benz’s study (Appendix A) states that, “People who

experience both for-profit and non-profit employment are on average more satisfied with

their jobs when they are working for a non-profit firm than when they are employed in a

for-profit firm” (2005, p. 168). This comparison is extremely relevant, for it assess those

with experience in both sectors. The results promisingly support the idea that job

satisfaction is higher in the nonprofit sector.

This result has proven to be consistent for both male and female employees. “Both

men and women enjoy higher utility from work in non-profit firms than their counterparts

in for-profit firms,” meaning this fulfilment is applicable to both genders (Benz, 2005, p.

166). This satisfaction can be attributed to the “Motivational uniqueness of nonprofit

employees” (Lee, 2015, p. 296). Accessing studies regarding job satisfaction and

motivation result in the understanding that nonprofit employees are more satisfied with

their work because of the sector’s values and framework.

Sector Comparisons

To fully understand the uniqueness of the nonprofit sector, it is important to

compare it to the alternatives. Brookings has compared the nonprofit sector to the private

and public sectors (Appendix B). Nonprofit employees have the highest percentage of

people that feel they “are given a chance to do the things that they do best” (Brookings,

2016). This aligns with the research that nonprofit workers have a high sense of autonomy.

Additionally, nonprofit employees have the highest percentage of people that “are very

satisfied with the opportunity To accomplish something worthwhile,” “are very satisfied

with their jobs overall,” “joined their organization for the for the chance to make a

difference, rather than for the salary and benefits,” “Strongly disagree that their work is

boring,” and “trust their organizations to do the right things just about always” (Brookings

2016). These all indicate a sense of connection to the mission and methods of nonprofit

workers to their organization. This survey also showed that a lower percentage of nonprofit

workers “Cite their paycheck as the reason they come to work” (Brookings, 2016). In

short, nonprofit workers prove to find the highest levels of job satisfaction from work

compared to the private and public sectors.


Those seeking work in the nonprofit field must determine if their values align with

those of the sector and the organization. Nonprofit work is broad and addresses seemingly

countless national issues. When choosing an organization, one must not only consider the

mission of the organization, but also the moral foundation considered when attempting to

reach its goals. Despite a generally lower income than for-profit counterparts, nonprofit

employees enjoy high levels of job satisfaction because of the work they do.

Employers in nonprofit fields must consider organizational fit of potential

employees. Hiring and training would ultimately be a waste of time, money, and energy if

the employee is dissatisfied and leaves the organization. For this reason, when

interviewing candidates for a position, values must be considered. Additionally,

organizations should be upfront about their core principles. Instead of accepting available

help, an organization must insist on hiring employees that support and would further the

mission and ideals of the nonprofit.

The influence of job satisfaction on organizational commitment proves there is a

need for values to be emphasized. Nonprofit organizations and their employees can attract

support by using resources that contribute to and align with the overall purpose of the

organization. Nonprofit work proves to be fulfilling and meaningful, and its employment is

uniquely motivated by intrinsic factors that contribute to their own success, as well as the

organization and sector they work within.



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Appendix A

Appendix B