This guide explores proven ways to retain association staff members.

How to Retain Your Association’s Staff: 4 Best Practices

Your association’s staff facilitates your programs, ensures members continue their engagement, and manages all day-to-day operations. Just like you aim to create a positive member experience, you should also cultivate a positive work environment for your staff. Doing so will help you retain top staff members, reducing turnover and maintaining consistent operations. 

Retention is impacted by numerous factors, including compensation, professional satisfaction, and work culture. Associations interested in taking an active approach to improving retention should consider starting an employee engagement program. These programs aim to retain staff by identifying their top concerns, implementing structured paths for improvement, and regularly checking in with employees to verify their success. 

To help your association improve staff retention, this guide will explore three best practices you can incorporate into your employee engagement program. 

1. Show your appreciation. 

Your staff works hard, and a simple “thank-you” can go a long way toward making them feel like an integral part of your organization. Of course, you can improve retention by expanding your efforts to ensure your staff feels valued and appreciated. 

While verbal and public appreciation can be meaningful for many employees, consider incorporating more tangible benefits into your association’s employee appreciation strategy. For example, eCardWidget’s guide to recognition awards suggests a few bonuses that associations could give top employees:

  • Physical awards. Certificates, plaques, and trophies are tangible representations of all that your staff has done for your association. Design physical awards for specific achievements, such as a plaque for a work anniversary; or create an award that’s regularly handed to different employees, like an employee of the month trophy. 
  • Perks. Little perks like branded merchandise add up to create a more positive, appreciative work environment. These perks can be given individually or along with another award. For example, the staff member who receives employee of the month might also get access to a VIP parking spot.
  • Time-off. Appreciation awards can take the form of compensation, such as extra time off. Give employees an extra day off, allow them to work a half day, or double their lunchtime. 
  • Celebration lunch. If you want to appreciate multiple employees at once, a celebration lunch provides an effective way to bring your staff together to socialize with one another and be honored all at once. 

Outside of leadership appreciating staff, consider also implementing a peer-to-peer recognition program. This could take the form of a bulletin board where employees leave positive comments, direct emails where leadership is CC’d, or opportunities for employees to present awards from leadership to each other. Doing so can create a culture of appreciation and allow employees to be recognized for day-to-day accomplishments leadership may not always notice. 

2. Offer paths for growth. 

Employees appreciate careers that allow them to grow and advance. Often, employees will change jobs if they feel a position at a different organization offers clear paths for advancement. Ensure your association provides opportunities for growth by following these strategies:

  • Meet with staff about their growth and development. Ensure your association’s staff are aware of advancement opportunities that align with their career path. Talking with staff members individually during performance reviews or check-ins demonstrates that you’re taking each employee’s career growth seriously. Additionally, you may discover that staff members want to grow in different ways, allowing you to guide them individually in a direction that fits their professional goals. 
  • Provide training opportunities. Your association likely offers online courses to help members advance their careers. Provide your staff with the same opportunities. This could be free access to your association’s courses or giving them designated time during the work day to complete external training courses. 
  • Allow employees to share ideas and feedback. Let your staff influence not just their own career paths, but the direction of your association as a whole. Regularly surveying your staff to gather feedback can provide valuable insights into how your association could improve, while also ensuring staff feel heard. 

As your staff begins following these paths to professional growth, ensure you have opportunities for them to demonstrate their skills. For example, if you have an employee interested in expanding their technical skills, you might give them a chance to partner with your technical team to complete a project for your website. This allows employees to showcase their growth and feel that their work to advance is paying off.  

3. Cultivate a positive work environment. 

How do your staff feel about coming to work every day? While the workplace may not be fun, it can be a rewarding environment that allows employees to focus, feel motivated, and know they’re supported. You can make your association’s work environment more positive by:

  • Providing and updating employee resources and tools. All of your staff should have the equipment and resources they need to complete their daily tasks. This might entail ensuring each team has enough members to manage their workload or updating your association management software if the organization has outgrown its current system.
  • Host engagement events. Give your staff an opportunity to get to know one another and build comradery outside of a work environment. These can be events hosted by leadership, such as an employee volunteer day, or you can let individual staff members plan and oversee engagement events. Letting staff take the lead can free up the time of executives, but be sure to set a few parameters, such as the event’s budget per person. 
  • Create a corporate philanthropy program. As mentioned, showing your commitment to giving makes staff feel motivated by their employer. One easy philanthropy program to implement is matching gifts. Double the Donation’s guide to starting a matching gift program outlines the core steps: set a budget and gift parameters, create an application form, inform employees about your program, and facilitate donations when employees give. 

When making changes to your work environment, consider how you can align your association’s values and work culture. Doing so will increase employees’ trust in your organization by showing you’re committed to your stated ideals. For example, an association that has a value of community would likely want to focus on programs that inspire collective action and collaboration rather than facilitating competition. 

4. Offer workplace giving opportunities.

Employees want to work for organizations that promote social good. In fact, a Forbes survey of 2,000 U.S. employees found that 76% of workers want to work for companies that positively impact the world.

Show your association’s staff your commitment to making a positive difference by offering workplace giving opportunities such as:

This image shows common types of workplace giving, which can be helpful for engaging and retaining your association's staff.
  • Matching gifts. As an association leader, you understand the importance of members’ donations. If it’s in your budget, offer to match employees’ donations to eligible nonprofits.
  • Volunteer opportunities. Either host team volunteer opportunities to support local charities or encourage individual volunteerism through volunteer grants.
  • Donation stipends. Provide employees with funds specifically for donating. Give your team a list of potential causes for employees to donate to or let them choose the nonprofit organization themselves. 
  • Paycheck deductions. Infuse charitable giving into your workplace’s culture with payroll deductions. Enabled by online payroll systems, your association’s employees can opt to have a portion of each paycheck go to a nonprofit of their choice.

Employee giving software can simplify these opportunities and make it easier for your association’s employees to participate. These giving platforms come equipped with tools for employee donations, matching gifts, volunteer management, fundraisers, and more.

No matter which programs you launch, offering workplace giving communicates that your association supports its employees’ philanthropic efforts. In turn, they’ll be more engaged at work, leading to higher productivity and retention rates.


Retaining your association’s staff year-to-year ensures your organization maintains a professional, skilled team who can provide a consistent experience for members. Persuade your staff to stick around by implementing an employee appreciation program, listening to their feedback, and striving to create a workplace where employees can succeed and thrive.