The Importance of finding ‘Purpose-oriented Workers’

The Importance of finding ‘Purpose-oriented Workers’

It’s essential for any organization, whether it be a Silicon Valley start-up or an environmental non-profit, to give their employees a sense of purpose in their work and their careers. It’s been proven through research, as well as common sense, that when employers embrace a clear purpose that’s connected to a greater need in our society, they tap into the potential of their workforce in measurable and meaningful ways.

When attracting and recruiting talent to your nonprofit, be aware that the best performers are the ones who are looking for this kind of purpose in their careers.


A few years ago, there was a widely shared TED talk called “The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong” given by a nonprofit activist named Dan Pallotta. His argument was that, in order for nonprofits to succeed in their goals and their vision, they should start paying their leadership and employees a lot more – like investment bank salaries.

His talk has had a huge effect on the thinking around economic incentives for charities. If we’re going to change the world, Pallotta says, we’re going to have to incentivize our activists like they’re executives climbing a corporate ladder. Only then will they fully commit to the mission and manifest success.

But his theory about increasing your nonprofit’s effectiveness through more compensation has been directly challenged through a study called the ‘Workforce Purpose Index.’

The Index, published by an organization called Imperative in collaboration with NYU, reveals some surprising facts about the nonprofit workforce.

One would assume that most people who work for nonprofits have sought out a job that will provide a sense of purpose. But Imperative’s surveys show that the majority of nonprofit workers are actually not driven by purpose – like workers in all fields, they’re mostly driven by a paycheck.

However, the nonprofit workers who are driven by purpose – who see their work as a means to serve and grow as a person – are by far the most effective employees. These ‘purpose-oriented workers’ score higher in all areas, including expected job tenure, job satisfaction, perceived contribution at work and leadership roles.

Your ‘purpose-oriented workers’ are better performers across the board. You need to identify them in the recruiting process, nurture them as employees and ensure that they are finding, and will continue to find, fulfillment in their work.

The study suggests that money alone won’t close the purpose gap. It also proves that you cannot assume that your employees, just because they’ve pursued a nonprofit career, are naturally driven by a sense of purpose. Most of them aren’t – which makes it more imperative that you start to hone in and support the ones who are.


When recruiting employees, make an effort to identify their ‘work orientation’. This is usually a personality trait, something that stays constant through a career. Learn what it means to be a ‘purpose-oriented worker’ and find examples of how they’ve shown this orientation in their lives and their previous positions. These are the workers who will be most effective in meeting your goals.

Within your organization, it’s imperative to build a culture where your employees will find meaning in their relationships at work. Make sure you encourage teamwork and a sense of social interaction, not isolation. This will reinforce a shared sense of purpose and fulfillment.

As a leader, ensure that your own sense of purpose is reflected in your actions and your policies. Take the time to listen to your employees and create opportunities for them to grow through their own initiatives. Your convictions will be reflected by employees who recognize and appreciate your commitment to the cause.


There’s been so much attention on the worker shortages during and after the pandemic. For a lot of people, this can be attributed to a ‘purpose deficit’. Workers, especially young people, are hungry for purpose in their jobs. They want an employer that fits their values and gives them opportunities for personal growth.

For nonprofits, this presents an incredible opportunity to step in and fill that purpose gap.