hierarchy of needs

Everyone's got needs

I know you. You’ve got expectations. You’ve got wants. You’ve got needs. Don’t we all? With a liberal arts education, I think I heard about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs no fewer than 15 times a semester during my undergraduate program. You’ve probably seen it, too: hierarchy

A needs theory you may not be familiar with, though, is David McClelland’s theory of needs that puts things into a managerial context. His theory consists of the need for achievement, affiliation and power. I learned of this theory a few weeks ago, and find it to be an important and relevant concept to apply when motivating employees in a nonprofit organization.

As I’ve talked quite a bit about in this blog, employees in nonprofits tend to be motivated by much, much more than a paycheck. They tend to be very invested in the advancing the mission of the organization and motivated by the sense of fulfillment they receive when they know they’re supporting a cause they believe in. But a good manager doesn’t leave it at that.

McClelland, who was a psychologist that published his theory in the ‘60s, believed those who are motivated by a need for achievement are great with tasks. They like being able to check things off their list, and feedback on those tasks is extremely important to them. Others have a need for affiliation; they care a lot about social interaction. They want to be accepted by a group and like to collaborate. Finally, there are those who have a need for power. That sounds kind of sinister, doesn’t it? It’s not, I promise. These folks want to influence, teach or encourage others. Their status does matter to them, and they work well in competitive environments.

These are easy-to-understand categories, and it’s a pretty simplistic way at looking at what motivates your employees. But I think it works. If you couple an understanding of these motivations with an employee’s intrinsic investment in your nonprofit organization, you should be able to motivate your staff in ways that they can relate to. So, yes, your staff may be needy, but when their needs are so easy to meet, can you really afford to ignore them?