Cheap and Cheerful

20 ideas for employee engagement activities, that are free or nearly free

Employee engagement is a tricky thing. Ultimately it comes down to culture, and building a great culture can be quite an investment, making it hard for organizations with limited budgets, like nonprofits, to prioritize when every penny is scrutinized. 

But here’s the good news. Although you can’t create a leading culture with foosball tables and cookies in the kitchen, you can sustain an already good culture with a bit of fun, creativity, and very little budget.

The most effective thing you can do to help your people feel connected to your organization, is to help them understand how what they do contributes to your purpose. Communication is a great way to do this, and the best part is, communicating is free!

But work doesn’t have to be all business, and we’ve got some fun suggestions to help your people connect with each other, and feel valued by the organization they work so hard for. We’ve already road tested most of these and they’ve had great responses. And best of all? They’re free, or almost free.

Twenty (yes, TWENTY!) great ideas to make your nonprofit’s culture zing: 

  1. Take employees to see the impact of their work: For example, if you’re an environmental charity, you could go and visit a windfarm, or if you serve the city’s homeless, you could visit a shelter. Many nonprofit staff don’t work on the frontlines and it’s genuinely rewarding for them to see how they contribute.

  2. Make storytelling a feature of your internal comms, profiling your organization’s successes, the personal stories of those you support, and interviews with employees who have something inspiring to share.

  3. Hold a pot luck lunch once a month.

  4. Start a lunchtime walking or running club.

  5. Recognize the diversity of your employees by marking special occasions such as Eid, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and so on. You could add a feature to your intranet homepage, or even host events with dedicated cuisine, speakers and festivities.


  6. Start a choir or glee club who can sing at special events. 

  7. Organize a tree planting day.

  8. Create an ‘inspiration wall’ by giving out coloured paper or sticky notes and asking employees to write what they love about working for your organization. 

  9. Have the CEO send employees an email when they have achieved something notable.

  10. Create a lending library in a common area and encourage staff to bring in books or gently used magazines to share.

  11. Hold an art competition.

  12. Ask employees who have special skills or talents to share them during ‘lunch and learn’ sessions: for example, an accountant could share tips for managing personal finances, a psychologist could talk about parenting teens, or an amateur athlete could give advice about staying fit over winter.

  13. Create downloadable certificates that managers can use to recognize employees’ special achievements.

  14. Hold a ‘bring your dog to work’ day.

  15. Create a birthday roster to buy or bake cakes for team members’ birthdays.

  16. Invite outside guest speakers to address employees at special town halls: for example people from the corporate world or other nonprofits to share their experiences and insights.

  17. Hold dress up days for fun occasions.

  18. Hold a human scavenger hunt by gathering a series of little-known facts about the organization and its employees, then giving people a set amount of time to ‘find’ as many of the facts as they can. This could be held at an event, or even over the course of a week or month. Questions could include things like, “find someone who has been sky diving”, “how many people did our organization serve last year”, etc. 

  19. Hold an end-of-year event where the employees are the stars: invite people with special talents to perform. You could even ask donors and corporate partners to attend.

  20. Hold a sustainability competition: ask employees to contribute ideas for how the organization can be greener, and save money at the same time.