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50 Best Nonprofits To Work For In 2012

By Don McNamara - April 2, 2012

Darlene Kiyan, executive director of Playworks Los Angeles, believes she knows what doesn’t attract would-be employees.

“They don’t come here for the pay or the benefits,” said Kiyan, whose organization was number 14 in the Small Organizations category and 33 overall in The NonProfit Times’ 50 Best Nonprofits to Work For in 2012. It’s all about mission.

For the second year in a row, Wounded Warrior Project was selected the best nonprofit for which to work, as well as being at the top of the Medium Organization list.

This is the third annual NPT best places to work survey. Most 501(c)(3) organizations can apply to be considered. For example, management support organizations were not eligible to participate. Emails were sent to subscribers to The NonProfit Times’ print and electronic editions. Announcements were also placed in The NonProfit Times inviting organizations to compete. Best Companies Group of Harrisburg, Pa., conducted the interviews and compiled the score sheets. Those with the overall best scores made the Top 50. Those winners were then subdivided into three categories, small, medium and large.

So if potential employees are not anywhere near a salary level that would put them in America’s famed 1 percent, what draws employees to nonprofit organizations and, more important, what keeps them so happy?

That isn’t really much of a surprise.

“I got to thinking, and in particular we see a high level of engagement from employees of nonprofits” compared to other industries, said Susan Springer, director of workplace assessments for Best Companies Group. “This particular group (nonprofit employees) is very dedicated to the mission: helping people, making a difference, whether locally, nationally or internationally. There’s something that’s intrinsically satisfying about it.”

As in previous years, the 2012 survey included a questionnaire sent to employers to glean information about policies and practices, followed by an employee survey that consisted of approximately 72 statements to which employees responded using a five-point agreement scale. Statements/responses were broken down into subject headings, such as Leadership and Planning, Corporate Culture and Communications, Role Satisfaction, Work Environment, Relationship with Supervisor, Training and Development, Pay and Benefits, and Overall Employee Engagement.

Regarding questions included under Leadership and Planning, 92 percent of all Small Organization survey participants had positive responses, compared to 93 percent of those that made the Top 50. In the Medium Organization category, 85 percent of all respondents gave positive responses, compared to 88 percent of Top 50 winners. In the Large Organization category, 81 percent of all respondents gave positive responses, compared to 85 percent of the eventual Top 50 respondents. Regardless of size, 84 percent of respondents gave positive reactions under Leadership and Planning, compared to 87 percent for organizations making the top 50. One statement under this heading, for example, was “I understand the long-term strategy of this organization.”

Under Corporate Culture and Communications, 83 percent of all respondents gave positive responses, compared to 87 percent of organizations in the Top 50. This category included the statement: “Changes that may affect me are communicated to me prior to implementation.” Under Role Satisfaction, 87 percent of all responding organizations gave positive responses, compared to 89 percent for organizations in the Top 50. This category included the statement: “I like the type of work that I do.”

Under Work Environment, 91 percent of all respondents gave positive responses, compared to 92 percent of organizations in the Top 50. This category included the statement “I feel physically safe in my work environment.”

Under Relationship with Supervisor, 88 percent of all respondents gave positive responses, compared to 92 percent of organizations in the Top 50. An example of a statement from this category is: “My supervisor treats me fairly.”

Under Training and Development, 73 percent of all respondents gave positive responses, compared to 76 percent in the Top 50. This category included questions such as: “I trust that if I do good work, my company may consider me for a promotion.”

Under Pay and Benefits, 80 percent of all respondents gave positive responses, and 83 percent of organizations in the Top 50 gave positive responses. A typical question in the category is: “My pay is fair for the work I perform.”

Under Overall Employee Engagement, 88 percent of all respondents and 91 percent of organizations in the Top 50 gave positive responses. This category included the statement: “I am willing to give extra effort to help my company succeed.”

Altogether, 84 percent of all the organizations that participated had positive responses to the statements, compared to 87 percent of the organizations that made the Top 50 list.

There were also two open-ended questions. “The open-ended questions are meant to give us more insight into the numbers,” Springer said. “We’re just looking to see if they validate those scores and see if there was any funny business going on. So if the numerical surveys indicated satisfaction with, just for example, the 401(k) plan but the open-ended questions indicated something different, we would look further into that.”

But, it isn’t a 401(k) that inspires non­profit employees. “The mission is amazing, bringing play to inner-city schools, as well as conflict resolution and leadership, and for me that’s extraordinary, the difference we make on a daily basis,” said Kiyan. “That really resonates with our staff, seeing the impact they make every day.”

According to Steven Nardizzi, executive director of Wounded Warrior Project in Jacksonville, Fla., which led the overall survey and the Medium Size Organization category for the second straight year, “It’s the culture here: mission, then values.”

Nardizzi said that being selected Number One last year was a source of joy as well as satisfaction for the organization. “It really validated what we’re doing,” he said. Validation is encouraging, but once again it goes back to the source. “We have staff on board who are committed to what we’re doing,” Nardizzi said. “We make a huge effort to keep employees across the organization engaged in the mission.”

Still, Springer said, employees are not going to be completely happy if their efforts are not appreciated.

“Employers on this list have been very much active with having employees in the forefront of the focus of their operations,” Springer said. “Even with budget cuts and the bad economy, they still have that employee focus on less tangible things. They see value in taking the extra time, the extra step, to say they really appreciate what their employees are doing.” NPT


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