ICYMI: The 2016 Best Nonprofits To Work For

April 4, 2016       Mark Hrywna      

Beyond a good paycheck, a common thread among this year’s Best Nonprofits To Work For was employee appreciation. Sometimes that included a monetary prize or bonus. Some 44 organizations have a formal program to recognize staff.

Transition was also a key to success, if done correctly.

There was a significant reduction in force (RIF) at BoardSource three years ago, in addition to the departure of its chief executive officer. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that aims to strengthen nonprofit board leadership, has been working hard ever since on its organizational culture.

“We had a very short timeframe to get staff together. It was traumatizing, for staff that was kept, too. Creating a good working environment and culture was the number one priority for us,” said Marci Sunderland, vice president of human resources. Two-thirds of current staff members were with the organization before the 2013 reorganization.

“We created an internal task force that looked at where we were as an organization, where we wanted to be, and how we get there,” Sunderland said. They used an internal survey to get feedback from staff members and then hosted brown bag lunches to drill down deeper and eventually put together an organizational culture statement.

It must have worked because BoardSource was among the first-time organizations to grace The NonProfit Times’ Best Nonprofits To Work 2016. With 30 employees, BoardSource ranked 12th among 18 nonprofits in the small category and 23rd out of 50 overall. 

“One of the things we were aiming for was to be able to go through this process as a base year, and what feedback we got going through this process to see how we can make BoardSource better,” Sunderland said.

Among the many returning organizations from 2015 is Team Rubicon, which ranked second overall last year but this year took the top spot. The nonprofit has 44 employees, including 31 at its Los Angeles-area headquarters, to qualify in the small organization category.

The sixth annual report is compiled with the help of Best Companies Group, Inc., (BCG). The Harrisburg, Pa.-based firm conducts a thorough organizational assessment. It’s a multi-part process designed to gather detailed data about each participating nonprofit. The organization completes a questionnaire and then employees complete a confidential survey. Sources outside the organization also are contacted.

Collected information is combined to produce a detailed set of data enabling analysts to determine the strengths and opportunities of participating organizations. Workplaces are ranked based on this data and then the Employer Benchmark Summary is returned to each participating organization.

Managers at each nonprofit must complete the Employer Benefits & Policies Questionnaire (EQ), collecting information about policies, practices and demographics. The Employee Engagement and Satisfaction Survey consists of approximately 78 statements that employees respond to on a five-point agreement scale. Results are analyzed and categorized according to eight core focus areas:

  • Leadership and planning;
  • Corporate culture and communications;
  • Role satisfaction;
  • Work environment;
  • Relationship with supervisor;
  • Training, development and resources;
  • Pay and benefits; and,
  • Overall engagement.

Nonprofits on the list scored on average 90 percent on the survey compared with 76 percent by all nonprofits not on the list. The percentage indicates respondents who answered “Agree Somewhat” and Agree Strongly” to the 78 statements, such as “I would recommend working here to a friend,” or “I like the people I work with at this organization.”

The biggest disparities were found within the categories of leadership and planning (90 percent for nonprofits on the list compared to 71 percent for those not on the list) and corporate culture and communications (88 percent versus 71 percent). Nonprofits on the list did not score less than 85 percent in any of the eight focus areas. For those that did not make the list, the highest score was 84 percent.

There were 10 key drivers identified by BCG that were common among the 50 organizations:

  • I feel I am valued in this organization;
  • I have confidence in the leadership of this organization;
  • I like the type of work that I do;
  • Most days, I feel I have made progress at work;
  • This organization treats me like a person, not a number;
  • I like the people I work with at this organization;
  • There is room for me to advance at this organization;
  • I can trust what this organization tells me;
  • My job makes good use of my skills and abilities; and,
  • This organization provides the technology, equipment and resources I need to do my job well.

A good salary and benefits package will always be a good draw for a nonprofit, and the Best Nonprofits To Work are no exception. The overall average exempt salary was $74,351 among this year’s 50 nonprofits. Five organizations boasted an average exempt salary of more than $100,000:

  • Birthright Israel Foundation, $133,328
  • Century Housing Corp, $113,749
  • Cinnaire, $113,675
  • National Communication Association, $106,700
  • National office of Communities In Schools, $105,338

Top-ranked Team Rubicon last year instituted a quarterly award for staff called “The Teddy.” That’s on top of the existing, less formal and more casually named “Get Sh*t Done” award. The formerly quarterly accolade is now awarded monthly and includes a big mug and glass plate – “A cheers to you” – with nominations submitted by directors to human resources each month.

“The Teddy” was inspired by a famous quote in Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 speech, “The Man In The Arena” delivered in Paris. It embodies the concept of daring to be great, which sometimes might lead to failure, but daring with the best intentions always will have support.

Nominations can be submitted quarterly by staff members at TeamRubiconUSA.org. Anyone is eligible for nominations, which go directly to CEO Jake Wood. The winner receives a golden teddy bear, certificate presented by Wood, a profile on the organization’s career page, and a cool $100 in cash. Correctly answering some Team Rubicon trivia questions from the CEO could yield additional cash.

Team Rubicon revamped its employee recognition program to align with cultural principles that were codified earlier in 2015, according to Candice Schmitt, director of human resources. Putting it in writing was important after making 23 new hires, having almost one-third of its 44 employees working remotely and opening another office in Dallas for operations staff.

“We’re expanding a lot and have built up some support functions and added some capacity to HR,” she said. The bulk of it has been in full-time regional administrators that are remote positions and used to be all-volunteer.

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