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Critics who rail about compensation for nonprofit executives or charities that do not spend enough on programs might want to cover their ears for this one: Employees at the United States Tennis Association Mid-Atlantic Section (USTA-MAS) can avail themselves of a concierge service.
The service isn’t aimed at scoring dinner reservations at the trendiest new restaurants or tickets to a sold out event. It’s more about getting mundane and tedious tasks off of employees’ plates so they can focus on their jobs.
USTA-MAS Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Tara Fitzpatrick-Navarro said the service already has paid for itself in its first year. In one instance, an employee lost their child’s Social Security card. The concierge helped guide the employee through the process of replacing the card, not just pointing them in the right direction, but sitting on the phone for hours. “That was just one thing that person didn’t have to go and research on their own,” Fitzpatrick-Navarro said.
It doesn’t have to be as potentially catastrophic as replacing vital personal documents. It could be simple things like dry cleaning, meal catering or childcare arrangements, researching and finding a plumber to fix a leak or navigating health insurance for an upcoming medical procedure.
“It’s just this additional step of trying to make everything in your life work through benefits that we provide you so that you can be your absolute best employee,” Fitzpatrick-Navarro said. It is “So that you can be the most productive, both personally and professionally.”
Employees being their most productive must be paying off for USTA-MAS. For the second consecutive year, the Herndon, Va.-based organization ranked No. 1 in The NonProfit Times’ annual Best Nonprofits To Work For.
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The values at USTA-MAS line up with the 10 key drivers identified in this year’s Best Nonprofits To Work For survey:
This year’s 50 Best Nonprofits really separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the areas of culture and communication, compensation and benefits, and leadership.
Best Nonprofits are categorized by size: small (15-49 employees), medium (50 to 249) and large (250 or more). Of the 50 organizations in this year’s list, slightly more than half (26) are medium, while 19 (38%) are small and five are large (10%). The top nine organizations overall this year are in the small category.
The NonProfit Times works with Harrisburg, Pa.-based Best Companies Group (BCG) to survey participating nonprofits, including employees, managers, and outside vendors. The Employee Benchmark Report (EBR) is composed of 77 statements within eight categories. Answers are compiled based on the percentage of positive responses -- those that were “agree somewhat” and “agree strongly” -- with Best Nonprofits often scoring significantly higher than organizations that didn’t make the cut.
Overall, Best Nonprofits saw a positive response on 91% of the statements compared with 83% among organizations that didn’t make the list.
The widest disparities on any single statement was 18 percentage points (80% for Best Nonprofits compared with 62% for others): My pay is fair for the work I perform. Ten other statements saw a difference of at least 12 percentage points in agreement:
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Historically, Best Nonprofits have been ahead of the curve on the working from home and flexible hours trends that were ushered into the mainstream with the era of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Managers at the winning nonprofits also make efforts to communicate and solicit feedback from employees.
“One of things that we’re really committed to doing is leadership decisions that impact employees should be made by employees to the greatest extent possible,” Fitzpatrick-Navarro said. USTA-MAS has always received great feedback about its health care options for employees, so there was no real reason to change them last year beyond shopping around.
Instead of just the chief executive and human resources director poring over spreadsheets of potential new plans, employees were asked to be involved and two volunteered. They went through the process meeting with the insurance broker and talking through the pros and cons. In the end, the employees recommended a higher level plan, even though it cost employees a little more, Fitzpatrick-Navarro said.
The feedback has been overwhelming, to the new health care plan. “Just moving from a gold to platinum plan has made employees so much better and less concerned about medical,” she said. “And it was awesome because we had employee engagement in making that decision. They got to present to the staff about the new benefits and how they were involved in picking them out.”
Benefits are generous at USTA-MAS, with the organization covering 80% of the premium on the Prefer-red Provider Organization (PPO) plan, whether it’s an employee or employee plus family, and 100% of the premium on the High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP). “Working in sports and leisure, leisure, it’s a lot of nights and weekends so we want to make sure that our benefits are as family friendly as possible,” Fitzpatrick-Navarro said.
USTA-MAS also introduced a flexible Paid Time Off (PTO) policy, with no minimum or maximum number of days, in addition to extending bereavement leave for the loss of an immediate family member and relatives outside of immediate family and loss of a pet.
“As long as you request it and you’re getting your job done, take as much time as you need to,” Fitzpatrick-Navarro said. “We were already working within this context of flexible PTO. For people who worked a weekend, we’re always saying take a day when you need to, don’t worry about it. Why do we have this arbitrary cap on PTO when we don’t do that? It was a written policy we never paid any attention to, so let’s change the policy to be more meaningful and tied to what we want to achieve as a culture,” she said.
Flexibility has always been a hallmark among Best Nonprofits To Work For. At Eye To Eye National in New York City, the 23 full-time employees currently are fully remote but the organization still has an office in downtown Manhattan, making the space available to employees. “COVID hit people differently,” President Marcus Soutra said.
Working out of an apartment was not necessarily ideal for people with roommates, while employees with children had other challenges. “We’ve kept that space where people can go and work,” he said, while closing their other offices on the West Coast.
Staff are located in nine states, including California, Washington, Texas, and Minnesota, but most of the 25 employees are still concentrated in the tri-state area around New York City, Soutra said.
“We tried to provide flexibility with the structure -- that’s the goal,” Soutra said. Eye To Eye National incorporates what it describes as a 20- 20-20-20 plan:
Employees at every level get 40 days of PTO. That includes 20 holidays -- with some new ones like International Women’s Day and Juneteenth -- and 20 flexible days, any time an employee wants to take them.
Of the 40 hours in a typical work week, 20 hours should be structured time, between noon and 4 p.m. each weekday. “We want everyone to be able to accommodate that time,” Soutra said. Finally, there are 20 hours of working time that are flexible, whether an employee wants to go to the gym or exercise in the morning, or has kids to shuttle to afternoon activities.
The 20-20-20-20 plan came out of COVID and Soutra doesn’t see it changing. “The team seems to be responding to it and we’re more productive as an organization,” he said. All employees are provided with a laptop and mobile phone and a WiFi hotspot if they want to work remotely somewhere other than home, like a coffee shop. Like a few other Best Nonprofits in this year’s report, Eye To Eye offers an annual $250 stipend for home office supplies plus $50 per month toward Internet service. The Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF) provides $500 a year for employees to build out their spaces.
The FourBlock Foundation’s $1,000 stipend can not only be used to purchase office equipment, since all employees are remote, but also for professional development. “Nothing is really directed, if an employee is interested, we do it,” Founder and President Michael Abrams said. “If you feel you want to pursue something, an online course or a conference, we see if it makes sense and that person can do it,” he said.
Employees at the FourBlock Foundation not only set their own hours, they work wherever they want. Legally, the organization’s corporate address is that of its attorney in New York City.
“What’s really unique is the level of flexibility and trust that comes from the top down,” Emma Jekowsky, director of communications at FourBlock, said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever worked anywhere before that not only says they’re flexible or how they get their work done but is that understanding and accommodating,” she said. “That’s certainly been a differentiator for me, that level of autonomy and trust that people will get their work done.”
Abrams said the organization has worked on developing a culture of feedback, sending out surveys, soliciting feedback on every class for veterans they serve. “Because we have such good trust with each other, we’re able to look at what went wrong and potentially, have an adult conversation about how to get better,” he said. “It’s taken time but I think we have a good culture about feedback and wanting to be better and serve veterans around our mission.”
Eye To Eye’s Soutra said the philosophy overall has been that if there’s investment in the team, they’ll do good work and help more people and achieve the mission better. “That’s the best return on investment that we can make,” he said. “For us, the majority of the budget goes to staffing. It’s not an organization that has brick and mortar and deals with lots of supplies. For us, it’s about investing in the team.”
There are no real restrictions on Internet use or company equipment at Eye To Eye.
While some companies have been known to monitor how long employees are active on their mouse and computer equipment as remote work continues forward, Soutra said they try to push people to use some of the systems in place for workflow and communication, like Monday.com and Slack.
As a leader, Soutra said he assumes the best intentions of staff and that the team is “here for the right reasons,” then builds structure and flexibility around them. It’s seeing what people respond best to you as employees, he said.
Potential employees at the Washington, D.C.-based WACIF go through a bit of an interview process, according to CEO Harold Pettigrew, Jr. For a person in leadership joining the team, there’s an initial screening and panel interviews with staff who will be managed by those people. “The last thing we want is someone to show up new and there’s no connection with the team,” he said. “That’s not only for the existing person but shifted to virtual in the pandemic environment.
For the first couple of weeks, Pettigrew would lead and facilitate the meetings before ultimately passing the baton to “ensure the team felt like it was their meeting.” He describes it as an opportunity to see other faces and connect beyond work. “The team has full reign to bring in topics they feel are of interest, our work or personally.”
During a recent team meeting, staff got into conversations about holiday recipes, things to do in the Washington, D.C. region, and games -- connecting and turning off work completely. Meetings also might focus on client successes or the history of a given industry, such as the local music scene in D.C.
Sometimes the conversations are considerably heavier from an emotional perspective, like in the wake of the George Floyd protests and racial equity movements of 2020.
“We leave it to the team to really author the agenda,” said Pettigrew, and also pair team members together so they’re in partnership on developing the agenda, too. “It’s completely staff run in that way,” he said. “It’s just important to have frequent engagement and a platform no matter where you are in the organization, to be able to lift up questions with teammates,” he said.
“More broadly, given the work we do and the way we’ve seen some of these issues play out on the national stage, the work itself and the national conversation around what’s happening with equity and opportunity, for us, we need to create the space, to bring what we call the whole person to work,” said Brendon Miller, WACIF’s chief development and communications director.
“These staff meetings create that space to have that dialogue. We live that value of bringing their whole selves to work. We don’t assume or expect that folks can neatly shut off what they’re seeing in our national politics and come to work and pretend like it’s not going on,” he said.
Some Best Nonprofits regularly offer tuition reimbursement for staff seeking a new degree or certification of some kind. At WACIF, employees are eligible to receive up to $3,750 annually in tuition reimbursement. Employees receive full reimbursement if they earn an A, 90% for earning a B, and 60% for earning a C. In addition to tuition reimbursement, WACIF has a program to help repay student loans.
“Lots of folks are dealing with this across the country but also our team as well,” Pettigrew said. The student loan repayment program provides eligible employees up to $125 per month paid directly to the student loan servicer. All permanent full-time and part-time employees who have successfully completed their 90-day introductory period are eligible for Student Loan Repayment benefits.
“If it’s a benefit, it should be beneficial to our team,” Pettigrew said. “We’re continually evaluating each year, which benefits are used and not used,” he said. “We have team members coming from different points in their career and their educational journey,” Pettigrew said. “We want to make sure our benefits are really speaking to them,” he said.
“That’s a personal value for me specifically: Investing in our people. In particular, we want people to be their best in their chapter with us, however short or long that chapter is. I see it as a bit of a responsibility to make sure we’re investing that way.” NPT
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