When Chaos Ruled, Best NPOs Kept Staff Working

It’s not all puppy dogs and ice cream, even at the Best Nonprofits. The United States Tennis Association Mid-Atlantic Section (USTA MAS) rarely has any voluntary turnover among its 21 employees. But like at many nonprofits, the pandemic forced difficult decisions at USTA MAS. The Herndon, Va.-based organization laid off about one-third of its staff this past July. It was among 10 of the Best Nonprofits reporting laying off or furloughing staff during 2020

Still, USTA MAS not only made The NonProfit Times’ Best Nonprofits To Work For list again, it ranked No. 1 among small nonprofits and No. 1 overall in the 2021 edition.

As part of the Best Nonprofits To Work For process, The NonProfit Times works with Harrisburg, Pa.-based Best Companies Group (BCG). Participating nonprofits go through a battery of surveys, including employees, managers and outside vendors. There are 78 questions within eight categories that make up the Employee Benchmark Report (EBR), which compiles the percentage of responses that were “agree somewhat” and agree strongly.” On average, the 50 Best Nonprofits often score higher among those categories than organizations that don’t make the list.

You can start the process of competing for a spot on the 2022 rankings by clicking here … https://www.bestnonprofitstoworkfor.com

Medium organizations, those with 50 to 249 employees, accounted for almost half of the 50 Best Nonprofits, with 24 honorees. Small organizations, considered those with 15 to 49 employees, nabbed 20 of the 50 spots (40%), including No. 1 and No. 2. There were six large organizations, those with 250 or more employees, that made the final cut.

Overall, Best Nonprofits scored highest relative to their counterparts that didn’t make the list in the categories of Leadership and Planning (+11%), Pay and Benefits (+11%), and Culture and Communications (+10%). Best Nonprofits scored highest in the areas of Work Environment and Overall Engagement, both 95%.

After months of working through the pandemic, USTA MAS CEO Tara Fitzpatrick-Navarro sent each employee a package last October with a personal thank you note for their contributions and extra efforts during the pandemic. The package included a branded mask, Yeti coffee mug, a hooded sweatshirt, T-shirt and tennis ball chocolates.

“I can’t tell you what a giggle it brought to everybody,” Chief Operating Officer Beth Twomey said. “It’s a way for staff to know that she’s thinking of them, and that her door is open, and she’s available, and she’s here to make their life a little bit sweeter,” Twomey said.

“Compassion and a desire to meet a person’s needs permeates the entire organization,” Twomey said. Recognizing that 2020 was a challenging year, Fitzpatrick-Navarro wanted to make sure she could do her part in taking that stress away, even if it was temporary.

“She is always looking for ways that she can personalize her outreach to know that each person means something to her and their values and their desires,” Twomey said. “Everything she does is very, very employee centric.”

At Musicians On Call (MOC) in Nashville, Tenn., there’s little turnover and that goes for volunteers as much as it does staff. And, why not? Volunteers get birthday cards and personal calls from President & CEO Pete Griffin and the team. There’s a two-year waiting list to volunteer with the organization, which ranked No. 9 overall and 4th in the small category. “One of our biggest challenges is that our volunteers don’t leave. It’s not only because they love our mission, but how you’re treated as a volunteer,” Griffin said. He estimated he’s sent almost 1,000 personalized videos since the pandemic was declared, short, 60-second thank-yous to volunteers or donors.

Videos don’t always come from staff, either. In the midst of the pandemic last year, Griffin sent his team a Cameo, a video-sharing service in which celebrities can send personalized video messages to fans. One was from Brian Bamgartner, who played Kevin on The Office, as well as another from the early pandemic Netflix hit, Tiger King.

Griffin was trying to be supportive of his team but wasn’t gaining much traction. “I was trying to figure out things that can just take people away from the monotony of the Zooms,” he said. And honestly, the (videos) aren’t expensive to do but it means a lot to people. It tells the team that we’re thinking about them and we just want to enjoy life as best we can,” he said. 

“The reality is we spend more time with each other than we do with our families in most cases,” he said. “This is our lives and I tell the team they should come to work every day feeling excited, trusted, respected and challenged about what they’re doing. During the pandemic, it’s no different.”

Griffin said that he realized early in the pandemic that everyone’s experience is unique. Staff living alone have a very different experience than those who are married or have children. “Realizing that, we have very frequent check-ins, every week talking about it, talking about it with each person, not some blanket thing about how we’re handling the pandemic. It’s regular and individualized. And, it’s ongoing. It’s not just put forth as a policy to say we’ve done our part,” he said.

Flexible hours and working remotely have been stalwart aspects of the Best Nonprofits To Work For during the past decade. Since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March, 2020, however, many organizations shifted to a remote work environment where possible to protect employees.

On average, 87% of organizations offered the option of working remotely and half of the Best Nonprofits had 100% of employees working remotely. Once the novelty of living the reality of your favorite science fiction stories by video conference wore off, many Best Nonprofits emphasized not overdoing it. Even science fiction forefathers of Buck Rodgers and Star Trek took a break and didn’t spend all day on video calls.

Adopt-A-Pet.com is headquartered in Claremont, Calif., but it’s been essentially a virtual organization for much of its almost 20 years, with staff working remotely from all over the country. So as far as the pandemic, working from home was not a big shift. 

“It was business as usual for us. We didn’t miss a step,” said Executive Director Abbie Moore. “We spent a long time learning from trial and error and how to function really well when we’re not in the same room,” she explained. “It’s kind of an art to building a culture and making people feel part of something.” Adopt-A-Pet ranked 15th overall and 5th among small nonprofits.

You can start the process of competing for a spot on the 2022 rankings by clicking here … https://www.bestnonprofitstoworkfor.com