Ask almost anyone who works at a nonprofit to tell you the best part about working there and the answer generally will be: the mission. And, that’s great. But loving the mission doesn’t pay the electric bill.
Employees of nonprofit organizations likely understand that concept. Things such as salary aren’t going to be at the same levels of for-profit companies. They do it for other reasons or find other benefits (monetary or otherwise) that fulfill them in their careers.
Leaders at organizations in the 2014 Best Nonprofits To Work For seem to understand that inclination. What makes an organization a Best Nonprofit To Work For? If you subscribe to the idea of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, then there are a number of common traits among nonprofits on this year’s list, regardless of their size, with the best organizations focusing efforts on:
- Pay, Benefits and Incentives: Some organizations benchmarked at higher-than-average percentiles for salaries while others provided generous benefits to try to offset potentially lower salaries. Some employees receive incentives and healthy bonuses for reaching goals or going above and beyond.
- Employee Engagement and Communication: Leaders at the best organizations often ask their staff what they want, and keep them abreast of what’s going on and where the organization is heading.
- Staff Development and Growth: When organizations ask their employees what they’re looking for, very often it’s the ability to grow and learn.
The National Older Worker Career Center (NOWCC) ranked No. 1 overall on this year’s list, beating out fellow Arlington, Va., nonprofit AHC, Inc., and Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Jacksonville, Fla.-based Wounded Warrior had taken the overall crown in the Best Nonprofits study three years running.
The top three organizations overall were an equal mix of the small (15 to 49 employees), medium (50-249) and large (250 or more) categories. Among the 50 organizations in the Best Nonprofits 2014 study, 18 were categorized as small, 25 as medium and seven large.
Picking the winners
The Best Nonprofits To Work For wasn’t a simple nomination process or picking names out of a hat. The program was open to all nonprofits with 501(c)(3) status that have a facility with a minimum of 15 employees, in the United States. Organizations had until Oct. 31, 2013 to register to go through the 2014 assessment.
The assessment process was managed for The NonProfit Times by Best Companies Group (BCG) in Harrisburg, Pa., an independent workplace research firm specializing in identifying and recognizing great places to work throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The BCG Employer Questionnaire (EQ) is an 81-question gauntlet used to collect information about benefits, policies, practices and other information. It comprised 25 percent of an organization’s overall evaluation. The other 75 percent of the evaluation was derived from a confidential 76-question Employee Engagement & Satisfaction Survey (EESS), which was used to evaluate the workplace experience and organizational culture. More than 10,000 employees working for the nominated organizations were surveyed.
Leaders at organizations that topped the list of Best Places to Work appear to share some common approaches, such as empowering employees and encouraging them to find their own creative solutions.
The operational strategy at NOWCC revolves around cooperation. As a $24-million operation with 600 constituents and a staff of 24, the No.1 Best Nonprofit To Work For has to be nimble. “That’s a lot of work for 24 people to manage,” Chief Financial Officer German “Cito” Vanegas.
NOWCC had struggled with internal communication, Vanegas said. When Gregory Merrill joined in 2006 as the new chief executive officer, he listened to employees’ needs and concerns. “Communication was one of them. We started using teams from different departments to tackle challenges,” Vanegas said.
At The Partnership for Public Service in Washington, D.C., CEO Max Stier said there’s a work environment that encourages “accidental meetings,” so employees can mix with people from other departments and share ideas.
Employees at DonorsChoose can take advantage of the Playground — a social area at its New York City headquarters that encourages teamwork across departments. Melanie Duppins, senior director of policy and learning, said staff can “reset their creativity by working from the Playground.” Employees also can arrange to arrive a little early or stay late or work from a standing desk or a yoga ball.
Satisfaction with pay and benefits at organizations with fewer than 50 employees tracked with the aggregate of nonprofits on the Best Places list this year, at 89 percent for both. Respondents at small organizations on the list were significantly more satisfied with their pay and benefits than small organizations that did not make the list, which only had 70 percent positive responses, and all organizations that did not make the list, which scored 69 percent.
Small organizations can find it within their budgets to competitively pay employees. High pay is necessary to attract and retain employees, especially in the technology-focused Bay Area in California, according to D.J. Brookter, deputy director of Young Community Developers. The San Francisco-based nonprofit ranked 10th overall on the Best Nonprofits To Work For and was 4th among small organizations. “We have a very educated staff and we make sure to treat them correct,” he said. Of the 22 employees at Young Community Developers, at least half have college degrees, and three have advanced degrees.
Some 92 percent of respondents at small organizations on the list said they were satisfied with their employer’s benefits package, compared to 74 percent of small organizations that were examined but did not make the list. That’s only one percentage point off from all organizations on the list, 93 percent of which responded positively. Of respondents from all organizations not on the list, 69 percent were satisfied with their benefits package.
For organizations that might think their salary offerings lag competitors, they make a point to try to make it up to staff on the benefits end of things.
The Mission Continues in St. Louis, Mo., added a suite of new benefits since last year. “Our health care package is phenomenal across the board when you consider employees are only spending $5 per month,” said President Spencer Kympton. Benefits include vision and dental. Between last year’s Best Places survey and this year’s, the organization added an employer match of up to 3 percent for its 401(k) plan, as well as long-term disability and life insurance at no cost to workers. It also did not increase health insurance premiums for staff, Kympton said, in spite of rising healthcare costs this year.
Large organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association and the American Diabetes Association made commitments to offering generous matching contributions to retirement plans. While matching contributions were scaled back or suspended after the economy declined in 2008, the nonprofits were able to eventually restore them retroactively.
The board of Year Up has made 100-percent employer-paid health benefits a key a priority for the organization, even reallocating money elsewhere after the recession to keep health benefits, according to Sara Holt, director of capacity building and recruitment at Year Up in Boston, Mass. “I’m not sure how much it attracts people but it definitely helps hire people,” she said, as well as retain employees.
New employees at Year Up get three weeks vacation in their first year, which increases to four weeks after the first year. “The balance people can find between their work and life is well met but we’re also really careful about in the early application process to assess what someone’s needs are,” Holt said.
“We don’t just say what are your minimum qualifications, we ask how would your lifestyle be impacted by joining as a member of the nonprofit group and taking a significant pay cut. So we’re pretty direct about the fact that nonprofits are notoriously trying to sell themselves on the value of the mission but we really need you to be on board financially, and supported, and make sure that’s part of the conversation,” she said. NPT