Medium-Sized Nonprofits: Cross Pollination Helps Teamwork Bloom, But Pay Falls Short

On one side of mid-sized Best Nonprofits sits their smaller counterparts, those with 49 or fewer employees. They are small enough to give outsized operational roles to staff but might not have the funds for major initiatives.

On the other side is the large Best Nonprofits -- those with 250 or more employees. These behemoths are better able to provide richer resources for their staff, but individuals are more likely to get lost within the enterprise.

This leaves medium-sized Best Nonprofits in the sweet spot.

“We rely heavily on cross-departmental teams,” Prison Fellowship CEO James Ackerman said of his 243-employee organization (No. 6 overall and 4th in the medium-sized category). “I’m talking about situations where you might have somebody who’s not a member of the senior team but is playing the role of quarterback on an initiative.”

That’s a break from the siloed approach the Washington, D.C.-based organization took before Ackerman joined in 2016. Ackerman is a relatively new leader. By contrast, CEOs at other medium-sized Best Nonprofits have been at their posts for an average of just more than 11 years.

The mid-sized Best Nonprofits rank between their two “best of” counterparts when evaluating supervisor/employee relations, work environment, culture and communications, leadership and planning and many pay and benefit issues. That said, their scores lean toward the best of the larger organizations.

In Prison Fellowship’s case, this tendency seems to have worked: The organization’s 8% voluntary turnover rate was among the lowest of the category.

NPT Medium Nonprofits

Where mid-sized Best Nonprofits overall fell short -- among the best of the best, to be sure – was in some pay and benefits issues, and most training, development and resources matters.

Take ongoing training, where at 90% satisfaction mid-sized Best Nonprofits lagged their two counterparts. It’s not that they aren’t trying. Several leaders mentioned using the training resources available through online platforms such as LinkedIn Learning. Organizations might provide guidance in which courses are part of a directed development plan, but many allow wide latitude.

Part of creating a good organization also means a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Overall, 92% of employees at the mid-sized Best Nonprofits responded that their organizations enable a culture of diversity, lagging slightly the levels at the best small and large nonprofits.

At Prison Fellowship, a Diversity and Inclusion Council launched in July 2020 has already surveyed employees regarding their perspective on race issues. Results are used to help set the course for the organization’s next steps regarding employee training, hiring practices and other considerations, according to Senior Director of Human Resources Daniela Gleason.

Leaders at Capital Impact Partners (No. 19 overall and 8th in the medium-sized category) in Arlington, Va., which provides credit and financial services to underserved markets and populations, have a commitment to DEI efforts. “We’re on a journey that has neither a beginning nor an end,” said Chief Human Resources Kim Dorsett. “We have facilitated formal training in regards to unconscious bias, emotional intelligence and race relations, and we’re developing a glossary to assist employees.”

Dorsett incorporates inclusion-based metrics alongside other considerations when evaluating organizational culture. She said that she has embraced the theory of eight dimensions of personal wellness, which usually include emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, physical, social, spiritual and vocational wellness.

The physical threat of the coronavirus pandemic during the past year, alongside the frustration of isolation, have brought emotional wellness to the forefront. Capital Impact Partners responded by offering online yoga and organization-wide virtual meditation classes, as well as physical fitness offerings. The organization also provided ergonomic assessments of home offices.

“We did [the meditation classes] first together so employees know this was a priority supported by the organization so they would then feel comfortable later when they felt they needed to take advantage of that benefit,” Dorsett said.

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Several mid-sized Best Nonprofits have taken online wellness fairs previously hosted on-site, and more than a few of those stressed new or an increased focus on mental health offerings.

Even if organizational leaders don’t embrace the eight dimensions of personal wellness, managers have instinctively embraced some of the tenets. Mid-sized Best Nonprofits were most likely to offer financial education opportunities, with the 83% doing so outpacing the best small (45%) and large (67%) nonprofits.

If all this fails, Capital Impact Partners is among the 96% of mid-sized organizations that offer an employee assistance program that includes counseling.

At Team Rubicon in Los Angeles, Calif., (No. 47 overall and 22nd in the medium-sized category) wellness borrows from the organization’s military roots.That’s appropriate, given the organization’s mission of mobilizing veterans to aid in recovery from disasters or humanitarian crises.

Team Rubicon staffers take an in-the-field recommendation geared at avoiding trench foot and use it to suggest someone is tired or might need a break from the stresses of their duties. During the current pandemic, employees have been given a “Change Your Socks” day -- an additional day off for either mental or physical errands.

Team Rubicon was also one of the few that paid 100% of eight employee benefits packages, such as employees’ health, life, and disability insurance, and a greater percentage for dependents than most other nonprofits. Among the rest of the best mid-sized nonprofits, while 96% paid at least 75% of medical coverage for their employees, the percentages fell off when considering coverage for dependents, or dental or vision coverage or any other packages.

Flex time, especially during the pandemic, seems to have become table stakes: nearly all nonprofits offered it.

“Having kids at home has made life tough for people with families,” said Team Rubicon President & Chief Operating Officer Art delaCruz. “We’re intentional in allowing people to adjust their schedule as required.”

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Leaders at several mid-sized Best Nonprofits volunteered they either routinely give, or have started giving, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day as additional paid time off.

The recharge period keeps employees happy, and contented employees are comfortable recommending their workplace. Among the mid-sized Best Nonprofits, 94% of employees would recommend their workplace compared with 86% of the mid-sized organizations that didn’t make it onto the list.

At Children First, a nonprofit in Sarasota, Fla., that offers Head Start and Early Head Start programs, President and CEO Philip Tavill has gone a step further. He said that he has had success recruiting from the population his organization serves.

“We had a single mom living in poverty whose daughter came in through our program,” he said. The mother had a bachelor’s degree in a field tangential to Children First’s operations, and the nonprofit had a job opening for which she was suited.

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Children First (No. 50 overall and 24th in the medium-sized category), along with 54% of the mid-sized Best Nonprofits, offers tuition reimbursement for advanced or post-graduate degrees. In contrast, only 38% of those mid-sized nonprofits that didn’t make the list do so.

Soon after that single mother joined Children First, she used the tuition assistance program to earn a master’s degree in mental health counseling. A year and a half after earning her degree, she took a higher-level job at another organization.

Tavill saw her success as validating Children First’s education benefits -- although he added that most people who earn degrees through it stay on, and that his team would have to re-evaluate the policy if it resulted in widespread jumps.

That’s not likely. Several executives interviewed stressed loyalty to their employees as a core value. During the problems of 2020, only three of the 24 mid-sized organization reported either layoffs or furloughs.

Children First found funding that allowed it to keep its 45 teachers or case managers, who usually find other work during the summer, employed and fully paid during summer 2020 when layoffs were high and people were being advised to shelter in place.

When it comes to keeping talent at the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Va., President & Executive Director Doug Stanley faces a different problem – brain drain from commercial institutions, as the technical researchers under his employ are highly sought.

This was a consideration when the pandemic forced the NIA (No. 3 overall and No. 1 in the medium-sized category). to examine benefit costs for the first time in Stanley’s 15-year tenure. The organization did make cuts -- its 403(b) match dropped from 10% to 9%, which is still near the top rate among mid-sized nonprofits – but leadership included employees’ priorities in its decisions.

Some sort of retirement plan is table stakes for mid-sized nonprofits – 100% of them. But their levels of contributions varied greatly, with matches ranging from 3% to NIA’s 9%.

“By keeping our ear to the ground, understanding what people value, when we have cuts we do them in a way that has the least impact on folks,” Stanley said. NIA’s staff is on the younger side, and the goodwill NIA had previously generated through a series of family-inclusive events made its need to reduce costs palatable.

Mid-sized nonprofits as a whole were more likely to invite immediate family
members to events: 63% of those in the Best Nonprofits do so, a figure similar to mid-sized nonprofits that competed but did not make the top 50 and more than those in the other two size categories.

Aside from the Friday Fun Days, trivia contests, and a drive-through ice cream social (participants had the choice of picking up a package while in their car or sitting in a socially-distanced setting), the NIA took an additional step. The organization kept its offices open, and implemented a rigorous disinfecting protocol.

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“Being able to come in and enjoy the break area, just getting out of the house is important for people’s mental health,” Stanley said. “They know they have a place with fast internet and a welcoming environment with food and drink and break-out rooms and stuff they can use.”

Stanley’s sentiment holds true across the top mid-sized Best Nonprofits, 71% of which offer workplace facilities that promote exercise and fitness – the highest percentage among any category. And 79% of mid-sized nonprofits in the top offer cafeteria subsidies, free beverages or snacks, a level on par with the largest top nonprofits.