Large Nonprofits: Staff Want To Better Trust Managers, But Love The Work, Mission

Old movie buffs might remember the 1967 film Up The Down Staircase with Sandy Dennis playing a school teacher on her first assignment. Staff at the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) in Jacksonville, Fla., don’t need the reminder. One-way staircases are part of the COVID-19 protocol.

Getting staff back in the office or making sure remote operations go off without a hitch is central to what’s going on in the organizations that make up the Best Nonprofits large category of 250 or more employees.

NPT Large Nonprofits

Like everything else, COVID-19 has had a transformative impact on WWP (No. 34 overall and No. 6 in the large category) and the other organizations in the category. The challenge is that organizations such as WWP and Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina are direct service providers and need to be face-to-face.

In all locations, WWP requires temperature screening, completion of a health questionnaire, use of personal protective equipment (face coverings) at all times in office, provides hand sanitizing stations, facilities signage, limits on conference room and elevator capacity, and requires strict adherence to all safety and distancing protocols, according to CEO Mike Linnington.

In-office work is strictly voluntary, reducing facility traffic in all locations by 90%. WWP also ensures facilities receive enhanced and more routine deep cleaning and upgraded all air filtration/HVAC systems to ensure improved circulation. All safety and distancing protocols and requirements are documented, readily accessible to all employees via the company intranet, reinforced via signage in all facilities, and actively enforced by all levels of management, he explained.

NPT Large Nonprofits

There are cross-border issues for Baptist Children’s Homes, which reported the lowest percentage of employees working remotely (6%) among all Best Nonprofits. “There are some challenges in terms of federal, state and local decisions on the best management of exposure through travel,” said John Adamcik, director of human resources. “We have a lot of people driving.” Adamcik explained that there was a merger between the Thomasville, N.C., organization and Christian Adoption Services in South Carolina and that required planning for employees moving across state lines due to various protocols.

Leadership stability stands out when looking at the data regarding the large nonprofits, yet they have a way to go to catch up with smaller and medium-sized nonprofits in other areas.

Chief executive officers (CEO) at large organizations among the Best Nonprofits tend to be in the job significantly longer than small and medium nonprofits. CEOs at large organizations averaged 16.3 years against an average 10.6 years for all organizations in the top 50. It was 11.2 years at medium-sized nonprofits and just seven years at small organizations.

It generally takes longer to qualify for health benefits at large nonprofits. Employees at one-third of large organizations waited 90 days after hire for health benefits and none qualified after just 30 days. It was 17% for day-of-hire, first day of the next month and 60 days after start. Of all organizations in the Best Nonprofits, 38% received health benefits on the first day of the next month of hire.

Large organizations lagged behind small and medium organizations when it came to em-
ployer contribution to health benefits. Half of small organizations paid 50% of the healthcare premiums and it was 29% at medium nonprofits. It was only 17% at large nonprofits. Some 67% of the large organizations paid between 75% and 99% of health premiums.
Large organizations were last when it came to funding 100% of dental and also vision coverage.

Staff at both large and small organizations responded at 96% that they understand the leadership’s long-term strategy. Staff at large organizations said they have confidence in leadership (93%) but that lagged small organizations (96%) and medium nonprofits (95%).

Leaders at large organizations tended to communicate enough (96%) but it was 98% at small organizations. Staff at large organizations that made the list tend to like the type of work they do at 97% compared to just 95% at organizations that did not make the list.

While 95 is a decent fastball, it is dead last for large organizations when small organizations hit the radar gun at 97 and medium-sized nonprofits at 96 when staff are asked if they are treated fairly by supervisors. It’s the same results when staff are asked if they are treated with respect by supervisors.
There wasn’t much grousing about pay at larger organizations and most had key performance indicators that allowed for bonuses, even in the middle of a pandemic. Eric Dill, senior vice president of the American Arbitration Association in New York City, explained salary is for doing the job while bonuses were based on achievement of goals.

NPT Large Nonprofits

“Goals are something to aspire to achieve. Goals are not quotas and should be meaningful,” said Dill. In golf, “people who shoot par or minus one, that’s salary,” and puts you on the path toward bonuses. “If you’re plus 12, (not good in golf) we have to talk to you.”

Talking is what they do at the American Arbitration Association so managers and staff are skilled in feedback that isn’t offensive. “Managers and staff are comfortable talking about things and it has helped us through a lot of social issues,” said Dill.

Communication is vital but “nobody was prepared for the George Floyd tragedy,” said Dill. The organization has an office in Minneapolis, the same city where Floyd died while in police custody sparking violent protests. The organization monitored for the safety of employees in cities where protests were raging.

Staff at the American Arbitration Association is 50% minority and 25% are African-American. “There were protests going on. Some staff have family members in law enforcement and there were conflicting sets of circumstances,” he said.

All staff members had been trained via a Harvard University program for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). “It didn’t prepare us for what happened over the summer but gave us a head start,” said Dill. There were small group discussions on social justice. “Candidly, there were a lot of painful stories,” he said.

Staff discussed how everyone sees the world from different perspectives. “It was emotional, raw. It’s not going to end here,” he said of the training and staff support. An employee resource group for DEI was launched.

DEI quickly became high on the radar around the sector, not just due to civil unrest but also because of some high-profile situations at nonprofits. The larger nonprofits were already working on internal initiatives prior to this past summer. Several of the executives spoken to for this story made reference to the date George Floyd was killed, May 25, as they discussed DEI.

WWP had been working on internal DEI research since late 2019 via conducting multiple focus groups with the goal of identifying opportunities to be more intentional about embracing and encouraging diversity and inclusion across the organization, explained Linnington. “After these discussions with teammates, we established a D&I Advisory team consisting of teammates from across the organization (various departments, levels, and backgrounds) to help chart the
path for the future,” said Linnington.

Drawing from key insights gathered through an organization-wide diversity study and survey, “the team has recently finalized its charter, assigned formal roles and responsibilities, and has mapped out some short and long-term objectives that will be presented to the executive team for consideration,” he said.

Baptist Children’s Homes maintains a chain-of-command and an open-door policy for all staff that includes access to the president and CEO and also to the chief operating officer, according to Bond Kiser, vice president, staff engagement and compliance. When the organization’s founding human resources director was nearing retirement, leaders used succession and strategic planning to restructure the human resources team for an emphasized focus on staff development. “This has been a proactive step in developing and strengthening employee relations which in turn lowers conflict,” explained Kiser.

NPT Large Nonprofits

Baptist Children’s Homes has a formalized grievance policy to resolve disputes to make employees feel comfortable in the process as well, if needed. The organization’s leadership also attends CARE training, alongside staff, to help prevent disputes and strengthen relationships.

DEI is also a focus at Cap Tulsa (No. 1 in the large category and No. 11 overall) in Tulsa, Okla. Leadership ensures that the pool of applicants is diverse, explained Karen Kiely, executive director. “I think it’s important that the talent pool be diverse … all applicants from all backgrounds have equal opportunity.” Supervisors are not told who they must hire from a diversity standpoint but the pool of applicants is diverse.

NPT Large Nonprofits

“Results have been pretty marvelous,” Kiely said, with 73% of new hires people of color and 61% of internal promotions to people of color, who make up 58% of the organization’s workforce.

Key performance indicators are still in play in a virtual world. At WWP, performance is measured by a series of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-based) focused on measuring impact on mission and the warriors and families served. These goals are driven by the key enablers outlined in a five-year strategic plan, Linnington said. Performance is also measured against a set of competencies unique to their roles and focused on alignment with WWP’s core values and operating philosophy, he said.

Staff at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago (No. 13 overall and No. 3 in the large category) blew past their key performance indicators during 2020, according to Aletha Ross Davis, vice president of human resources. Quarterly online meetings were moved to every two weeks initially and then every three weeks to ensure communication and there have been check-in sessions.

NPT Large Nonprofits

Decisions were made regarding “everything we could keep was on the table,” she said. Goals were surpassed, and not just by a small amount. Ross Davis credits staff members who did more than just their jobs. For example, staff volunteered to go to the office and work the mail room because that is a vital element of keeping things moving.

Staff seems to be staying at large organizations in what managers expect is a combination of loving the mission and the overall economy and job availability. At the American Arbitration Association, turnover for 2020 was just 6.7%, down from 9.6% in 2019 and 10.18%
for 2018.

Turnover declined 2% at Baptist Children’s Home of N.C. during 2020 when compared to 2019. Turnover at WWP was 12% down from 18% and the organization is hiring, with between 60 and 70 openings as programs expand.

While social distancing and digital platforms for communication remain the key areas for staff to mingle, the Alzheimer’s Association takes it to the next level, said Ross Davis. Gold Notes to acknowledge milestones still go out but there’s also the Alz Café, a social platform once a month where staff can join in just to be able to converse and commune, she said.