Small Nonprofits: Time Sheets Becoming Endangered As Flexibility Reigns Supreme

The Travis Manion Foundation (TMF) was pretty decentralized even before the pandemic sent everyone to work in a spare room at home. About 10 of its 49 employees work at the Doylestown, Pa., headquarters, with the rest scattered among seven regional offices.

For the third consecutive year, TMF was recognized as one of the Best Nonprofits To Work For, ranking 22nd overall and 9th among small organizations (15 to 49 employees). Among the 50 organizations on this year’s list, the foundation was the only one that offered unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO), according to survey responses.

It was a change made last year, prior to the pandemic, that has worked exceedingly well, according to Chief Operating Officer Josh Jabin. “It’s something we’ve talked about for years,” he said. TMF first experimented with the leadership team for a year before rolling out unlimited PTO to the rest of the employees, most of whom worked from home at least once a week even before the pandemic.

“It’s so hard to track. We don’t work 9-to-5. We’re a nonprofit that supports our members on the weekends, in the evenings. How do you count hours when you’re working like that,” Jabin said. “We should have better ways of productivity based on how you actually do your job,” he said, incentivizing people to do their job, treating people like they’re responsible, independent and capable of managing their time. 

“Have guardrails. Tracking it is important, in both directions, so you don’t have people taking advantage. It has not been close to a problem for us. On the other side, it is making sure people are taking the time off that they might otherwise not,” Jabin said.

NPT Small Nonprofits

As part of the Best Nonprofits To Work For survey, employees are asked 78 questions about their organization across eight categories. The results are grouped into positive responses -- those answering “Agree Somewhat” and “Agree Strongly” and ultimately comprise the Employee Benchmark Report.

On average, across the survey, small Best Nonprofits outscored those small organizations that didn’t make the list by 7% (94% versus 87%). Small Best Nonprofits outscored their peers that didn’t make the final 50 ranking in all eight categories, including two by double digits:

  • Training, Development and Resources, +11% (90% v. 79%);
  • Culture and Communications, +10% (95% v. 85%);
  • Leadership and Planning, +9% (96% v. 87%);
  • Role Satisfaction, +7% (96% v. 89%);
  • Pay and Benefits, +7% (90% v. 83%);
  • Overall Engagement, +7% (96% v. 89%);
  • Relationship With Supervisor, +5% (96% v. 91%); and,
  • Work environment, +4% (96% v. 92%).

NPT Small Nonprofits

The widest disparity within the Employee Benchmark Report among small organizations was, by far, found with the question, “I’m satisfied with the tuition reimbursement benefits.”

Among the Best Nonprofits, small organizations scored 75% on that question, trailing large, medium and overall averages, yet that was far ahead of the 49% of small nonprofits that didn’t make the list.

The Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) in Denver, Colo., which ranked No. 35 overall and No. 17 in small organizations, has among the most generous tuition reimbursement policies: $5,250 per calendar year. “It’s very flexible to support the employee wherever they want to go,” President & CEO Tiffany Grunert said. “We absolutely encourage additional learning and continuing education,” she said.

Needy Meds

The MAF also offers staff training for mindfulness, productive communication, time management, mental health, productivity, financial education and more. “We’ve created a lot of alignment over what our staff needs to be competitive, ensuring they don’t want to go anywhere else,” Grunert said.

MAF changed the name of its Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA) to Moolah. Employees can be reimbursed up to $1,700 per year for things related to employee enrichment and wellness, work from home expenses, public transportation, and pet wellness. Grunert said that it can cover a wide range of programs for what employees need, including counseling or a Peloton subscription.

The LSA was started two years ago as part of a comprehensive rewards review by the board and staff, which made recommendations to create a pay-for-performance system and highly competitive benefits. “We really view our employees as our best asset,” Grunert said. “We want to recruit and retain only the best and keep them,” she said.

Peninsula Healthcare Connection (PHC) in San Jose, Calif., is one of five Best Nonprofits that offers paid sabbaticals to employees. PHC ranked No. 24 overall and 10th among small organizations in its first appearance in the Best Nonprofits To Work For.

After five years, employees at PHC earn a sabbatical of four weeks, and after another five years, they earn another few weeks. Employees have a two-year window to use it.

“People use it for a variety of reasons. The goal is just to have people take some time away. The work we do frankly is really high burnout,” Program Director Heather Boddie-Russo said. “It’s healthy, almost necessary, to take a step back and focus on your passion, your family or a trip you want to take. Recharge and come back refreshed, with a new lens on the work we see,” she said.

One employee took a silent meditation retreat earlier this year, another traveled to be with family for a month out of state, and someone else needed several hours of training to get their certification. Boddie-Russo said she spent uninterrupted time with her family on her sabbatical.

In a normal year, all eligible staff would take their sabbatical in the year they were eligible. Some employees chose not to in 2020 because of travel restrictions due to the pandemic, Bodie-Russo said.

Another question in which small Best Nonprofits separated themselves from large and medium-sized nonprofits was “I have a good understanding of how this organization is doing financially.” Staff at Best Nonprofits answered positively 93% while those that did not rank scored 79% -- a difference of 14%. Amid all the aspects of Best Nonprofits, sometimes it just comes down to the bottom line. Within the Pay and Benefits category, small nonprofits averaged 88% positive answers to the statement, “My pay is fair for the work I perform.”

Pete Griffin, president & CEO of Musicians On Call (MOC), headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., estimates that 60% of its budget is staffing and personnel costs. MOC organization ranked No. 9 overall and No. 4 among small organizations.

On most types of insurance, MOC pays 100% of the premium for employees. “Staff are our program, so in that sense, people partnering with hosspitals are a large part of program costs.

That is our cost of doing business. That’s been my approach, take care of employees holistically,” Griffin said. “You have to have the best talent. You can have great strategy and mission,” he said, but that means nothing if there are not great people executing. “We don’t just look at it as an increase in expenses. This is why we don’t have turnover amongst our staff; how they’re treated and respected.”

This year, the Best Nonprofits survey asked about what the most requested program is that’s not yet offered. At MOC, it was a retirement plan. The conversation came up about 18 months ago, Griffin said, and they’ve been working on it ever since, rolling out a 401(k) plan this past February. “We have a plan now that we like that we’ll be implementing. It’s part of a constant feedback loop. You try not to let things fester. If people think it’s really something we need, let’s not wait for one time a year at a retreat to say something,” he said.

Early on in the pandemic it was pretty clear going virtual certainly had some benefits but the mental health challenges were probably going to be unspoken or unrealized for a while, Griffin said. MOC provided a bonus of $720 to each of its 17 employees. Griffin explained the math behind it. A mental health care visit would cost employees a $30 co-pay. At two visits per month, that would total $720 over the course of a year. The bonus would eliminate out-of-pocket expenses for staff. “That’s how we framed it and the thinking behind it,” Griffin said.” NPT