Mission Ties Staff More Closely Together Than At Larger Organizations – Small Nonprofits

Managers at the Travis Manion Foundation had some trial and error when staffing the organization. In one case a new employee lasted less than one week.

The person was an U.S. Air Force veteran and was used to being tasked with a checklist of responsibilities. “It’s not good or bad. Some people need that type of structure,” said Joshua Jabin, chief operating officer of the organization.

The Travis Manion Foundation in Doylestown, Pa., was fifth in the 15-49 employee category and 10th overall in the annual NPT’s Best Nonprofits To Work For competition. On April 29, 2007, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, his fellow Marines and Iraqi Army counterparts were ambushed while searching a suspected insurgent house in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. Leading the counterattack against the enemy forces, Manion was fatally wounded by an enemy sniper while aiding and drawing fire away from his wounded teammates.

The key for smaller nonprofits is organizational flexibility and shared experience. “Everyone has to matter and have ownership,” said Jabin. “Within daily life, it’s not 9 to 5. Our staff is supporting members at night. Believe me, we are working more than 40 hours,” said Jabin.

Almost all employees have exempt status. “We try to balance it (the time off) out. The organization also has a year-end holiday schedule where things officially shut down but staff members are ready should they be needed,” Jabin said.

Executives at Nuru International in Irvine, Calif., describe the organization as “distributed.” That means everyone is out in the field and gather for an annual one-week summit. It’s one full week of working sessions, explained Marc Rahlves, chief operating officer. Nuru finished 10th in the small organization category and 28th overall.

While Rahlves described “the top benefit” as being able to work remotely, the infrastructure to support the staff is incredible. There is an “extensive duty of care” program that includes medical evacuation due to the “slightly more dangerous environments” in which some staff work. There are also “psychological first aid” programs. Regular assessment of staff is vital.

“There’s an extensive time off policy that goes beyond vacation” and a mandatory two-week shutdown around the holidays, said Rahlves. There are also “R&R days” because staff often travels nights and weekends.

That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all when it comes to time off. “We have an extensive HR dashboard balanced score card” that also looks at certifications and diversity. “It’s one of our strategic pillars,” said Rahlves.

Even though the Travis Manion Foundation is small, or because of its size, there are opportunities for professional growth. Five of the 49 employees recently were promoted into new positions. Staff turnover is 6 percent, a number Jabin said has been consistent.

Responses to the study from employees at small organization topped or tied their medium and large brethren when asked their reactions in eight categories. Those categories were: Leadership and Planning; Culture and Communications; Role Satisfaction; Work Environment; Relationship With Supervisor; Training, Development and Resources; Pay and Benefits; and, Overall Employee Engagement.

The lone area where smaller organizations came out behind medium and larger organizations was the Pay and Benefits category but still just two percentage points behind larger organizations.

Under Leadership and Planning, 93 percent of employees at small nonprofits approve of what’s going on at their organizations when those at nonprofits that didn’t make the list came in at 78 percent approval. CEO tenure averaged 10.4 years at organizations on the list and 8.3 years at those that did not make the list.

Half of all small organizations on the list offer the chance to enroll in healthcare to both full- and part-time employees. Some 72 percent allow employees to enroll within the first 31 days of joining. Onethird of organizations enroll staff on the first day of hire. It was only 43 percent for organizations that did not make the list.

More than half (56 percent) cover the healthcare premium with another 28 percent covering between 75 percent and 99 percent of the premium. All of the organizations on the list offered health benefits.

The same can’t be said for dependent coverage, with 6 percent of those making the list paying 100 percent of dependent coverage and 39 percent paying less than 25 percent of dependent health coverage.

Trips to the dentist are also covered in some form by employers on the list, with 56 percent paying the entire premium and 28 percent paying between 75 percent and 99 percent of it.

At least 72 percent of employers on the list contribute between 75 percent and 100 percent of vision coverage.

Some 61 percent have flexible spending accounts and offer an average 12 holidays per year. And, 94 percent report having telecommuting options and 56 percent permit time off for community service/volunteer work.

Of the top small organization respondents, 39 percent reported offering paid time off as a bank of days that includes vacation, sick and personal days, and 89 percent offer either a 401(k), 403(b) or Section 457 retirement plan. Of organizations making the list, 65 percent match some percentage of employees’ contributions to retirement plans. While 72 percent provide wellness and fitness programs in the workplace, 83 percent provide cafeteria or meal subsidies, free daily snacks or beverages.

Job performance is key to these organizations, with 61 percent conducting annual performance reviews, 22 percent doing them twice annually and 11 percent doing them more than twice per year.

Family is important to the small organizations with nearly all (89 percent) having flexible hours for school events or taking a family member to the doctor. Organizations on the list provided full or partially-paid leave for birth or adoption of a child (72 percent) and 28 percent provide adoption assistance, such as reimbursement of agency fees. More than half (61 percent) provide lactation facilities.

On-site personal development and/ or stress management workshops, seminars, or classes are offered by 44 percent of those on the list and 61 percent provide an employer-sponsored Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which might provide counseling for marital, parental or financial problems, and/or assistance for specific conditions such as substance abuse, smoking or gambling.

There’s no overtime or it’s kept to a minimum at 61 percent of small organizations and meetings and staff-only events are limited to during work hours at 72 percent of the best places to work.

Musicians On Call finished No. 3 in the category and No. 15 overall.

Fully 98 percent of workers responded: “I like the type of work that I do.” And, 97 percent understand their importance to the organization’s success while 94 percent responded that they are given enough authority to make decisions.

Just as the staff at The Travis Manion Foundation deal with clients under great stress, so do the people at The Center for Trauma & Resilience in Denver, Colo. Taking care of one’s self is core along with delivering for clients. One-third of the evaluation at The Center for Trauma & Resilience tracks self-care goals established for each staff member.

The Center for Trauma & Resilience ranked second in the small organization category and fifth overall.

The organization has a Professional Quality of Life evaluation twice yearly. Emotional challenges can either push a staff apart or pull it together. Staff put its trauma training to work twice over the years when staff members died.

“It was not work related. We involved everyone in moving forward honoring the person’s passing,” said Kathi Fanning, director of training. It involved “looking at what we need to do, a ceremony and closure for staff and other services” for staff to grieve, she said.

Of course, there’s always the Salad Club and pot luck lunch every other Wednesday to keep the staff close, she said.

Being a small organization of fewer than 20 employees, cash is too tight to reimburse for professional education. Employees get flextime to attend classes and develop new skills. Among the staff are 13 people with master’s degrees, one working on a doctorate degree and others with professional licenses.

At NOWCC (National Older Worker Career Center) in Arlington, Va., half of the staff is new since 2014 but turnover during the past 12 months has been zero, said President & CEO Cito Vanegas. NOWCC finished first in the small category and overall.

An off-shoot of AARP which launched in 1997, NOWCC’s goal was growth in revenue during the past few years. “We engaged staff in strategic planning and we’ve grown from $26 million to $31 million, said Vanegas. “There’s a strategic work plan with clear expectations and progress for all staff,” he said.

Courses taken by staff are paid 100 percent by the organization. All managers go through an external management program which is also paid for by the organization. There is also an annual leadership summit, unusual for an organization of just 24 people.

Everyone has heard of casual Friday, well NOWCC has an everyday policy of dressing comfortably. “We are family- friendly and for working comfortably,” said Vanegas. It allows staff to approach work more confidently, he said.

There’s also team building, such as a day of community service on September 11 and recently going to the Washington Mall and packing eatables for those who are food insecure.

The U.S. Tennis Association, Mid-Atlantic Section finished No. 9 in the category and No. 30 overall.

What all of the organizations have in common in the small category is mission-focused people for whom time stands still when a client or staff member need their help.