Culture is Key at the Nation’s Best Nonprofits to Work For

Paul Clolery

It was culture that nabbed Team Rubicon a spot among the top 50 nonprofits to work for on The NonProfit Times Best Nonprofits To Work For 2021, released on April 5. It was a big deal for veteran-led disaster relief nonprofit, which spent most of 2020 responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

To determine the Best NonProfits To Work For, The NonProfit Times contracted with Harrisburg, Pa.-based Best Companies Group (BCG) to survey employees, managers, and outside vendors of participating organizations on questions and statements across eight categories. Responses are then compiled into an Employee Benchmark Report (EBR), which breaks out the percentage of positive responses (“agree somewhat” and “agree strongly”) for those organizations that were the Best Nonprofits and those that did not make the cut, as well as by category of small, medium and large organizations.

Overall, Best Nonprofits scored highest relative to their counterparts that didn’t make the list in the categories of Leadership and Planning (+11%), Pay and Benefits (+11%), and Culture and Communications (+10%). Best Nonprofits scored highest in the areas of Work Environment and Overall Engagement, both 95%.

One of the most consistent areas where Best Nonprofits outdid their counterparts was in allowing employees additional paid time off (PTO) for community services. Overall, 70% of Best Nonprofits had such a policy compared with 41% among organizations not on the list.

Four out of five Best Nonprofits offered fully or partially paid parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child compared with barely half of nonprofits that did not make that list. In the medium-size category; 70% offered the benefit, versus 50% at companies that did not make the list. At Team Rubicon, parental leave is part of an extensive benefits package—and a benefit that even Team Rubicon founder and CEO Jake Wood even made use of in 2020.

Offering flexible hours or a compressed workweek as a standard, year-round practice, was especially popular among Best Nonprofits. On average, 84 percent of Best Nonprofits offered the benefit versus 69% of organizations that did not make the cut. That was the case across the board, with large organizations at an average 83% (versus 60%) and medium organizations at 74% (compared with 60%).

In a similar vein, offering telecommuting as a standard practice to employees was far more common among Best Nonprofits. Overall, 84% of Best Nonprofits offered it compared with 69% overall, and each category eclipsed the 80-percent mark.

Medium-Size Nonprofits in the Sweet Spot

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.

In this year’s awards, medium organizations—those with 50 to 249 employees, including Team Rubicon—accounted for almost half of the 50 Best Nonprofits, with 24 honorees. Small organizations, considered those with 15 to 49 employees, nabbed 20 of the 50 spots (40%), including No. 1 and No. 2. There were six large organizations, those with 250 or more employees, that made the final cut.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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