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Securing Atlanta's Future Thought Leadership

What ‘The Great Resignation’ Means for Nonprofits Who Can’t Afford ‘The Great Raise’

By David Jernigan, President & CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta 

The pandemic phenomenon known as “The Great Resignation” has set the job market on fire. As voluntary turnover continues to spread across the nation, companies struggle to fill vacancies amid competition and retain understaffed talent amid burnouts. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021 with the highest numbers concentrated in the southern region. Some 660,000 employees quit their positions in educational and health services, and an additional 87,000 quit their jobs in state and local education. Our youth-serving organization has certainly felt the impact of “The Big Quit” as well. We currently have 109 vacancies, constituting roughly a quarter of our workforce.

While many for-profit companies and even some non-profits have solved “The Great Resignation” with “The Great Raise,” passing increased labor costs to our consumers is not a viable option for many non-profits, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA).

At BGMCA, we pride ourselves in maintaining an affordable after-school program for our families; membership is based on a sliding scale fee structure. For example, a family of three would pay approximately $100 per child for the entire year, and we also offer scholarship opportunities.  Like many non-profit organizations, BGMCA can offer such an affordable option to families because approximately 90% of our $24M budget is funded by the generous support of foundations, corporate partners, individual donors, and various government grants. This means that every time we make an investment in compensation (which makes up nearly two-thirds of our budget), we must also consider how this investment impacts our annual fundraising need and the extent to which we can sustain the fundraising lift, a financial analysis that is significantly different than most for-profit businesses.

Despite this complexity and uncertainty, we know that our dedicated employees deserve to be fairly compensated, so our 2022 budget contemplates an additional $700,000 investment in compensation, including a $1 per hour increase for our part-time employees.  And yet, this significant increase in our annual fundraising lift still only translates to an average hourly rate of $12 per hour for our hardworking hourly employees.  As we see local fast-food restaurants offering $15 per hour and other businesses offering even more competitive compensation packages, we have been challenged to consider other ways that we can remain competitive in this difficult labor market.  

“Investing more in our staff is not just the right thing to do, it is mission critical,” said Veronica Squires, BGCMA Chief Development Officer. “Our secret sauce as an organization is providing our members a safe place to go where caring, trusted adult mentors pour into their lives every day. This is what leads to transformation. Investing in our staff is the most strategic thing we can do to deliver on our mission.” 

Meaningful Interactions, Not Band-Aid Transactions

Our talented and passionate Club staff work during critical non-school hours each day at our 25 Clubs to ignite the unlimited potential of kids and teens by creating safe, inclusive, and engaging environments. Club staff make up roughly 82% of our workforce and are our front-line employees. Full-time Club staff serve as executive directors, program directors, and teen directors. Part-time Club staff serve as youth-development instructors in areas that include art, physical education, and academic support. Club staff are the heartbeat of our organization. Likewise, our Support Center staff serving in administrative and executive roles are equally vital to our sustainability. 

As we spent the past year grappling with the financial implications of compensation investments, we have come to understand that there are many factors beyond compensation that attract and retain our dedicated employees. “Majority of my staff have worked with me four or more years,” said Paulding County Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Raiko Jones, who has been with BGCMA for nearly 21 years. “I asked my staff this question [why do you continue to work for BGCMA] and the overwhelming response was of our Club environment.”

The family-like atmosphere can also be felt in our Support Center. 

“When I interviewed at BGCMA I was immediately drawn to the warmth of our employees,” said Margo Marks, Senior VP of Human Resources, who’s been at BGCMA for 3 years. “I could see their passion in their smiles and their love of the work in their words. When we have in-person training, we allow time for dance parties and games at the end of the day.  This is a place people can make a difference and have a great time doing it!  This is also the only place I interviewed that ended with hugs.”

Our Fall 2021 Employee Pulse Survey affirms these sentiments. Approximately 83% of surveyed employees would recommend BGCMA as a great place to work, 91% are proud of the BGCMA brand, and 94% believe their work serves a good purpose and aligns with BGCMA values and goals.

We also learned that while employees feel that they receive effective communications from their direct supervisors, many also desire to provide more input in organizational decision making. Insight like this is especially vital as we navigate voluntary turnover and work to offer solutions to real issues that may result in resignation.

In direct response to feedback around elevating the voices of our frontline employees, we created an extended leadership team that brings our Club directors to the decision-making table on a consistent basis.  By expanding the leadership table, we have challenged ourselves to pause and listen to the perspective of those who are working in our communities every day, and we have chipped away at the natural division that can exist for organizations with a centralized support center and another group of employees who are on the frontlines. 

Nurturing Career Paths and Development Opportunities

When employees expressed concerns about career mobility, we took immediate action. In 2021, we filled 60% of our open full-time positions by hiring internally. In addition, our L.E.A.D. @ BGCMA program (Leadership, Exploration, And Development) was designed specifically for high-performing part-time employees seeking internal growth opportunities. Offered twice a year, the 3-month program affords participants bi-monthly one-on-one mentorship meetings, stretch assignments, and monthly micro-training sessions where they work on topics such as resume building and interview skills. 

In spring 2019, our pilot cohort of 7 employees yielded 6 internal promotions/career shifts. Our fall 2021 cohort of 11 employees resulted in 5 part-time employees interviewing for full-time positions, yielding 2 internal promotions. 

Michael Mells started his 6.5-year journey as a part-time teen services coordinator before being promoted to a full-time program director. He now serves as the Executive Director of our A. W. “Tony” Matthews Club in Mableton.

“While working at BGCMA I’ve been able to achieve more than just a career that I love; I was afforded the opportunity to go back to college and complete my degree,” said Mells, who took advantage of our tuition reimbursement employee benefit. “I’ve met life-long friends and colleagues who are very supportive. The leadership here at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta share the same core values that I believe in which makes this a great place to work and grow professionally.”

Lucas Causey can also attest to professional growth at BGCMA. He joined BGCMA in September 2018 and was promoted to Senior Director of Development Operations in December 2020.

“I was hired to be the Database Manager for Resource Development with an understanding that if I was a good fit that I might be a succession plan for the then current Senior Director who first hired me,” Causey explained. “When she left in early March of 2020, shortly before the quarantine, I was promoted to Director of Development Operations. By expanding the role to include oversight of government grant management, I was able to grow into the ‘senior’ by end of last year.”

Putting our Mission First, Responding with Urgency and Agility

In addition to nurturing career paths and development opportunities, BGCMA has maintained an unwavering commitment to our mission.  In fact, we’ve leaned into it, and it became clear to us that our mission-driven work is a major competitive advantage in this current labor market.  As a youth-serving non-profit, we offer an environment where employees can see the direct impact of their work on kids and in the community. Each day, we contribute to something beyond ourselves.  We are igniting unlimited potential of kids & teens. We are preparing young leaders to thrive in life and strengthen the futures of their communities and the world.

“I love working for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta because of the impact I get to have on not only the members but the staff and community,” Mells said. “I have alumni members who reach out to the Club yearly reminding me of the difference I’ve made in their life year after year. I love the impact I get to make in the lives of individuals every day, and I don’t think I could do this work anywhere else like I do here with BGCMA.” 

“I truly believe in our mission,” Jones added. “I want to make a difference by providing members with opportunities to engage in life-changing experiences. Wherever I am fortunate to work, I strive to create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive.”

When the world shut down in 2020 so too did the proverbial blue doors of our Clubs and Support Center. However, like many companies, our leadership and administrative staff members continued our mission-driven work by shifting their offices to their homes. Remote work provided employees with much needed flexibility while many working parents adapted to school closures that impacted their families.

When our doors reopened in Fall 2020, we decided to continue remote work at our Support Center, allowing employees the flexibility to work virtually up to three times a week. While this has provided many benefits, we are still assessing the ways in which remote work has impacted (both positively and negatively) our overall work culture. Employee focus groups have been extremely helpful in this regard. 

Whether working in the office, Club or home, one thing remains the same: our Club members are top priority in our organization. Every employee is here to serve our youth. So, when faced with the challenges of COVID-19, we responded to the emerging needs of our kids and their families with urgency and agility. When school buildings were closed for in-person instruction in 2020, we launched “The Club” – a digital platform where more than 1,000 kids & teens learned and collaborated. We also opened our doors at nearly 20 locations, provided more than 120,000 snacks and meals, offered devices and virtual learning hubs, and implemented heightened safety protocols. 

As our youth grappled with the adjustment to distance learning, social isolation, academic backslide and racial injustice, we hosted weekly “Safe Space” virtual discussions to provide a place for them to talk about their emotions and work through trauma. Sessions also focused on developing actionable ways kids and teens can make a difference.  In 2021, we also piloted programmatic partnerships with CHRIS 180 and Emory University at our Whitehead and Harland Clubs for kids and families who seek mental health and culturally responsive trauma-informed care services.

It’s this kind of work – showing up every day in a community to be a part of the solution – that allows BGCMA to attract some of the most dedicated employees in Metro Atlanta. 

“I love what I do! It’s exciting and rewarding,” said Nkeschia Brundidge-Clark who has worked for BGCMA for 19 years and currently runs the James T. Anderson Boys & Girls Club in Marietta. “You truly see the transformation of a child from as early as 6 years old until they enter into young adulthood.”

While mission-driven work can certainly attract people to youth-serving organizations like BGCMA, it’s not enough to keep them. The work can be incredibly challenging and stressful for our employees, especially those on the frontlines who see the direct impact of the pandemic on families and kids. The last two years have taught us that we must not only attend to the wellbeing of our kids and teens, but we must also listen to our employees and do our best to respond to their needs with urgency and agility. 

To that end, our Human Resources Department sends weekly Wednesday Wellness e-blasts that offers tips and resources to better cope with life stresses. Our Employee Assistance Program also provides all employees and any member of an employee’s family with six free counseling sessions; this benefit is available to our employees on their start date.

We are hopeful that as we continue to balance the urgency of our mission with the importance of our employees’ wellbeing, we will have more and more employees who adopt the perspective of Ms. Jones who maintains that “Work at BGCMA has never felt like hard work, only heart work.”

Sustaining through the Pandemic, Hoping for the End 

Like companies across the globe, BGCMA has been met with our fair share of challenges throughout the pandemic. As we look towards a future in hopes of an end on the horizon, our mission-driven work will continue to sustain us. 

“I am driven by our mission to ignite the unlimited potential of kids and teens by creating safe, inclusive and engaging environments,’” Marks said. “Even though I’m in HR and don’t work directly with our members, I know that the people we hire, the culture we develop, and the programs we deliver directly impact our staff. If our staff is engaged, our members will be engaged and have a wonderful experience in our Clubs. I also enjoy working with this group of smart and talented employees who are changing lives.  I’m proud every day to wear the BGCMA knuckles.”

Indeed, it is our passion and commitment to youth that has allowed us to attract and retain talent despite our inability to compete with many for-profit compensation packages. Our mission-driven work is by far our strongest competitive advantage in this difficult labor market.

Yet, “The Great Resignation” does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. We continue to wrestle with uncertainties that have major implications for our ability to deliver on our mission. As we strive to achieve our RISE 2025 strategic plan goal of serving “more kids, more often, with greater impact,” we are cognizant that the number of kids we can reach is directly proportional to the number of dedicated employees we can attract and retain in our Clubs.

These days we are leaning on the generous support of government grants, foundations, corporate partners, and individual donors more than ever. To our donors and community stakeholders, we THANK YOU tremendously for investing in our young people. We cannot do what we do without you. We need your time. We need your dollars. We need your support. We need your long-term commitment as we make significant investments in talent today that will require sustained support when the dust settles in this tight labor market. If you want to deepen your impact and help us further our mission, please visit www.bgcma.org/donate-today and consider a reoccurring donation. Every dollar helps us sustain our great work for our Club members. Together, we can attract, nurture and retain high-performing employees committed to our mission to ignite the unlimited potential of kids & teens in Metro Atlanta. Together, we can survive “The Great Resignation.”

About Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA): For more than 80 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA) has ignited the unlimited potential of kids and teens by creating safe, inclusive, and engaging environments. Our 25 Clubs located in 11 counties across metropolitan Atlanta have traditionally served nearly 8000 kids & teens (ages 6-18) each year, offering youth development programs during critical non-school hours that promote academic success, healthy lifestyles, and character & leadership. BGCMA also oversees Camp Kiwanis, a 160-acre outdoor residence camp. To learn more about BGCMA, follow us on social media: Twitter (@BGCMA_Clubs), Facebook (BGCMA), LinkedIn (Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta), and Instagram (bgcmATL), or visit us online at www.bgcma.org. To apply for one of our amazing youth-development positions, go to www.bgcma.org/careers.

 

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