What I Learned Working at an Awesome Nonprofit

By Erin Gloeckner

I’m writing this on my final day (of my first stint!) at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center. Melanie told me I could write about whatever I want…so here goes.

Work is hard. Even when you love your job, work can be mentally draining, exhausting, and frustrating. Many of my prior jobs were no exception. In high school, I worked at a café where the hiring manager asked me to play strip poker—definitely a bad job! In college, I worked in an office where negative energy abounded and the promise of a happy hour drink was the only thing keeping everyone sane. When I started at the Center, I wondered what emotional side effects I would experience: pleasure, pain, stress, or satisfaction. As it turns out, the side effects were positive. Work is hard, but it’s fun when you have a great boss. The Center is an awesome nonprofit and I’ve picked up some management secrets from my boss, as well as my colleagues.

  • Equality — Perhaps the main reason I love the Center is that structurally, we are a flat organization. Melanie is the Executive Director, but she treats everyone else like a colleague, not an inferior. Melanie’s respect for her staff prompts her to provide us with greater responsibility and intense challenges. I thrive in an environment where I complete new, exciting tasks each day. At NRMC I was challenged to grow by taking on projects that—at any other organization—would have been reserved for a higher-level employee. Thankfully, our CEO views my age and lack of experience as potential rather than a limitation necessitating years of “paying dues” on the entry-level production line.
  • Communication — The greatest cultural perk at the Center is openness and candor. Open communication promotes harmony among our staff and allows us to conquer challenges and disagreements in a healthy way. Not only are we encouraged to speak our minds confidently, but our CEO eagerly invites ideas different from her own. Melanie has a few good ideas herself, but I appreciate how she values my opinion and the thoughts of our colleagues.
  • Flexibility — Many of us know the managers who are time sticklers. Arrive three minutes past 9:00 am and your job is on the line! The Center staff are lucky because the core workplace value of flexibility allows us to achieve a healthy work-life balance. Most managers are clock watchers because they believe that staff need a taskmaster to hold them accountable. At NRMC we’re judged by our work products and how we support and contribute to the team. We’re trusted to complete the work and enjoy many options when it comes to the workday, dress code and telecommuting. Melanie’s flexibility helped me relieve the daily stress which coincides with work, and her trust encouraged me to hold myself accountable to a higher work ethic.

Aside from expressing my gratitude to Melanie, I hope this RISK eNews inspires some supervisors, senior management, and executives to evaluate the way they interact and communicate with their staff. As a staff person, I can say from experience that a caring boss empowers me to bring more positivity and productivity to the workplace. As a risk management consultant, I can say that many of our clients experience the ‘great divide’ between management and support staff. Build a bridge and watch your team revive itself. For more management tips, watch our September webinar, “All That’s Sacred: The Erosion of Employment at Will, the Regular Workday, and Other HR Icons.”

Erin Gloeckner is the former Director of Consulting Services at the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.