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Nonprofits find ways to attract, keep workers

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Monte Hilton, volunteer, left, and Brandon Biswell, an employee with Rogue Retreat, set up a tent at the urban campground for homeless people in Medford.
15 Rogue Valley groups make list of ‘100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon’

Amid a tight labor market, some Rogue Valley nonprofit groups are attracting and keeping workers with a mix of fair compensation, meaningful jobs and good work-life balance.

Justin Barrett, manager of a Medford campground for homeless people run by Rogue Retreat, started his job there almost four months ago.

“It’s been a great, great addition to my life,” he said.

Rogue Retreat helps people put their lives back together while offering shelter in campground tents, a homeless shelter, tiny houses and other housing options sprinkled across the valley.

Barrett said he gets paid in two ways — a paycheck and a sense of accomplishment.

“I go home proud that I helped someone get a job that day or reunite with their family,” he said.

Barrett was homeless himself 12 years ago before a Salvation Army program helped him rebuild his life. He’s now a dad with a degree in health care information technology. He could have a comfortable indoor job at a health care organization, but chose to help others by working outside in the winter cold and summer heat at the Rogue Retreat campground.

Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, said working at the campground in all kinds of weather isn’t easy. Even employees who work inside, such as at the Kelly Shelter, cope with homeless people who are sometimes agitated, frustrated and angry.

But McComas said when he talks to Rogue Retreat workers, they say they love their jobs.

“They love serving people. They love giving back. Many of our employees have life experience that at one time they were in the same shoes as many of our current participants,” McComas said.

His perceptions of worker satisfaction are backed up by the “100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon” list for 2021. Rogue Retreat was No. 13 in the large organizations category for nonprofits with 50 or more employees.

This year, 15 nonprofits in the Rogue Valley made the top 100 list. Workers rate their employers in categories such as work environment, mission and goals, opportunities for learning and career advancement, pay and benefits.

Being attuned to employee job satisfaction is more important than ever.

Many businesses and nonprofits are struggling to hire and keep workers. Unemployment rates are falling as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, but the U.S. is dealing with what some are calling the Great Resignation as workers quit their jobs and look for new opportunities.

Nationwide, 62% of workers say they feel burned out, 51% say the pandemic caused them to re-evaluate their personal priorities, 31% say there are considering changing careers and 34% are considering changing employers, according to a random sample of more than 1,000 U.S. workers by Eagle Hill Consulting.

“Both employers and employees are near the breaking point. Employers are struggling to find workers, and employees are stressed at work,” said Melissa Jezior, president and chief executive officer of Eagle Hill Consulting. “Unfortunately, the workforce situation likely will worsen before it gets better, with one-third of the workforce planning to leave their job soon. The so-called Great Resignation means that employers must start a Great Re-Evaluation, rethinking everything from their culture to how work gets done.”

She said smart employers will figure out what their workers value and need so they can keep those employees.

Back at Rogue Retreat, McComas said nonprofits and businesses need to help their workers have better lives.

“Every business is rethinking that. How do we help our employees more?” he said.

McComas said one good thing that has come out of the pandemic and the tight labor market is more organizations are being forced to give better pay and benefits. He noted many fast food restaurants are now offering starting wages well above minimum wage.

“They’re all trying to attract people. Why didn’t we pay that amount a year ago? Why are we just now coming up to a livable wage — because we have to? We should have done that before,” McComas said.

He said offering competitive compensation can be tough for nonprofits, but Rogue Retreat has increased base pay from $14 to $16 an hour. He wishes he could raise base pay to $20 an hour, but doesn’t have the budget yet for that increase.

With average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oregon now at $950, workers have to earn $17 an hour to afford housing, McComas said.

“It’s really important that we help our employees be able to take care of themselves,” he said.

With his degree in health care information technology, Barrett could make more money somewhere else. But Rogue Retreat offers meaningful work, and also cares about its workers, he said.

Barrett said Rogue Retreat knows employees need time to take care of themselves and recharge. He enjoys spending time with his daughter, target shooting, hiking and going to Oregon Ducks football games. He’s planning a trip to Mexico.

“I try to do things that take me away and I can clear my mind of everything. Then I can come back and go at it hard again,” he said. “I know what all my employees like to do for self-care, too. If I can see that an employee needs time off but they don’t see it, I can say, ‘Hey, why don’t you take Friday off? Why don’t you go out and do something for yourself?’ That’s OK here. That’s encouraged here.”

McComas said Rogue Retreat encourages workers to take care of their mental, physical and spiritual health.

“Sometimes I tell people a day off is not really a day off unless you leave the city limits. When you’re at home, even though you’re not at work, you’re still thinking about everything,” he said.

Rogue Retreat workers who took the survey that landed the organization on the 100 Best Nonprofits list said they appreciated the focus on self-care, benefits and opportunities for growth.

McComas said many of Rogue Retreat’s workers experienced homelessness themselves in the past. They can get training to work in peer support and case management, then might eventually run a program or department themselves. He said his invaluable executive assistant was once homeless herself.

“One thing that we’ve said for a number of years at Rogue Retreat is we really want our participants who end up in our program to have the hope that they could someday work at our program or be a leader in our program. I like bringing people up through the ranks as much as possible,” McComas said.

Hearts with a Mission, which helps homeless and runaway youth by offering shelter and services, is another Rogue Valley group that made it on the “100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon” list.

Landing at No. 6 among medium organizations with 20-49 employees, Hearts with a Mission was lauded by its workers for its supportive team environment, receptive management and good work-life balance.

When the nonprofit first got off the ground, workers made $10 an hour. But Hearts with a Mission has been able to boost pay and offer health benefits, a 401K retirement plan and generous personal time off allowances, said Executive Director Kevin Lamson.

“We want our people to be fairly compensated,” he said. “Being a nonprofit, that can be difficult to do. But we recognize that what they do is difficult work.”

Lamson said many of the young people served by Hearts with a Mission have experienced traumatic events. Employees who work with youth can suffer second-hand trauma. If workers have had tough lives themselves, their jobs can bring up difficult memories.

Lamson said workers do a good job supporting each other. But they can also talk to one of the two counselors who work for Hearts with a Mission.

“They can talk to her about anything — work, family life, their own struggles. We make that available to them. If you want someone to talk to who isn’t your supervisor or your peer, you have a caring ear,” he said.

Lamson said that during the interview and hiring process, Hearts with a Mission asks would-be workers if they just want a job or if they feel a calling to work with youth.

Many of the people who get hired are young workers in their first professional jobs. Hearts with a Mission tries to train them to become future leaders, Lamson said.

He said managers listen to frontline workers about how to improve the organization and its services.

Ultimately, Lamson said, a nonprofit that is serving vulnerable people also needs to take care of its own workers.

“If we’re not showing the same compassion to staff as we do to the kids and families we serve, there’s something wrong,” he said.

Other Rogue Valley nonprofits that made the 100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon list this year were Logos Public Charter School, Pathway Enterprises, the Mt. Ashland Association, Southern Oregon Aspire, Living Opportunities, Creative Supports, Project Youth+, Crater Lake Academy, Youth 71Five Ministries, Dogs for Better Lives, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Jackson County, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Southern Oregon and Rogue Valley Farm to School.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.