Employee engagement is critical for any not-for-profit (NFP) organization’s communications strategy, both internally and with external stakeholders. Engagement creates open communication channels that enable NFPs to reach their full potential in a number of ways, helping them to:
Raise funding

  • Promote their organization
  • Recruit new talent and volunteers
  • Increase productivity
  • Improve workforce retention
  • Achieve their business goals
    These are just a few of the reasons that a growing number of NFPs are beginning to prioritize an engagement strategy for their employees and volunteers alike. The YMCA of Greater Charlotte is one such organization that recognized a need to culturally change how they approached creating and delivering their employee experience.Molly Thompson, Vice President of PR and Communications at the YMCA Greater Charlotte, explained that as an organization that cares deeply about its people and the communities they serve, they wanted a tool beyond just surveys and newsletters to gather feedback from their workforce and increase engagement levels. “We wanted to increase employee engagement across our highly distributed organization of both desk and non-desk employees,” said Thompson.Retooling EngagementYMCA of Greater Charlotte had four main goals in relation to increasing the engagement levels of its vast network of 4,700 employees and volunteers. They wanted to:
  • Drive loyalty, retention, and support among their front-line teams by keeping them informed and engaged
  • Give all employees a voice by creating an open communication channel to connect them
  • Keep employees updated with the latest organizational goals and fundraising initiatives
  • Partner with a provider that had communications expertise to guide them on best-practice communication and content strategyThe organization evaluated the use of mainstream social media platforms before discovering that the key to making this happen was integrally connected to a new mobile-enabled technology. This platform, called StaffConnect, used personalization and an engaging user experience to engender support among staff users, helping them do their jobs with increased convenience and efficiency. StaffConnect combines its mobile technology with a unique AppSuccess program which offered access to domain experts that partnered with the YMCA of Greater Charlotte to create winning communication strategies. This was key to gaining fast user adoption and interaction with the mobile engagement platform and helped energize and connect their entire workforces.Since the CEO at YMCA Greater Charlotte was also very interested in social for internal communication and engagement, the organization explored several possible technology solutions, including Yammer and others social tools. But they discovered that StaffConnect gave them more control, security, support and richer engagement experience. “StaffConnect offered a great balance of security and protection,” said Thompson. “The StaffConnect support team took the work off of our organization to launch and manage the platform, as we have limited internal resources as an NFP. The training and support were fantastic.”It took just one month of training before the YMCA of Greater Charlotte was able to launch StaffConnect. “We brought the app on board in mid-December 2016, and by January of this year, we had more than 65% of our employees up and running with StaffConnect in just six weeks,” said Thompson.Good Works

    Thompson explained that two of the organization’s greatest challenges have been in the areas of internal communication and staff engagement. Part of the challenge is that staff are far-flung in their efforts, rarely stationed at a desk. Instead, they are deeply involved in the communities they serve, assisting children, seniors, and others including low-income and high-risk communities. At any given time, they might be found teaching swimming lessons/drowning prevention, engaging kids in camp activities, assisting seniors in health and wellness classes, or delivering countless programs from fitness to literacy that strengthen individuals and the community.

    “Before finding a new solution, staff surveys indicated that our teams often felt disconnected and uninformed,” said Thompson. “With so many diverse programs scheduled throughout the year, it has been difficult via our old engagement tools of email, surveys, etc. to communicate to employees just how many programs we deliver across the Y and how we make a difference.”

    As an example of the important work performed by the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and why the organization wants to be sure its entire workforce is in the loop about its programs, consider two of its key offerings: “Safety Around Water” Drowning Prevention Program, and “Y Readers” Literary Program. With drowning high-risk across the state, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte emphasizes the importance of drowning prevention and swim lessons for children. “Ten kids drown everyday, and annually, over 3,500 American children are treated in the emergency room due to a drowning-related incident,” says Thompson. “It’s shocking that 88 percent of child drowning accidents occur while under adult supervision. But with swimming lessons and training in water safety, drowning is preventable.”

    The YMCA of Greater Charlotte piloted “Safety Around Water” in 2016, bringing swimming lessons to six apartment complexes that have swimming pools that do not have lifeguards. The organization has now scaled the program to 30 complexes, reaching 2,500 kids and their parents. Some kids who participated last year are returning this year bringing siblings, parents, friends, and other kids in the community. “We deliver Safety Around Water to low-income apartment communities where the drowning risk is highest,” said Thompson. “Three of the original six complexes had drowning incidents prior to the Safety Around Water Program, and two of those accidents were fatal,” said Thompson. “There are no barriers for participation, no registration or costs—we just want kids to be safe.”

    The “Y Readers” literacy program was launched in partnership with Charlotte’s local school systems almost two decades ago in 1999. The nationally recognized program hires certified teachers as seasonal employees across three school districts, and offers summer camp at school locations with a literacy component that’s measured via school progress. “Kids reading below grade level are at high risk of perpetually falling behind their peers,” explained Thompson. “Our first through third grade students typically make four months of progress in six-week summer program to help them catch up, maintain, and increase reading retention.” The literacy program has been picked up as an achievement gap program for other YMCAs in 135 sites  across the United States. It’s another example of how the YMCA of Greater Charlotte is providing free programs for kids via grants and funding from county, city, corporation, and individual funding.

  • About 300 volunteers from across the communityalso help support the literacy program as reading buddies.  A program that employs mostly seasonal teamsrequires extensive internal communication. These programs exemplify why it’s so important for volunteers and employees alike to have an awareness of all of the organization’s programs across the entire staff—beyond the scope of each individual’s own work. “To serve our community optimally, staff need to understand the big picture: the benefits and value of the organization, and how their own programs fit into the overall objective of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte for the community,” said Thompson. “If employees positioned on our front lines understand and embrace our overall impact, they’re more likely to share their pride and better articulate that impact to volunteers and donors.Quick ResultsThompson explained that with communications guidance on content strategy and technical expertise from StaffConnect, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte has already seen a significant increase in levels of user engagement, with some users generating as many as 28 posts a week. “StaffConnect is so much more than a communication tool,” she said. “It is a pathway to the kind of culture in which our people want to live, work, and stay.” Some benefits that the NFP experienced after launching the platform include:
  • The app quickly became the primary resource that employees rely on for information and connection to the organization’s cause.
  • It allowed for two-way communication: headquarters could easily share important news and information with staff teams, while employees could ask questions and make comments to managers.
  • Employees could safely post both personal and professional content that makes them feel valued.
  • Employees were able to highlight admirable teammate behavior, recognize milestones, and celebrate achievements.
    Such technology also allowed the YMCA of Greater Charlotte to begin measuring engagement using a tool called Management Console. This browser-based portal not only allows for user, content, and notification management, but also provides analytics to deliver valuable insights into how the app is performing against the organization’s engagement goals. With this information, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte was able to make cultural shifts toward improving the experience throughout the organization. With 19 membership branches and two overnight camps across a five counties, the organization’s next step is to have a StaffConnect Management Console at every location to populate news and events across each membership branch and camp. This will allow participants to add content themselves, communicate their successes, and encourage other employees to engage as well.  The organization is also currently reviewing opportunities to engage volunteer boards using StaffConnect.In short, the combination of the sophisticated mobile platform plus domain expertise from StaffConnect’s HR and Communications professionals helped support the business goals of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, helping them to define and execute a winning engagement and communications strategy. “StaffConnect transformed the way that we go about reaching, communicating with, and engaging our employees,” said Thompson. “Thanks to the StaffConnect app’s community-related features, we were able to build an emotional connection across the organization. I can honestly say now that our staff feel part of something greater than themselves. And since they’re proud to be part of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, it leads naturally to them wanting to engage with each other and promote the positive qualities of our organization.”
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