By Molly Thompson, Vice President of PR and Communications, YMCA Greater Charlotte
When an organization has an engaged and involved workforce that incorporates both in-house staff and non-desk employees (NDEs), it creates a number of advantages for all involved, from open communication channels and increased productivity to better fundraising and promotional opportunities. What’s more, a strong engagement strategy can help NFPs recruit new talent (including volunteers), improve retention, and ultimately achieve their business goals.
Connection And Communication
The YMCA of Greater Charlotte had these points in mind when deciding that we needed to implement a cultural shift in how we create and deliver our employee experience. Like many organizations, we care deeply about our people and the communities we serve. And as is common in many NFPs, our workforce is highly distributed with a vast network of 4,500 people including both desk employees (staff who work in our facility), and non-desk employees (remote staff who work offsite).
This far-flung workforce community has led to challenges in staff engagement and internal communication. With staff rarely stationed at a desk but instead working directly within the communities they serve, teams often felt uninformed and disconnected. At any given time, they might be found delivering diverse programs scheduled throughout the year, from engaging kids in camp activities, to teaching swimming lessons/drowning prevention, assisting seniors in health and wellness classes, and delivering a wide range of other programs to strengthen individuals and the community.
As examples of the type of work that the YMCA of Greater Charlotte performs and why we need a way to keep our entire workforce in the loop about our programs, consider two of the organization’s key offerings:
- “Safety Around Water” Drowning Prevention Program. Drowning is high-risk for children across the state of North Carolina, so the YMCA of Greater Charlotte emphasizes the importance of drowning prevention and swim lessons for children. With these lessons and training in water safety, drowning is preventable. We deliver this program in and around our neighborhoods where the drowning risk is highest: low-income apartment communities.
- “Y Readers” Literary Program. Kids reading below grade level are at high risk of falling behind their peers, so our 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. Our students typically make four months of progress in six weeks to help them catch up, maintain, and increase reading retention. Around 300 volunteers also help provide support as “reading buddies.”
Programs like these that employ seasonal and off-site teams require extensive communication. What’s more, to serve the community optimally, staff need to understand how their own programs fit into the overall objective of the organization. If employees can see the YMCA’s overall impact, they’re more likely to feel proud and communicate that impact to volunteers and donors.
A New Approach To Engagement
When considering what type of engagement platform might work best for our NFP, we realized that the organization required a tool with powers beyond gathering team insights and communicating how we make a difference via our old engagement tools of email, surveys, and newsletters. So as we considered our options to retool the YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s approach to engagement, we started by identifying our engagement-related goals. These included our desire to:
- give all employees an open communication channel to connect them to the organization and to each other, no matter where they are located
- inform our entire workforce with instant updates on our fundraising initiatives and organizational goals
- keep our front-line teams engaged to drive retention, loyalty, and support
- find a partner that can help provide guidance around best-practice communication and content strategy
Our first stop in seeking the best way to reach our goals was to evaluate several mainstream social media platforms and technology solutions, including Yammer, to see if these might offer what we needed. This seemed a logical choice since our CEO had a keen interest in social tools for internal communication and engagement. But while social had some compelling features and benefits, these platforms didn’t offer the high level of control, security, and support that we wanted for our teams.
Hoping for a richer engagement experience, we test-drove a new mobile-enabled technology called StaffConnect. After just one month of training, we launched the platform with our full time teams, which used personalization to create an extremely “sticky” and engaging user experience that our staff users immediately embraced. More than 65 percent of our full time employees were up and running with the platform within six weeks of launch, in part because it added convenience and efficiency to their jobs.
One thing we particularly appreciated about StaffConnect — in addition to its impressive balance of security and protection — was its ability to combine mobile technology with a unique program called AppSuccess that provides access to domain experts who partnered with us on our communication strategy. This partnership helped us rapidly gain user adoption to energize and connect our entire workforce of staff and volunteers. Also, since like most NFPs we have limited internal resources, we were able to benefit from the high level of training and support provided by StaffConnect.
Seeing The Difference — Quickly
Since launching the mobile app platform, YMCA of Greater Charlotte has reaped quite a few benefits, some of which were unexpected. First, in short order, the app became not just another employee tool but it is becoming the primary resource that employees go to for information and connection to our organization’s cause. Over time, we have seen user engagement with the mobile app platform continue to increase. Today some of our users generate nearly 30 posts per week.
Also, StaffConnect made two-way communication possible for our teams for the first time; not only can headquarters now share important updates with staff in a snap, but employees gained a voice and can easily send questions and comments to managers. Employees also now can safely post professional and personal content that makes them feel valued and recognized as individuals. People additionally have the ability to recognize personal milestones and celebrate teammates’ achievements.
That’s not all, though…the mobile technology also has enabled our organization to begin measuring workforce engagement via a browser-based Management Console. This tool provides important analytics to deliver the insights we need to make cultural shifts toward improving the employee experience throughout the organization. Watching our teams embrace the platform so wholeheartedly, I feel confident in saying that StaffConnect has become much more than a communication tool in our organization. It actually became a pathway to the type of culture where our people want to be.
Can a mobile app platform transform the way that you reach, communicate with, and engage your employees? Judging from our own experience, I think the answer is yes. It may seem counter-intuitive that an app could be the key to building a personal and emotional connection across the organization. But when you have a distributed workforce, there’s no better way to help connect people so that staff feel part of something greater than themselves.