While writing my new book on marketing tools of engagement for nonprofits, I had the privilege of interviewing Brenda Fiske, Chief Marketing Officer of the Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta. A “nonsectarian, community-based social services agency,” JF&CS offers a broad range of more than 40 programs serving children and adults with “Tools for Living” that include career services, professional counseling, support for adults with developmental disabilities, career counseling, and dental clinic services. Its mission of providing “health, career and human services to support and enhance the well-being of individuals and families across all ages, faiths, cultures and lifestyles” is carried out by more than 200 professional staff members and 1200+ volunteers.
In my initial interview with Brenda, I learned that JF&CS keeps employees connected by holding all-staff meetings following its monthly board of directors’ meetings. These staff meetings are led by CEO Gary Miller in a “face-forward sharing of information” about board meeting results and updates on grants and upcoming events. He also welcomes new employees, acknowledges any who may be leaving, and takes the time to recognize staff members’ personal milestones, such as weddings, births, graduations, special anniversaries, etc. Most of the 200 staff members attend these meetings; those unable to attend receive meeting minutes to keep them up to date.
In addition to these monthly all-staff meetings, JF&CS periodically hosts “Lunch & Learn” sessions to address employee topics of interest and major issues facing the organization. These sessions enable employees to understand the process, rationale, and implications of major management decisions. Both the monthly all-staff meetings and Lunch & Learns reflect the Jewish Family & Career Services’ commitment to keep its employees connected and engaged.
I asked Brenda to share JF&CS’s approach to nonprofit engagement.
QSM: Your organization identifies “Talent Management” of employees and volunteers as a strategic priority. What does this mean, and how does this translate into employee engagement? In other words, what do you do to walk-the-talk?
Brenda: Talent management in our world means identifying the best person to perform a job, providing the education and support for the individual to succeed, and celebrating the success enthusiastically. Employees are given the opportunity to learn about all aspects of the organization at our monthly all-staff meeting, where reports are presented on programs and projects. It is important to our culture that we feel a part of the whole since we manage more that 40 diverse programs.
One of our most meaningful employee engagement tactics was the creation of the Staff Development Committee. It is a collection of staff representing all aspects of the agency that plans activities, lunch and learns, and a massive staff appreciation week each year. When you observe people working together outside of their own department, you have a great opportunity to witness underlying talents that may never be revealed otherwise.
QSM: How does talent management apply to your volunteers?
Brenda: Understanding how volunteers want to spend their time, whether in their area of expertise or not, is critical to giving them a positive experience. Many volunteers choose to do something very different from their professional skills. From a professional staff perspective, we strive to give individuals an opportunity to grow, and we support a family friendly environment as well. In both cases, the term “talent management” represents an authentic approach to honoring the full human being and the contributions they make to our organization.
One example of volunteer talent management can be easily seen through our “Tools for Leader” class. The six week course immerses about 25 individuals into agency programs by dividing the group into four sections, each building a presentation to give to the group on one area of service. Everyone has an opportunity to teach and learn together. The graduates are individually interviewed at the end of the course and a volunteer track identified for them based upon their talents and interests.
QSM: These are challenging times for social service agencies that are trying to meet increased community needs with decreased funding. In your experience, what works to minimize burnout among professional staff?
Brenda: I have seen no miracle cure for professional staff burnout, but one thing that absolutely eases the symptoms is to consistently and genuinely appreciate and value their dedication and commitment, and publicly applaud the difference they make in the lives of others. People who work in our nonprofit world are clearly not primarily motivated by money. They continue to be inspired by knowing their work is important.
QSM: Well said, Brenda. Thank you for taking the time to share a little bit of what makes the Jewish Family & Career Services of Atlanta a special organization.