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Like Enterprise Business Organizations, Nonprofits Turning to Mobile Apps to Boost Employee Engagement and Bottom-line Results

An Interview with Bulent Osman, CEO, StaffConnect

In today's highly competitive and dynamic business environment, it isn't just the Fortune 500 that must place a high priority on building and maintaining employee engagement.  Today's nonprofits must do likewise if they wish to thrive and survive.  In this interview, Bulent Osman, CEO of StaffConnect, provides perspective on how to create the type of open communication channels that fuel engagement across any organization with the help of a mobile engagement platform.

VMblog:  I've heard that a growing number of nonprofits are rethinking how they have traditionally approached engagement for both employees and volunteers.  Why is this?

Bulent Osman:  You're right about that trend, and a couple of factors are fueling it. First, more nonprofits have started to recognize the need to make significant changes at the cultural level in their approach to their employee experience, or EX-and volunteers are a part of EX in many organizations. This involves revamping both the creation of EX and its delivery. 

Second, many organizations now understand that cloud-based technologies can be instrumental in helping people connect and communicate no matter where they work-onsite or offsite. This greatly expands options for nonprofits, since simply having the right mobile app platform can help with many tasks that relate to engagement, including fundraising, promotion, retention, and recruitment.

Third, forward-thinking nonprofits know that if they can improve engagement on each of these levels, it will help the larger organization reach its business goals since highly engaged workers are linked to greater productivity. On the flip side, a new approach to engagement can help fend off disengagement, less commitment, and lower productivity.

VMblog:  Can you give an example of an organization that switched their engagement strategy by using cloud-based technologies such as a mobile app platform?

Osman:  A great example is the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, which recently made the decision to move beyond standard feedback-gathering tools like surveys, email, and newsletters to give a mobile engagement platform a try. The reason was, these tools hadn't been powerful enough to boost engagement levels across their entire group, which is a massive distributed organization that includes 4,700 employees and volunteers who are both desk and non-desk employees (NDEs). 

In particular, the YMCA was aware that their NDEs, including many volunteers, didn't feel connected enough to others in the organization and were often unaware of what was happening on other teams. Traditional engagement tools weren't cutting it in terms of communication about the wide range of diverse and helpful programs offered across the Y year-round, and those programs improve many lives. Without this information, people felt less engaged, and that's why the Y sought a cloud-based tool that everyone could access, including the NDEs

VMblog:  I'm guessing that the YMCA of Greater Charlotte faced many engagement and communication challenges due to having staff and volunteers in so many different places, few of whom are sitting at a desk or in one location?

Osman:  That's exactly right. In fact, staff engagement and internal communication have been among the organization's top challenges. Their staff and volunteers are deeply involved with many populations including children, seniors, and low-income and high-risk communities. So they might be found teaching families about drowning prevention, engaging kids at camp, delivering fitness and literacy programs, or assisting seniors in health and wellness classes. With staff not centralized at a "headquarters," so to speak, it can be tough for them to stay in the loop with each other and learn about the organization. They need to be in the loop, though, in order to more effectively serve their communities.

As you can see, this is a wide diversity of programs, and they're scheduled at all different times of the year. This exemplifies why it's critical for everyone in the organization to be aware not just of their own area of contribution, but of the full range of the YMCA's programs. Understanding the big picture and seeing how their work fits into the organization's mission improves the chances that they will share that impact with other staff, volunteers, and even potential donors.

VMblog:  It would be interesting to hear about some specific challenges related to communications and engagement with the various types of programs you mentioned.

Osman:  One nationally recognized program at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte that employs mostly seasonal teams is the "Y Readers" literacy program. Since there are around 300 volunteers who help support this program by serving as reading buddies, the effort depends on reliable internal communication. The main challenge here is finding a way for volunteers to stay connected and informed, which was very difficult before the organization introduced a mobile app platform. Another challenge with the literacy program is that it hires certified teachers as seasonal employees across a trio of school districts. So the Y needed to find a way to engage these seasonal staff alongside their desk employees-yet they were far-flung across several different locations and performed distinct roles. 

Here's another example: a program that the Y piloted last year called "Safety Around Water." This program created a similar communication challenge since it involved bringing swimming lessons to different apartment complexes with pools. Since these low-income complexes have no lifeguard on duty, the drowning risk is highest there. The program currently involves 30 complexes, which means they are bringing swimming lessons and water safety instruction to 2,500 kids and their parents. The challenge here is that when staffing this large program, they again require teams to be out in the community, not stationed at a desk. So they needed to find a simple way to keep people "in the know" and engaged with what was happening throughout the larger organization.

VMblog:  What were the YMCA of Greater Charlotte's goals related to increasing engagement levels?

Osman:  They proactively identified three goals to increase engagement and drive loyalty, support, and retention throughout their network. The first was to keep all of their employee and volunteer teams informed and engaged. The second was to give all staff and volunteers a voice by connecting them via an open communication channel no matter where they worked. And third, they wanted to keep employees up to date on current goals related to the larger organization, as well as fundraising efforts. To help them accomplish these goals, they sought to partner with a provider who could guide them on their new cloud-based communication and content strategy.

VMblog:  How did they decide which engagement platform to use for internal communication and engagement?

Osman:  Based on the CEO's interest in social tools, YMCA Greater Charlotte was very keen on technology solutions. They checked out some mainstream social media platforms including Yammer but found them lacking in security, control, and support. So they turned to our platform at StaffConnect, which offers a new mobile-enabled technology that leverages personalization to create an engaging user experience and generates support among staff users. The Y found that this platform not only gave their teams the rich engagement experience that they wanted, but it also simplified connecting with each other and helped people do their jobs better. 

VMblog:  How long did it take to get the organization up to speed on the new platform?

Osman:  They were fully functional after a single month of training. They brought the app on board in mid-December 2016 and by January already had over 65 percent of the staff at YMCA of Greater Charlotte using StaffConnect. Part of the reason we could help them get up and running so quickly is because we utilize a program called "AppSuccess," which provides access to our domain experts. These experts helped the nonprofit craft new communication strategies that energized and connected their entire workforce. Since many nonprofits have limited internal resources, the StaffConnect support team removes the burden of launching and managing the platform. 

VMblog:  What benefits did the nonprofit experience after the launch?

Osman:  Where should I start? Well, I know that they were pleasantly surprised by how fast the mobile app became their staffs' go-to resource for information about the organization and their colleagues. It also helped them connect with true two-way communication throughout the entire organization. Management suddenly had an easy way to share information with their teams, and employees were likewise empowered through the platform to ask questions and make comments to their managers and colleagues. Employees at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte are now also appreciating the ability to instantly send a shout-out via the platform to recognize admirable teammate behavior and celebrate team achievements. 

VMblog:  What about the app's measurement capability?

Osman:  I'm glad you mentioned that since it's another important benefit: the app lets organizations actually track and measure engagement using a tool called "Management Console." This browser-based portal provides analytics and allows for user, content, and notification management. You can see how valuable this would be to any nonprofit: the analytics component provides key insights into how well the app performs against engagement goals. Organizations can then take that data and use it to boost EX for volunteers and employees alike by making cultural shifts as needed. 

VMblog:  Does the YMCA of Greater Charlotte have future goals in relation to engagement now that they have the mobile app platform?

Osman:  They do plan to scale this tool by introducing a StaffConnect Management Console at each of their YMCA locations to share information across all of their 19 membership branches plus their two camps. So the technology will continue to be key in helping unite their various arms into a single connected organization. Another goal they have is to use StaffConnect to engage their volunteer boards. 

VMblog:  What's the takeaway about the YMCA of Greater Charlotte's experience of using a mobile app platform to increase engagement?

Osman:  I think they experienced what many nonprofits do when moving from traditional engagement tools to a powerful, cloud-based, mobile app platform. You get so much more from this than just another communications tool or even an engagement tool. I'd sum it up by saying that this type of platform creates a direct pathway to the culture that every organization strives to achieve-one in which people truly want to live, work, and stay. StaffConnect totally transformed how the Y engages their employees by helping them build an emotional connection across the entire organization. When people feel proud to be part of an organization, they're more likely to promote its positive qualities-and that's really the bottom line to improving recruitment, retention, and engagement.

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Published Tuesday, September 12, 2017 8:22 AM by David Marshall
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