Lilly Endowment renewal programs highlight benefits of rest

by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

(As nonprofits seek ways to encourage employee retention, enhance recruitment and minimize burn out, Not-for-profit News explores the benefits of Lilly Endowment’s renewal grant programs in this first part of a two-part series.)

As a long-time dedicated nonprofit employee, Angie Hoskins understands first-hand the symptoms of employee burnout. In 2019, her stress levels hit a peak as she took on additional responsibilities at Easter Seals Crossroads during a critical transition in roles.

“I was juggling two different positions with no end in sight,” said Hoskins, who is a benefits specialist technical assistant for the nonprofit organization. “I was being pulled in several different directions and working a lot of extra hours during a transition.”

Her concerned supervisors urged her to apply for a grant through United Way of Central Indiana’s (UWCI) Human Services Professional Renewal Program, Hoskins recalled. Under the program, which is now in its 20th year of being fully funded by Lilly Endowment, offers up to $10,000 each to up to 25 human service professionals each year to pause from their day-to-day responsibilities to explore their passions and new ideas. Lilly Endowment funds similar programs for teachers, clergy, artists and art administrators.

Hoskins’ grant request to explore her genealogy by touring Ireland was approved. However, COVID-19 travel restrictions related to international travel in 2020 forced her to make a change in plans. This year, she traveled to Alaska with her husband, Shane Hoskins, for a cruise and land tour. 

After returning to Indianapolis, Hoskins said, she experienced a renewed sense of purpose. “This trip was much needed. I came back not expecting how revived I would feel. I was excited to do my job again,” she said. “It also gave me the opportunity to step back and recognize how many people I’ve been able to help.”

Going beyond recognition

Julie Koegel, program coordinator for UWCI’s Human Services Professional Renewal Program, said that the benefits of the program extend beyond acknowledging an employee’s dedication to their nonprofit work. They can prove to be a motivating factor for retention and innovation among employees in the field, she said.

Nonprofit work can be demanding for many employees, Koegel pointed out. “They’re often working long hours. Some of them are on call 24/7. Some are missing their own kids’ activities because they’re going to the activities of the children they serve,” she said. “People get burned out. During COVID, in particular, it’s been really hard because these individuals have been first responders; among the first ones being called for assistance.”

“We wanted to make sure people who have been working in this field for 20, 30 or 40 years are able to experience renewal,” Koegel added. “We also want to recognize those who are younger, who haven’t been working in the field as long. We want to keep them in the field.”

Recognizing nonprofit employees at all levels

According to Sara VanSlambrook, chief impact officer for UWCI, the grant renewal program is an important way to recognize nonprofit employees who often don’t qualify for other recognitions. 

“Too often, frontline managers and staff are overlooked,” VanSlambrook said. “Awards and recognition are often targeted to executive directors. This program is for anyone at any level within an organization. About 45 percent of the grantees over the years have been frontline staff.”

Renewal grant recipients have included employees ranging from executive directors, vice presidents and managers to receptionists, cafeteria workers and correctional officers, she said. 

VanSlambrook also said that these types of benefits in the workplace can be critical for retention.

“It communicates to human service professionals that they are essential workers, and that we value them,” she said. “It reduces stress levels for those who receive it. It brings new energy and creativity to the work upon returning from an investment like this. They usually come back with new ideas and new knowledge that will enhance their work.”

Applicants of the UWCI Human Services Professional Renewal Grant program must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be an employee of a UWCI agency, UWCI, or an invited human services organization that is actively engaged in a UWCI collaborative activity
  • Must have been employed eight or more consecutive years by a human services nonprofit agency as of the application deadline
  • Must have been employed by their current organization five or more consecutive years as of the application deadline
  • Must serve clients in the UWCI areas of service: Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Hendricks, Marion and Morgan counties
  • Must intend to remain in human services work for at least two years after the renewal experience

Over the years of administering the program, Koegel said, she has seen it accomplish its mission among the participants. “They come back to their jobs renewed, with new perspectives,” she said. 

She also said an evaluation revealed that numerous participants said they probably would have left their jobs if they had not experienced the period of renewal offered under the grant.

“They had reached that point where they were so burned out that they were looking at other opportunities,” Koegel said. “This gave them a chance to take a step back, to have permission not to answer their voicemails, not to look at their emails, and to really disconnect for a period of time and really focus on themselves.”

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