How can we be innovative about employee benefits in the nonprofit sector?

June 1, 2016

 

I have worked in wildlife rehabilitation, zoos, sanctuaries, animal shelters, and for many animal welfare and conservation nonprofits.  My colleagues and I work within these fields because we are so passionate about making a difference.

 

We are the soldiers at the front line, outside in every possible weather condition working to protect animals and ecosystems. Whether it is building habitats, training tigers, chopping meat, operating heavy machinery, mending traps, performing operations, chasing off poachers, or risking foreign diseases, our activities are associated with extremely high risk and are extremely taxing on our bodies.  

 

With all the blood, sweat, and tears, we do it anyways. We do it because we live in an egocentric world, and we are ecocentric. We do it because each day we’ve made a measurable difference. We do it because the second half of our paycheck comes with the priceless spiritual fulfillment of making a difference-of being that difference. 

 

Despite this noble cause, employees within the respect fields are often met with low wages and poor benefit programs (if any). So let’s talk about the elephant in the living room-insurance. No one likes insurance, but everyone loves what insurance does for them when they need it most.

 

I am no insurance expert and I can’t guarantee insurance benefits will change your life. I also cannot guarantee who will be the next President in the upcoming November 2016 election. However, I can guarantee that whoever becomes the next US President will be amending the Affordable Care Act once again. This means insurance rate as well as the cost of medical care will change again. 

 

The cost of health care has shown an increasing trend for over a decade now. According to the US Census, the number of uninsured Americans has also been decreasing. Why? Time magazine reported that 62% of bankruptcies in the US were directly related to medical bills, and of those bankruptcies, 69% of the individuals actually had insurance at the time. This demonstrates the need for insurance, and that for those that are insured, it still may not be enough.

 

This is very understandable considering that 40% of employees have less than 3 months’ savings in the bank in case of such medical emergency!

 

Virgin Pulse found that 40% of employees wished their employers cared more about their financial well-being, and in 2013 the state of Colorado found that 67% of small-medium businesses had one or more employees ask for an average financial loan of $1,100 for medical related expenses.

 

Benefit plans are becoming so valuable to people that employment-based plans are now twice as common in comparison to direct purchases from the open market. This means that both employers understand that benefit programs are important to employees, and that employees make job selections with the consideration of the benefits offered.

 

So how does this relate to the animal care and conservation industry? Well, from my experience within these various fields, we do not make a lot of money. In fact, most of us are living paycheck to paycheck, juggling car payments, rent, student loans, etc.  This makes the idea of paying extra for more benefits seem impossible. But in an industry with high risk activities, I passionately believe that we deserve twice the amount of coverage.

 

 

A 2015 Glassdoor’s Survey demonstrated that 79% percent of employees would prefer new or additional benefits over an additional pay increase. It was also found that 89% of the younger employees (Millennials) prefer benefits over pay raises and 70% of older employees (Boomers II and Generation X) feel the same way. Our industry must find a way to accommodate employees with the option to expand their benefit programs while considering low wages and high risk activities in the workplace. 

 

The innovative solution is to offer additional supplementary benefits, at a low cost to employees and no cost to the employer. This is known as voluntary employee benefits.  Using payroll deductions, employers can now offer additional coverage to their employees such as accident, disability, medical bridge, cancer, and critical illness. This protects their hard earned wages, decreases their stress, increases their welfare, and ultimately increasing organizational productivity.


I worked within the insurance industry for 6 months. During that time my grandmother had a stroke, two colleagues needed major surgeries, and I received the news that I needed a hip replacement.  None of us had disability or critical illness/accident plans to help us through our treatment-and we all extremely regret it. If I had a disability plan,  I would be paid a portion of my income while I was recovering from my surgery, which would balance out my spendings to live while absent paycheck. This would not only protect the hard earned dollars that I already made, but insure that I would not be returning to work in an extreme amount of debt.

 

The term "voluntary" is interpreted just as the word is defined, meaning the benefits are chosen and customized by the employees.  If you're thinking about starting a family and except pregnancy within the next year, you may consider to only add disability. If you have a history of cancer, perhaps you select Cancer and/or Critical Illness. Or, maybe your like me and you'd just like to receive the best medical care possible while protecting your income, selecting both accident and disability.

 

Voluntary benefits can be as cheap as $40 a month, which is equivalent to 1 hour of paid work per week. Most of voluntary benefits are indemnity, which means the employee is paid for each step of the treatment process.  Each step is associated with a cost value. Pretend it’s the May 26th and you break your arm costing you $500 in medical bills. However, your car and student loan payments are due on June 5th. Indemnity allows you to use $500 of your own money, get the care you need and deserve, and then the insurance company will send you $500 cash for you to reallocate towards your bills.

 

Voluntary benefits also have perks for employers that can save money on workers comp and by working with pretax dollars. They also will increase the productivity in the workplace, employee retention, and applicant competition to attract new talent. An LIMRA study found 7 out of 10 employers offered voluntary benefits to increase morale and attract new talent. Of these employers, there was a 19% increase in employee satisfaction and 14% increase in retention.

 

According to the Human Resource iQ, employee morale and engagement in the workplace fosters an increase in overall competition and customer service, while decreasing stress in and out of the workplace.  Your business is equivalent to a system, or an ecosystem, in that all of its working parts must function optimally to reach its greatest potential.  Stress is like DDT, a pesticide chemical once used in agriculture that impacted the wetland ecosystems all the way up the food chain, decreasing the hardness of osprey egg shells. Employees are the foundation of an organization's system, which means their welfare directly impacts the productivity and success of that system.

 

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, nonprofit organizations have grown at a 2.8% rate over the last decade.  With our planet's largest extinction rate and issues of climate change, it is predicted that such organizations will continue to grow. The nonprofit sector faces many challenges in comparison to the profit business sector, however both strive to maximize their potential and this starts at the employee level. Through innovative benefit programs such as voluntary benefits, the nonprofit sector can continue to grow and prosper alongside the competitive for-profit sector.  After all, our planet’s future will be determined by the productive and progressive effort of animal care and conservation organizations.

 

We hope that this information has been helpful and influential in introducing nonprofit organizations to alternative options for their benefit programs. With a license life and health insurance producer on ARRCC’s staff, we would love to answer any further questions. Click the contact button and email us today!

 

 

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