Make a mission-driven staff a reality

At Flying Horse Farms, I don’t just dream about happy employees — I work with them every day. But even at a place with a meaningful mission and driven team members, happiness needs to be nurtured.

Each staff member at camp is dedicated to providing transformative experiences for children with serious illnesses and their families. And in order for staff to best serve campers, I must best serve them — working to foster their professional and personal needs with intentionally planned initiatives.

Here at camp, we cultivate staff happiness in several ways:

Make work/life balance a top priority

Every employee at camp begins with paid vacation days, plus holidays. And staffers are encouraged to embrace family first, and work within our flexible schedules.

The commute to Mount Gilead, a long drive that nearly all staffers make, was the No. 1 challenge when it came to morale. Our solution? We implemented a flexible work schedule that allows staff to work remotely up to two days a week.

Nurture communication and connectedness

We developed cross-functional “pods” — committees that represent staffers across various camp teams — to ensure everyone has a voice, to guide decision-making and policy, to improve communication across teams and to empower staff to make decisions.

Plan thoughtful meetings

In an effort to maximize the time when the entire staff is together each Thursday, we created themed meetings, one for each week of the month:

  • State of the Farm: CEO updates, big-picture strategy, financial health, etc.
  • Mission Minute: Highlights of camp’s important stakeholders — campers, families, donors, volunteers and seasonal staff.
  • Professional Development: Presentations by outside speakers and cross-departmental training.
  • Connectedness and Wellness: Activities that encourage team building and well-being.

Encourage wellness

Employees at camp are encouraged to take a recess daily, whether to workout, meditate, take a hike or fish with campers.

We have a fitness room and offer fitness classes throughout the week, including yoga and boot camp. We also established a wellness pod that regularly meets to discuss and implement mind/body/spirit improvement strategies.

Our battle cry is simple but profound: All crew, no passengers. And we have found a way to not only get team members to embrace that philosophy but also to praise and protect it. Our camp opened its gates five years ago with just a handful of employees and has grown into a $4 million a year nonprofit.

The bottom line is: It’s entirely possible to develop talented team members who genuinely care about each other and their mission when you approach staff needs comprehensively in an unconventional, groundbreaking way.

With careful planning, a very intentional mission focus and innovative HR tactics, you can grow your team into a formidable, loyal group of folks who consider themselves family — and who will work even harder to achieve your goals.


Mimi Dane is the CEO of Flying Horse Farms, a camp for children with serious illnesses. Located in Mt. Gilead, the camp serves hundreds of children each year — free of charge.