Offering incentives and engagement

Rea & Associates Nonprofit Executive Director of the Year Award

When Michelle M. Mills took over as president and CEO of St. Stephen’s Community House she wasn’t going to settle for just running the organization — she wanted to see it thrive, along with her employees.

Mills lives by the motto that an organization achieves its mission when its employees are doing well, meaning they’re working in a supportive environment. So, Mills has worked to create a culture that embraces a family-friendly atmosphere, supports growth and offers skill-building opportunities for employees.

In order to create that culture, Mills, who is both the first African-American and the youngest to lead the Linden-based nonprofit organization, set forth multiple initiatives.

One, she created benefits that would cater to a family-friendly environment, including allowing employees to bring their children to work in times of crisis and allowing employees to enroll their children in the agency’s programs. The organization provides a flexible work schedule and also matches funds when employees give to causes near to their hearts.

Two, she created incentives for employees to partake in advocacy and civic engagement by rewarding them with full pay and, in certain situations, gift cards when volunteering during work hours.

Mills recognizes supporting employees is not only about offering incentives. It is also about making sure employees feel engaged in order to progress themselves as well as the organization.

To spark just that, Mills created a St. Stephen’s Day along with mission performances. On St. Stephen’s Day all staff members are encouraged to dress in a way that shows the spirit of the organization’s mission. The staff votes on the most creative costume and that person is awarded a monetary prize.

And in order to make sure the mission is always understood, each staff member is assigned a time during monthly staff meetings to convey the organization’s mission to their peers in whatever format they desire.

Each idea is partially linked to Mills’ hope of increasing the organization’s employee retention rate. She set the goal in 2006 at 90 percent and has since averaged a 77.6 percent retention rate. It’s significant progress from previous years where the average retention rate was 48.8 percent. <<

How to reach: St. Stephen’s Community House, (614) 294-6347 or