Employee engagement a key to success, says nonprofit leader
by Adelia Henderson | Oct. 24, 2019
When it comes to running a successful organization, concepts like determination and loyalty often come to mind. But sometimes, a key to success can be something as small as switching out flooring.
Pamela Landwirth (AB ’73), found this out during the bi-annual ‘Cookies and Conversation’ meetings she holds with her staff at Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit retreat in central Florida for children with critical illnesses and their families.
Landwirth, president and CEO of the organization, spoke about nonprofit leadership and management on Oct. 11 at Studio 225, the new University of Georgia Student Center for Entrepreneurship. The event was sponsored by the UGA School of Social Work. She said when she first started at Give Kids the World Village in 1992, there were only 32 villas and less than 40 employees, so interaction with all the employees was easy.
However, as the Village began to grow, Landwirth said she started “Cookies and Conversation” to stay engaged with employees on that micro level.
“Money is not a motivator,” she said. “But when you ask a housekeeper how you can make their job easier, and they say ‘take out the carpet’, and you put in tile, that’s when you get them more engaged.”
“They feel like you value them; you’re listening to them, and you’re doing something about it.”
Currently, Give Kids the World Village has 166 villas and more than 7,000 families that visit each year from 76 different countries. In Landwirth’s new book, “On Purpose: How Engagement Drives Success,” she outlines how practicing engagement is a key component to maintaining a successful organization.
“The beauty of engagement is that it doesn’t cost any money. It’s not the big parties, it’s not going out and giving raises,” Landwirth said. “Engagement boils down to leadership. There are very few things that have the impact that leadership does.”
Prior to working at Give Kids the World Village, Landwirth spent 16 years with the Walt Disney Company, working in various areas such as casting, attractions sales and park operations. She was then a consultant to the president and CEO of Hard Rock Café.
Give Kids the World Village provides children with life-threatening illnesses and their families a cost-free, week-long vacation to enjoy Orlando’s theme parks. Of each dollar they spend, about 93.1 cents goes directly to programs for the families such as accommodations, meals, tickets and transportation.
Landwirth said she employs a certain formula at the Village in order to maximize success.
“Quality staff experience, plus quality guest experience, plus quality stakeholder experience, plus quality business practices is what we have to focus on for success,” she said. “If any of those legs on the stool are not in sync, the whole thing will fall apart.”
Landwirth advised students interested in the nonprofit sector to take as many business classes as possible, to gain experience that will help them succeed when partnering with corporations, as when Landwirth spearheaded a partnership with the company Hasbro that brought the world’s largest game of Candyland to Give Kids the World Village.
She believes that, in a time where differences tend to pull people apart, it is vital for businesses to appreciate their employees for who they are and give them the resources needed to develop their individual gifts.
“Imagine if you worked for a company that not only helped you define your gifts, but then gave you outlets internally and externally to give those gifts away, how much more engagement we would have in the world,” Landwirth said.
“Our staff and volunteers come together for a common purpose because they want to be a part of something bigger,” she said.
“That’s what I’m hoping the book and discussions like this will do, to help us focus on those things that pull us together, and less on the things that pull us apart.”