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Greg Gardner Celebrates 8th Anniversary at Year Up

Greg Gardner Celebrates 8th Anniversary at Year Up Photo
Greg Gardner and Year Up gradudate

by Dana Hagenbuch

When Greg Gardner was contacted by Commmongood Careers for an interview over eight years ago, he didn’t know that his next position would lead to a rich and fulfilling career. Originally hired into a job development role at Year Up’s headquarters in Boston in late 2005, Greg has steadily advanced his career to becoming a founding member of Year Up Puget Sound, where he currently serves as a Senior Director of Program.

Upon learning of the success of one of Commongood Careers’ earliest placements, we caught up with Greg to hear about his experience at Year Up, as well as his thoughts on what it takes for nonprofits to grow and retain their top talent.

CGC: Congratulations on eight years at Year Up! Tell us about how your career has progressed throughout your tenure.

GG: Thanks! I was originally hired as a Career and Alumni Services Manager in December of 2005, and I was part of a 2-member team that developed jobs for our program graduates. Over the next few years, I was promoted to Associate Director of Career and Alumni Services, and then moved into a Site Leader role. When Year Up announced plans to expand into the Seattle area in 2010, I jumped at the opportunity to become a member of this site’s founding team. Two years into my tenure in Seattle, I was promoted to Senior Director of Program, which is the role I hold today.

CGC: In a sector where the average length of employment is 3-6 years, more than eight years is an impressive tenure. What has kept you happy and engaged at Year Up?

GG: I’d say the main motivating factor is the talent and dedication of my colleagues. Year Up does an incredible job hiring people with high degrees of skill competency and mission alignment. I’ve really enjoyed working with such high performing individuals who also deeply believe in Year Up’s mission to close the opportunity divide for urban young adults.

Year Up also encourages internal mobility, sharing all new positions internally and encouraging staff to apply. Our HR team has invested in defining the core competencies that are required to move into a new role. My supervisors have been incredibly supportive of my transitions within the organization, even if it meant I’d move into a new department or site.

CGC: What are some ways that Year Up invests in its people?

GG: Year Up’s core values and culture promote staff development. For example, every employee has a generous professional development allocation, and the organization holds individuals accountable for utilization. Leadership does an amazing job of tying staff development to our core values of shared accountability and continuous learning. The idea that we can always get better at our jobs, as well as develop skills in universal competencies like communication and leadership, is ingrained into Year Up’s DNA.

CGC: What has your experience at Year Up taught you about how other nonprofits can best attract, develop, and retain top talent?

GG: I think an important rule of thumb is hire for mission alignment. If your staff isn’t passionate about what you’re doing, they’re not going to be fulfilled or stick around for long.

Don’t rush making hires. Go slower and make sure you are hiring the right person for the role. This may mean involving more people in the interview process, including those who won’t necessarily work in the same functional area and who can assess the individual on cultural and mission fit.

When it comes to developing and retaining staff, organizations need to practice what they preach. Before coming to Year Up, I had worked at organizations that claimed they invested in their people, but didn’t really follow-through. Year Up makes a tremendous commitment to its people, and the investment in professional development and training is the proof. Organizations need to make time for their staff to go offsite and take advantage of professional development opportunities. If you really want to develop and grow your people, you have to give them the time and space to do so.

Finally, organizations that create opportunities for internal growth will retain their top talent. Even small organizations can find meaningful ways to reward high performance with increased responsibility or special projects. The results from keeping your best people challenged and engaged will pay off tenfold.

About Year Up
Year Up’s mission is to close the Opportunity Divide by providing urban young adults with the skills, experience, and support that will empower them to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Year Up currently serves more than 2,000 students a year at sites in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco Bay Area, the National Capital Region, and Puget Sound (Seattle). Ranked #4 of large nonprofits on the 2014 Nonprofit Times’ “Best Nonprofits to Work For,” Year Up offers life-changing, fulfilling experiences to its employees and fosters a culture of empowerment and positive change. Commongood Careers has been honored to support the hiring needs of Year Up since our founding in 2005.