Retaining employees at non-profit agencies easier with benefits: IONS

Posted on February 08, 2024 | By Ashley Fitzpatrick | 0 Comments



Nearly 20,000 people are employed in the non-profit sector in Nova Scotia and many don’t have access to comprehensive health and dental plans. It’s something the Impact Organization of Nova Scotia (IONS), the Community Services Benefits Trust (CSBT) and NewGround Financial are pushing to change.

They’re partnering on a sector-wide employee group benefits program: IONS has ties to organizations within the sector in Nova Scotia; the CSBT is a benefits provider; and NewGround Financial is the “boots on the ground” broker, ready to take questions and sit down with organization leads to set up coverage. NewGround notably has a pre-existing arrangement with the CSBT, allowing it to offer CSBT products in the province.

NewGround Financial founder and president Nick Mombourquette explained to Atlantic Business Magazine, the idea is a concerted effort to connect non-profits with workable benefits solutions. It kicked off this month, but it started to come together at least seven years ago, when he connected with the former executive director at IONS (then the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia). They paired up on “lunch and learn” sessions tailored for the sector, on the basics of employee and volunteer benefits.


Nick Mombourquette, NewGround Financial founder and president  (Submitted Photo)


As COVID arrived, there was increased interest in things like how to offer staff, and even volunteers, mental health coverage. During the lockdowns, Mombourquette said, a sector-wide employee and family assistance program was introduced, to make it possible for organizations to set up quickly for services like counselling, at a time when more people were asking how they and their loved ones could have access without breaking the bank. Some organizational leaders looked to oblige.

The relationship established with IONS continued under current executive director Annika Voltan, Mombourquette said.


Annika Voltan, Executive Director of IONS  (Submitted Photo)


“We kind of dug down and said, well, how can we expand this from a group employee and family assistance program, to one where we’re offering tailored health and dental, and life and long-term disability plans to the whole sector?” he recalled.

In a survey completed last year for IONS, of 224 non-profit organizations polled in Nova Scotia, over half (53%) said they did not offer comprehensive health and dental plans. It also suggested about 40% of the province’s non-profits are having trouble recruiting staff—something attributed to salary gaps and competitive benefits—while about 70% struggle to retain people.

“Over the past few years, demand for services has risen. We continuously hear burnout is a major labour issue in our sector (…) In working with partners like NewGround Financial and CSBT, we are hoping to provide creative solutions so the people on the ground can continue making an impact in their communities,” Voltan said, in a statement.

That’s all well and good, but how is this new benefits pitch different from the standard pitch to all employers on benefits coverage and packages?

Mombourquette said a big difference is the time put in already with IONS, to vet a smoother process for the sector in Nova Scotia, specific to the meeting local needs and local organizations. The partners argue it can, among other things, save hours of time and stress for already-stretched community sector executives, with options already endorsed by peers, like the leadership team at IONS.


General understanding of non-profits is a big piece, Mombourquette said. He noted the CSBT was created in 2002 by the executive director of a non-profit frustrated with dealing with large insurance carriers. At NewGround Financial, based in Dartmouth, Mombourquette himself has a background in the sector.

One of the long-standing concerns for non-profits has been the small size of their staff. The worry has been, that with such a small team size, there is a higher risk of rates rising to unmanageable levels should one or two employees have to make use of benefits to a greater degree than average. Mombourquette said CSBT’s coverage and ability to pool with non-profits across Canada is key when it comes to the latest pitch.

“Because this program is equalized, I think, right across the country … then the rates are stabilized (…) Having a more predictable, steady cost for benefit is a huge asset for small organizations,” said IONS communications director Diane Connors.

Another big piece of the pitch is its sub-sector customization. It’s about selecting the types of coverage to meet the needs of the specific non-profit organization. With a small team, do you have a smaller age bracket to cover? If you’re a non-profit where a pillar of your operations focuses on mental health, maybe better-than-average mental health coverage is of interest to leadership and a possible attraction tool for new talent?

At IONS, any ideas tied to aiding non-profit recruitment and retention are of interest.

“This is one of those pieces that is so important to building the strong, community impact sector—taking care of your staff,” Connors told Atlantic Business Magazine, encouraging organizations to take a fresh look at what might be possible when it comes to benefits coverage.


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