BY EMMA HALL
Over 500 guests attended the awards dinner for the 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon at the Portland Downtown Hilton last night.
The night celebrated the winners of Oregon Business magazine's second annual survey grading nonprofit workplaces. Attendees were excited to find out their nonprofit's ranking, which was based on answers to survey questions by almost 5,000 employees.
Two of our reporters interviewed the top nonprofits back in August to find out what exactly made them a great place to work, but they couldn't reveal what number the nonprofits were in the ranking. Reporter Cory Mimms said he just told them he couldn't reveal their ranking over punishment by death by Editor Robin Doussard. The top nonprofits explained to our reporters what exactly made their nonprofits great places to work, but over drinks before the event, everyone time and again had the same answer: the people. "We're all like-minded people, having fun, doing what we love," said one Oregonians Credit Union employee.
At a time when unemployment in Oregon is seemingly perpetually stuck at 10.6%, nonprofits employ 12% of Oregonians working in the private sector. Clearly, nonprofits are vital to Oregon's economy, and making them a place where employees actually enjoy working is one step on the road to economic recovery.
When the awards for the top 10 nonprofits were announced, a short description of the workplaces preceded the names being called. As the audience heard about the quirks that made each nonprofit special, like the wands at the desks of Make-A-Wish Foundation employees, or the biggest-loser contest at Mary's Woods at Marylhurst with an $800 prize, whispers could be heard from around the room as employees realized it was their workplace being honored. "It's us!" was murmered excitedly many times throughout the night.
As nonprofits realized they had won and took to the stage to accept the honor, it was clear that although Oregon nonprofits may be filled with like-minded people, they are all different. For example, the number three best small nonprofit, the Northwest Pilot Project, has 17 employees that provide housing services for about 1,500 seniors. The employees range in age from 29-92. In fact, today is bookkeeper Dorothy Oreste's 92nd birthday- happy birthday, Dorothy!
Compared to the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network awards held at the same venue a week before, the crowd at the nonprofit awards was markedly different. The sea of black clothing last week before gave way to a crowd filled with many more women wearing brighter, happier colors. Executive director of number three best medium nonprofit Children's Nursing Specialties Barbara Wood wore a bright red jacket. "It's my power color," she joked as she got her picture taken on our makeshift red carpet.
The photo opportunity and much of the rest of the event is thanks to the creative genius of OBM Art Director Jon Taylor Carter, who helped plan everything down to the last detail, from music, to food to the candles. When planning a large event, the main priority is to make sure it seems like it goes off without a hitch, even when in the background anything can go wrong. "[Event planning] is hard because you're dependent on your vendors," he said. The "red carpet" area where guests took pictures in front of our 100 Best logo, and later, in front of the nonprofit cover, was definitely the hit of the evening. Be sure to check for those pictures on our Facebook page soon.
Besides taking photos in front of the larger-than-life cover, the highlight for us here at OBM was when the October issue was finally brought out to all the attendees. There's just something about having your magazine distributed to readers with fanfare (with lively music provided by the talented Clambake Combo) that closely resembles living the dream for journalists.
Don't miss the complete list of 2010's 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon. Congratulations to all the winners.
Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.