Shannon Mitchell had an established, successful career in banking, when she decided she wanted to apply her skills to something even more purposeful. A prior experience witnessing a three-year-old girl speak her first word while seated on a horse, tugged at her memory and her heart. In 2015, she took on the role of Executive Director at StableStrides, an Equine Assisted Services organization in Colorado.
Purpose still needs to be paid for. So, Shannon relies on data to show the impact of each investment made in this nonprofit. As one of the biggest line items, tracking HR investment and outcomes —Including her own time investments— was critical.
“I’d spent a long time looking for a single source of truth for HR. We were using multiple platforms, spreadsheets, paper and electronic files. While we are growing, we’re not big enough for HR or Payroll departments: it is all me.”
StableStrides selected Zenefits in early 2020. Shortly before COVID-19 hit the US.
“Like most nonprofits, we’re trying to put ourselves out of a job as we solve problems. However, I predict that this physical pandemic will continue to turn into a mental health pandemic and will exponentially explode the need for our services. We had to have something like Zenefits to support us and take the weight off of me to focus on determining how to grow to meet this need.
“The simplicity of Zenefits, and its user friendliness is key. I am computer savvy, but in general, the equine industry is not: nor does it need to be. Having something all of us could use intuitively, was huge.”
Especially during COVID-19, Zenefits HR Advisors covered so much that I just didn’t know. And every question I asked was answered well and quickly. That alone was worth every penny we spent.
Building Healthier People, Families and Communities, Through Horses
“Today, my work is my hobby and my passion. I’ve been around horses for a long time and I know what horses have done for me,” says Shannon.
In turn, she has seen the powerful difference horses have made in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. StableStrides, in its 40th year, offers a combination of therapy and horseback training to improve adaptive riding, physical, emotional, mental, and behavioral health —and even speech— through connection with horses. Their impact is life-changing: from increasing independence to preventing suicides.
Today, StableStrides serves 190 clients a week, with 25 horses, 30 staff members and 230 volunteers across two locations: Colorado Springs and Elbert, Colorado. “Equine assisted services are no longer viewed as ‘woo woo’ and we have data that proves it out,” adds Shannon.
For a wide range of people, equine assisted services can work more efficiently —with positive impact for a longer period of time— than physical, occupational or talk therapy alone.
In March, 2020, the organization was forced to close for six weeks due to local shelter in place safety measures. One silver lining of that time: the business tested an equine version of telehealth, connecting with their clients virtually. Not only did that stem the gap until they reopened, it’s now going to be an ongoing option to address a 30% cancellation rate that is common in mental health therapy work. Shannon —who carefully measures all aspects of this business— saw their cancellations cut in half when there was a virtual option.
Unique Service and Team Requires Unique —and Measurable—People Operations
“We are a client-led program,” continues Shannon. “There is limited ‘typical’ or written programming. Most clients meet a horse the first time they come, to see if it’s a good fit. Then, we start the process of building a relationship with the horse, which is key to what makes this work. Clients stay with their programs anywhere from 3 months to decades. Due to their success —and a six-month waiting list from a local children’s hospital—the organization is also working to deliver powerful results in shorter time horizons to accommodate more people.
To meet that need, Shannon requires skills ranging from general to extremely specific. For example, for each treatment service, an equine specialist (focused on the horse to ensure safety) plus a therapist is required. And she measures the impact on outcomes from each of those roles. And, because 70% of the organization’s income is from donations, fundraising staff as well as office staff is also very important.
“Retention is one of our biggest priorities, partially due to the specific credentials we require. Therefore, staff development is also important. For example, the role of equine caretaker (cleaning stalls and feeding horses) is not a job most people want to do as their career, so we work hard to offer them support and development to look at growth options. We helped one person pursue an interest as a massage therapist for equines.”
The Platform Supporting Her Purpose
In the midst of this level of operations specificity, from March to July in 2020, Shannon has had to manage: furloughing her team; securing a PPP loan, then bringing them back; plus hiring three more; managing turnover; and supporting a few who tested positive for COVID while remaining asymptomatic. In two words: a lot.
“I selected Zenefits in February. If we’d started with Zenefits two months later, I would have been lost during COVID-19. My return on investment with Zenefits is huge. I knew going into it that Zenefits would be a big time saver. Now, everything we do in HR is smoother, accurate, and compliant.”
A few examples include:
- HR Advisory. “Especially during COVID-19, Zenefits HR Advisors covered so much that I just didn’t know. And every question I asked was answered well and quickly. That alone was worth every penny we spent.”
- Payroll and time and attendance. “The data flowed together and transformed what was a multiple-hour payroll process to one I do in five minutes.”
- Benefits. “One of our motivators to switch was that we needed integrated benefits and brokerage. Dan from Zenefits partner, OneDigital, has done more in four months than our prior broker did in five years.”
- Employee self-service. “The biggest thing is efficiency and giving people access to their own data; now they can look it up and make changes themselves. They don’t have to come to me.”
- Virtual Onboarding. “It’s easy for applicants and for us.”
- Offboarding. “Even the termination process is easier: Zenefits walks through the steps so we are not missing anything.
Shannon is looking into leveraging Zenefits performance and wellbeing apps next. In the meantime, she’s thankful to have her organization reopened, running and her team recharging with not only great benefits from Zenefits, but with their own secret to wellbeing: some quality time on trail rides.