By Emily Foote-Huth, Cleveland Foundation 

The COVID-19 pandemic presented a number of challenges for local organizations – from the health and safety of staff and clients to the disruption of services and financial uncertainty. Many of these issues landed on human resources and administrative staff, who were tasked with navigating ever-changing state and federal guidelines, finding ways to safely resume operations, and even making difficult decisions around staff furloughs and layoffs. Many nonprofit organizations don’t have the benefit of a fully-staffed HR department – or even a dedicated HR staff member. Often, it’s the executive team, finance department, attorneys or a consultant handling the HR function. For a number of years, that was the case for Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center.

A win-win for local nonprofits as well as individuals with experience 

The BVU Encore Fellowship Program, part of the Encore Cleveland network of opportunities for people who are at or nearing retirement from their primary careers, matches individuals who demonstrate significant professional experience with a local nonprofit organization, where they help build capacity, implement strategy and, ultimately, impact the community. Nonprofit organizations benefit from the knowledge, experience and skills that Encore Fellows bring to their position. “When we strengthen nonprofit management with expert support, we allow nonprofits to focus on key strategic mission areas,” said Sarah Castle, senior coordinator, leadership development, at BVU. “A fellow can alleviate executive burnout and broaden a nonprofit’s network and capacity.”

Whether an organization needs help with HR, communications, IT, financial management or something else, BVU can find a qualified fellow to meet those needs. And it’s not just the organizations that benefit – it’s a rewarding experience for the fellows as well. Fellows earn a stipend as they work with the organization on an important project. And because fellows are embedded like staff members for the duration of their fellowship, they really get to know the organization and people they work with. “When fellows participate in this program, they build relationships with the nonprofits,” said Castle. “Past fellows have had such a positive impact from their projects and have become full-time staff or even executive directors. We want these relationships to keep growing and helping organizations.”

Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center’s Encore Fellowship experience

Thanks to Business Volunteers Unlimited (BVU)’s Encore Fellowship Program, the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center was able to bring on a veteran HR professional with the expertise they needed. The timing was fortuitous; when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, CHSC was grateful to have the fellow in their corner to help them make sound decisions under fast-changing and difficult conditions.

Protecting public health and the safety of employees was CHSC’s top priority, but like many organizations, they also had to manage the disruption to their operations and finances. “Of course, those are the worst of times for any agency – facing the decisions about how you’re going to manage with less,” said Jennell Vick. “[the fellow] was either there directly or on the other end of the line helping us…there were HR laws we never even thought about.” The fellow was a trusted counselor through it all, and their deep experience in the field was particularly valuable in navigating changing conditions and making decisions amid uncertainty. “It once again just gave us that confidence – in a world of unknowns – that at least we could be sure about this direction,” said Kate Gagne. Both Vick and Gagne credit the fellow with building their HR capacity and confidence for the future, especially after the experiences of the past year. “We’re so much more confident now – we know exactly what to do,” said Vick. “I feel like we went through every scenario last year that could possibly come our way – it felt really comprehensive so that things that have come up since then, they don’t phase us anymore. The fellow really gave us our wings.”

How to get involved in the program

No matter the circumstances, many organizations can benefit from participating in the BVU Encore Fellowship Program, which is just one of the many resources and services that BVU offers to local nonprofits. “BVU has always been committed to educating nonprofits through consulting, trainings, referral of board members and skill based consulting,”

“BVU has always been committed to connecting, educating, and consulting. We connect individuals and skills-based volunteers to support nonprofit leadership,” said Castle. “With the BVU Encore Fellowship Program, we have added another resource that can make your nonprofit stronger.”

Individuals who are retired, or getting ready to retire, enjoy the fulfillment as well as the supplemental income that the Encore Fellowship Program offers. Do you have skills that could help a local nonprofit? Are you looking for an opportunity to put your experience to work for the community? Become a fellow or volunteer with BVU!

Nonprofit organizations or individuals who are interested in participating in the Encore Fellowship Program can learn more here or contact Sarah Castle at


Support the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center

CHSC serves thousands of children and adults each year through a wide range of programs and services – from its Community Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to Speech-Language and Learning. Whether you’re concerned about your aging parents’ hearing loss or your toddler’s speech development, CHSC can help. You can learn more here, and make a gift to support CHSC here.

Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center (CHSC) is the nation’s oldest hearing and speech center and Northeast Ohio’s only nonprofit organization dedicated solely to serving those with special communications needs.

CHSC has extensive expertise in speech pathology, audiology, language interpreting, and deaf services – but they realized they needed guidance to strengthen and expand their organization’s HR function. In 2016, CHSC Executive Director Jennell C. Vick and Executive Manager Kate Gagne learned about Business Volunteers Unlimited’s Encore Fellowship Program and were interested to know how it could help them develop their organization’s HR capacity.