'It's the values': HR exec on retention at Greater Boston Food Bank

'We are going through a cultural renaissance… From a people standpoint, we are being more intentional'

'It's the values': HR exec on retention at Greater Boston Food Bank

Aprylle Wallace wasn’t even looking for a job when the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) found her. And it wasn’t even the humanitarian aspect that first drew her in.

It was the people, and the people are what continue to compel her to keep on working to close the hunger gap in Massachusetts.

“The reason I joined the organization was not initially for the mission,” Wallace said. “Although I very quickly began to love and appreciate and understand why we have the mission. But it was more so because I met with every leader as part of my recruitment process, and I could see the vision for the organization and for the communities that we serve. And I wanted to be a part of that.”

Leadership for employees, volunteers

Wallace worked in the for-profit sector prior to beginning work with the food bank; her previous role saw her travelling internationally as a tactical HR executive for Swiss-owned Metalor Technologies.

“Traveling three out of four weeks in a month became very challenging, especially with a family, and I was doing that for a long time, so I was looking for something different. But I didn’t know what different meant,” Wallace said. “Someone suggested that I look into the not-for-profit space… the food bank sort of found me.”

Fast-forward eight years, and Wallace is now Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Administration at GBFB, one of the largest food banks in the country. Providing leadership and guidance to a dynamic force of employees and volunteers, as well as working with the all-volunteer board of directors, she puts all of her strategic and tactical skills and experience to the test.

The GBFB services most of Massachusetts, delivering over 190 million pounds of food annually to more than 600 distribution sites in 190 cities around the state. Those numbers will only increase, she says, but the number of staff will likely not increase in parallel.

Volunteer retention crucial to GBFB

“The work that we do requires money and government support, and… that doesn't give us an opportunity to become a much larger organization… but the need is going to continue,” she said. “So we're not just looking for volunteers to help us to package food and deliver, but we also look for volunteers who are experts in their field or industry, to help guide us as we continue our work.”

Filling in that staffing gap is crucial, making retention and recruitment, as with many other employers in the for-profit sectors, an important part of Wallace’s role at GBFB. She cites internal diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) measures as well as “team member life-cycles” as critical components of the organization’s retention strategy.

“We are going through a cultural renaissance at our organization,” Wallace said. “From a people standpoint, we are being more intentional.”

To keep things organized, her human resources team coordinates with a “community engagement team” that works on the day-to-day operations and administration of the volunteer force, while human resources steps in to offer the “human being standpoint,” as Wallace describes it. This includes creating and enforcing protocols.

On the hiring side, talent acquisition remains a challenge, as the food bank experiences a “mismatch” in the skills they need and the skills the market is providing, especially post-pandemic.

But, once they are onboarded, whether employees or volunteers, Wallace said the HR aspect of relating to those individuals is basically the same.

“The interesting thing about volunteers and our own direct employees is that they're all human,” she said. “They want to like what they're doing. They want to work for an organization, whether it's paid or not, that is fulfilling. They want to be safe while they're doing it. They want to have options.

“So many of the things are similar in that way. It's the values that are really critically important for volunteers, just as much as with employees.”

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