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How Girlstart Brings STEM Education to More than 27,000 Girls

Outsourcing HR functions to a PEO enabled Girlstart to retain its talented team and direct more resources toward mission-driven work.





Girlstart was founded in 1998 in Austin, Texas, with the mission of bringing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to girls. Today, it operates programs in several states, including Texas, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, and Missouri. In 2017, the organization offered STEM activities to 27,402 girls, 97 percent of whom participated at no cost.

In 2018, Girlstart expanded into two new geographies (CA and MA). By 2020, the organization plans to bring its programming to even more areas of the country.



retaining talent on a budget

When Executive Director Tamara Hudgins joined Girlstart in 2009, she knew that a key to growing her program was having a happy, engaged, and committed staff. For her, this meant providing great support and top-tier benefits to Girlstart’s 15 full-time employees. It was important to Hudgins that her staff be able to focus on mission-driven work without distractions or extraneous tasks that took away from their core job functions.

Because Girlstart is a nonprofit, Hudgins had to make sure the organization was channeling as many of its resources as possible toward mission-driven work. She also knew the organization’s donors (and the public) would be monitoring how she spent money – literally. Every year, nonprofits have to publish a breakdown of where their dollars go: program delivery, fundraising, or program administration.

Hudgins knew she would have to find a fiscally sound solution that offered robust benefits and the level of professional HR support that would keep her team happy and reduce turnover.

When it came to selecting a benefits provider, Hudgins was looking for more than just a good deal on health insurance – she wanted a partner that could offer her team the level of service and guidance they’d get from an in-house HR professional.




Hudgins had run nonprofits in the past, and she’d seen first hand how PEOs could provide high-quality benefits, HR expertise, and support for a reasonable price. In her initial search, though, she was disappointed to find that many of the PEOs she talked to weren’t offering the kind of value she desired.

When she heard that Bob Cerone and Mary O’Keeffe, whom she’d worked with in the past, would be leading CognosHR, she contacted them to see what they could offer and was thrilled to find that CognosHR offered competitive healthcare benefits, payroll administration, compliance, and HR support at a price that worked for her budget. CognosHR’s client service model fit perfectly with her mandate of a service-oriented, cost-effective solution.

Ultimately, she decided to work with CognosHR because of the level of personalized customer service she knew she’d get. And she hasn’t been disappointed. “It’s a value-add for my employees,” Hudgins said. “They need to feel well supported and having an unbiased, HR professional at the other end of the line goes a long way.”

The relationship with CognosHR has proved a win-win: her staff gets solid benefits and top-tier support, and her year-end spending ratios have stayed strong.

Today CognosHR provides a variety of outsourced HR services and support for Girlstart including:

  • HRIS Platform

  • Payroll

  • Dedicated day-to-day HR support

  • Health Insurance

  • Compliance

  • State & Federal Compliance



distraction-free growth

Like most nonprofits, Girlstart has its financials audited every year. “Having CognosHR has made that process smoother and less stressful,” said Hudgins.

But preparing for audits isn’t the only thing that’s gotten easier since bringing on CognosHR. Since 2009, several of Girlstart’s employees have had children and taken maternity leave. “I didn’t have to deal with [the logistics] or worry about [answering questions about our healthcare and leave plan] because CognosHR handled the whole thing,” said Hudgins.

She’s seen an improvement in the organization’s administrative tasks, too. Before CognosHR, she said, she had trouble finding a PEO with payroll and benefits options that were flexible enough to meet her needs. “That made things very difficult,” she said. But CognosHR’s system simplified her life.

And then there was the matter of compliance. “If you’re trying to grow your business, compliance is the last thing you think about,” Hudgins said. And she admits that she’d rather not have to keep track of workers’ comp or disability benefits.

“And now, I don’t need to,” she said. “I know CognosHR is here to help.” Thanks to that help, Hudgins has been able to focus more of her time on raising money, growing Girlstart, and running the organization.




Nonprofits can have more compliance concerns and budgetary restrictions than for-profit businesses: a partnership with CognosHR has allowed Girlstart to stay focused on mission-driven work as it expands its staff and services. CognosHR helps with the following:

  1. Support for employees: Hudgins notes that her staff members feel more supported because they have a relationship with an HR professional who is there to answer their questions and concerns. “The value that the CognosHR team brings to startups and small businesses is extremely helpful,” she said. “They don’t just provide a service, they provide care.”

  2. Cost savings: This is especially important for a nonprofit. Girlstart is able to tap into CognosHR’s group buying power with insurance providers to obtain high-quality group benefits and healthcare insurance at a more affordable price.

  3. Time savings and efficiency: In a small organization like Girlstart, the CEO has a wide array of responsibilities. “But CEOs don’t have time to do everything,” she said. Outsourcing HR lets her focus on mission-driven growth initiatives while ensuring the organization’s employment and operational needs are met.

When nonprofitiers get distracted by HR or other non-strategic tasks, things can quickly fall apart. If you have a business with more than five people, there is no reason why you wouldn’t use CognosHR.
— TAMARA HUDGINS, Girlstart Executive Director

If you’ve been looking for a cost-effective way to provide great benefits and HR support for your employees, get in touch. We’d love to help!