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Open enrollment benefit tips for employees of nonprofits

Starting Career

Written by Amanda McDiffett
Director of Benefits at Kansas State University

Open enrollment season is a great time to assess your benefits and plan a strategy for your healthcare needs. While there is much to consider during the open enrollment season, the following tips provide a foundation for assessing the options available to you and how to determine what works best for you.


Are you contributing enough to your retirement plan to ensure your company is matching contributions to the fullest extent?

  1. Educate yourself. Like every field, health insurance has its own terminology and acronyms. It can be difficult to understand what you are reading, and the nuances of the plans available to you, without a solid foundation of understanding. offers a helpful healthcare glossary. Refer to it as you are looking over your benefit options to ensure you understand the different components of the plan(s) offered to you by your employer. Some common terms to be aware of: deductible, out-of-pocket maximum, copayment, network providers, and covered services. 
  2. Consider how a Health Savings Account, or HSA, can be a part of your overall well-being strategy. An HSA is a savings account used to set aside pretax dollars toward health-related expenses. The funds grow tax-free and are not taxable at disbursement if used for a qualified health expense. An individual must be enrolled in a high-deductible healthcare plan to be eligible to contribute to this type of account. Depending on your health needs, an HSA can be a great strategy for saving for premium costs, and for setting aside money for potential health-related expenses in the future. An HSA gives the savings account owner the ability to plan for the long term, not just focus on the current  plan enrollment year.
  3. Pick the plan that works best for you and/or your family. Every person is unique and has a different set of needs. Pay attention to the total cost of the plan. You want to weigh the premium cost, deductible, out-of-pocket maximum, and any personal savings you could use if needed for health expenses. Pay attention to your current health. One of the most important pieces of selecting your health insurance is knowing what services you may need. Estimate your healthcare service costs (including prescriptions) over the next year and factor that into the total cost of the plan. And remember, in most cases, you may have the ability to make a different choice the following open enrollment season if you determine you would like a different plan design for the next year.
  4. Find out if your employer offers a wellness program. If offered, it may provide different perks or even reduced premium rates for health insurance. Are you fully participating in these programs? If the program has perks associated with it, you will benefit not only from focusing on your own well-being, but may receive some additional benefits as well.
  5. Take a benefits assessment. Open enrollment is often focused on health benefits; however, it’s also a great time to assess other benefits offered to you in your role. Use this season to assess your overall financial picture, and look for ways you could change your benefit elections to improve the financial picture for you and/or your family. Is tuition assistance or professional development support available? Are you using your paid time off appropriately to support a work/life harmony? Are you contributing enough to your retirement plan to ensure your company is matching contributions to the fullest extent? Can you put additional funds toward a voluntary retirement program? Increasing your voluntary contribution by an incremental amount every year at open enrollment could really make a difference in your overall retirement savings.


Don’t forget to talk with family and friends about their benefit choices, but be sure to focus on their “why.” As mentioned before, each individual is unique and has different needs, their particular benefit choices may work better for them in their situation. While friends and family may have helpful information, you need to listen to how their experience aligns with your own situation, as well as what you might need in your future, before taking their advice.

Amanda is the Director of Benefits at Kansas State University, administering benefits programs for more than 4,500 employees. She is a graduate of TIAA’s Emerging Leaders Network, an industry-leading talent development program. After earning a B.S. in Personal Financial Planning at K-State, she received her M.A. in Organizational Leadership at Baker University. 

The author was not compensated for her contribution to and is unaffiliated with TIAA.  TIAA does not endorse or recommend her advice.  The statements made by the author are solely her own and TIAA expresses no opinion with regard to them.


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