Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Deborah Rutter, the President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


 

 

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Deborah Rutter © The Kennedy Center

Denver: One of the most well respected and revered institutions in all of America is The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. And for me, if I can name just one organization that I would be curious to know more about, that would be the one…in part because there is just so much to know. And that is why I am absolutely delighted that we have with us this evening their president, Deborah Rutter.

Good evening, Deborah, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Deborah: Thank you. I am so delighted to be here.

Denver: Let us start by having you tell us about the history of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and how it all came to be.

Deborah: Actually, this is a very interesting history that I didn’t know before I came to The Center. In fact, George Washington, when they were planning the City of Washington, had it in his mind that they should have a cultural center. But priorities got a little distracted at that time, and it took until the 1950s. Eisenhower actually signed authorization to create a cultural center for the United States of America and sent it off for the people to raise money, and very little money was raised.

When John F. Kennedy became president, having a cultural center became very important, both for his wife, Jacqueline, who of course was a big lover of the arts, but for him as well. And so, at that time, under their leadership, they helped to really promote this idea of having a national cultural center.

There’s a famous video of a fundraiser where Leonard Bernstein is hosting an event; a 7-year-old Yo-Yo Ma and his sister are playing for the President and Mrs. Kennedy. And you can go on Youtube and find it today. It’s adorable, but it brings full circle what this is all about for us at The Center. After he was assassinated, Mrs. Kennedy was asked by Congress: How would you like your husband to be memorialized? And she said, “I would like to have the nation’s cultural center named after him.” At that point, they started raising the money, designing, and really going full force on the construction of the project. Now, it took a long time.

Denver: They always do.

Deborah: So, there’s a famous picture of Johnson with a shovel… but it didn’t open until 1971. So, quite a long time from his death to the opening, but we have been celebrating John F. Kennedy ever since.

We have a resident opera company, The Washington National Opera. We have a resident symphony orchestra, The National Symphony Orchestra. We have a full season of ballet, a huge dance program, one of the largest jazz programs in the country, chamber music, contemporary music, and contemporary jazz music. We have international programming. We have spectacular theatre, musical theatre program. We have international festivals and 40 programs for education, including theatre for young audiences and all the traditional young people’s kinds of programs. We have a program every single day, 365 days a year at 6 p.m., free to the public.

Denver: Absolutely. Well, The Kennedy Center does such an amazing range of things that I sometimes wonder, Deborah, if the people in the building are even aware of all of them. Give us a snapshot, if you can, of the breadth and scope of all that you do.

Deborah: It is something that until you have lived and worked in D.C. and at The Kennedy Center for a period of time, you can’t really grasp. At the moment, and I say that because we’re expanding our footprint, but today, we have nine performance spaces. Three are major, large venues–from a concert hall of 2,300 to an opera house of 2,100 to a small theatre with 350 seats, but we also have very informal black box spaces…ones that can transform into other spaces. We have a resident opera company, The Washington National Opera. We have a resident symphony orchestra, The National Symphony Orchestra. We have a full season of ballet, a huge dance program, one of the largest jazz programs in the country, chamber music, contemporary music, and contemporary jazz music. We have international programming. We have spectacular theatre, musical theatre program. We have international festivals and 40 programs for education, including theatre for young audiences and all the traditional young people’s kinds of programs. We have a program every single day, 365 days a year at 6 p.m., free to the public.

Denver: Oh, wow.

Deborah: So, we are really for everybody. Just recently, we expanded all of that programming to now include a major comedy season, and just added hip-hop to our regular programming. So, in addition to all of what you expect at a performing arts center, we’ve added to really complement what we already have, but also in response to what we have learned from our audiences is what they’re interested in. So, we’re thrilled with the expansion of our programming in this way, and we believe there is something for everybody at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as he would want it to be.

Denver: Sounds that way to me. A lot of institutions rolled into one. Speaking of John Kennedy, it was earlier this year… I think it was May 29 that we commemorated the 100th anniversary of his birth.  It certainly was the time for your organization to reflect and recommit to the original vision of The Kennedy Center. What were some of the things that came out of that, Deborah?

Deborah: Anniversaries are great moments for reflecting on the legacy of an individual. And performing arts organizations frequently do that around big dates of some sort. So, think of having a celebration around Mozart or Dvořák or Beethoven or a choreographer or a playwright.

Denver: Bernstein next year, right?

Deborah: And for us now, Leonard Bernstein. And so when it came to the concept of coming up to the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy, we thought, okay, well, the library is going to do something. The Kennedy name is everywhere around our world. What will our performing arts center do for a president? We can’t really speak to his legacy per se, in terms of his specific actions, but what we could do is celebrate what he stood for: What were his ideals? What do we think of when you think of John F. Kennedy? And so we decided to build our programming and our celebration of John F. Kennedy around what he stood for and his ideals. So, our team thought about this at great length. Did a lot of reading and research and came up with a concept of celebrating his ideals of service, courage, freedom, justice. And then, after we spoke to the family to review this, to make sure we were on point, we added “gratitude” because that was really about who they were as a family and who John F. Kennedy was.

So, our team thought about this at great length. Did a lot of reading and research and came up with a concept of celebrating his ideals of service, courage, freedom, justice. And then, after we spoke to the family to review this, to make sure we were on point, we added “gratitude” because that was really about who they were as a family and who John F. Kennedy was.

So, building on those kinds of ideals, what do programmers do? We had such creativity from our really brilliant programmers, and we did programs around Cesar Chavez. We did the operas Dead Man Walking and Champion. We commissioned a new dance work. We featured a whole program of repertoire and commissioned a new work from our composer and resident, Mason Bates, who used the words of John F. Kennedy and Walt Whitman to envision what a future would look like with John F. Kennedy, and it was really fantastic. So, a lot of creativity in all of the art forms.

On the weekend which happened to be Memorial Day, we had a fantastic huge open house with just wild things happening. Dancers… the great dance group, Bandaloop, dancing on the side of the building, and every kind of art and theater and music in all of the spaces around the building. So, we had 15,000 visitors over one day on Memorial Day weekend. And then on the day itself, we had a beautiful sort of retrospective of who he was – videos, language, music, reflections on who he was and his words themselves. It was really a wonderful way for us to really bring John F. Kennedy back to life in a very real, tangible way. When you are the living memorial to a fallen president, sometimes, as we who walk around the building all the time, might take it for granted. And we really wanted to remind people about the fact that the Kennedy Center is a memorial to President Kennedy and why. Why would a performing arts center be named after a president?

And this was a great opportunity for us. We’re really excited about this as really, frankly an ongoing approach to our programming.

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Carter Roberts, President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Carter Roberts, the President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


 

Carter Roberts © ImpactSpace

Denver: When my next guest was 29 years old, he made a list of the things he wanted to accomplish which included getting married, having three kids, seeing the Himalayas and the Arctic, and finally, leading a group of people in saving the most important places on earth. He has done pretty well with that list, including the final item. He is Carter Roberts, the President and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund.

Good evening, Carter, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Carter: Thanks. Great to be here.

Denver: Why don’t we start by having you give us a snapshot of the World Wildlife Fund and the mission of the organization.

Carter:  World Wildlife Fund. You may know us by our panda logo more than anything, but we were founded 55 years ago. We work in 100 countries around the world. People would think that we are nice people saving fuzzy animals, but our mission is all about creating a future for humanity on this earth in which we live in harmony with the planet… which means protecting nature and driving more sustainable behavior for all of us.

Denver: You know, Carter, the general public, I think, is often confused with all the different environmental and conservation and wildlife groups. What makes WWF distinctive?  And what particular niche do you uniquely fill?

Carter: I’ve worked for a couple of groups in my career,  and I’ve studied different groups. I love history, and I’ve often said:  if you want to understand the group, you should look at the moment of conception– the first thing they did– because the DNA of that group is baked in in the very first thing they do.

Denver: Interesting perspective.

Carter: I was with the Nature Conservancy for 15 years. The first thing they did was: they were a group of scientists who were about to lose a place. They took out second mortgages, raised a lot of money to buy the land to keep it from being developed, and the idea of mobilizing capital to save nature is at the heart of what they do. And for WWF, we were founded 55 years ago, simultaneously in the UK, the Netherlands, the US and Switzerland to draw the world’s attention to the plight of animals and places around the world that we were losing, to raise the resources and mobilize people to save them.

So from the beginning, we were created as a global organization that would operate through communication, through elevating issues, and then getting people to converge on a single place, on a single issue, to make a difference before it’s too late.

Over the past 40 years, we have lost 50% of the populations of the world’s species, and that trend line is headed in the wrong direction with some notable positive exceptions. And on the other side, when I started this job, we were demanding in the world, 1.3 times what the planet could sustain. We just hit the 1.5 mark, and at this rate, we’re going to need two planets to survive this humanity.  And, of course, there’s not another.

Denver: Well, sticking with the idea of global, one of your signature publications is the Living Planet Report. What were some of the highlights, as well as the trend lines from your most recent report?

Carter: Yeah. I wish I could tell you that that report is going in the right direction. We’ve been doing it for 40 years. We have two big measures of the world. One is a market basket of the world species and how those populations are doing over time. And the other measure is humanity’s footprint, or how much of the world does each person, on average, demand from the world in order to survive. And when I started this job, we had already seen a decline in the world’s population of species.

Over the past 40 years, we have lost 50% of the populations of the world’s species, and that trend line is headed in the wrong direction with some notable positive exceptions. And on the other side, when I started this job, we were demanding in the world, 1.3 times what the planet could sustain. We just hit the 1.5 mark, and at this rate, we’re going to need two planets to survive this humanity.  And, of course, there’s not another.

Denver: Yes. That’s, I think, they call it “earth overshoot day”, and it’s really now, right at the very beginning of August when we’ve used up the resources in a single year.

Carter: It is. And for the remainder of the year, it’s the equivalent of a farmer eating his seed. It’s not a good thing.

Denver: No. You know, there have been a number of significant accomplishments that have occurred in the 12 plus years that you’ve been the CEO of WWF. But perhaps, none, any greater than your work in Brazil and creating a system of protected areas in the Amazon. How in the world were you able to achieve that?

Carter: Yeah. When I ask people and when I interview them, I always ask them: what are you most proud of? And if you ask me, beyond my personal life– actually my work life is my personal life– what are you most proud of? I would mention the Amazon because back in the day, 25 years ago, when the world knew it was losing its forests, we developed a partnership with the government of Brazil– President Cardozo– the World Bank, and a number of foundations– the Moore Foundation and the Global Environmental Facility– with the dream of creating a system of parks in the Amazon covering at least 10% of that part of the country.

And in the process, we have created a system of parks since then, equal to 125 million acres, that is larger than the state of California.  And it’s the largest single conservation project anywhere in the world. And we have then taken the steps to create a consortium of groups around the world to finance it in a really cool, multi-party single closing that is performance-based… that gives the government of Brazil time to put in place the measures to hire the park guards, to finance all the equipment they need to make sure that those parks remain intact.

Denver: Let me pick up on that idea, if I can. About 15% of the world’s land is protected. And to finance that, it takes maybe $2.5 billion or so, of which we have a shortfall of $1.5 billion.  So, some creative financing is called for there, and your effort around that is something called Project Finance for Permanence. What is that?  And how does that work?

Carter: What we found is: it’s truly important to create a park. If you create a park, the level of deforestation drops by a bit. But if that park is not financed, and you don’t have the money to hire the park guards– boots on the ground– put up the signs, patrol the roads, all of that, then the level of deforestation jumps.

And so, with the government of Brazil, we estimated what would it cost to actually manage these parks. We looked at the gap between that and where the government of Brazil is now. We figured out how long it would take to put in place the measures to close that gap, and then we created a $215 million fund with the government of Norway, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Moore Foundation, the Global Environmental Facility, the government of Germany, and many others that came together from around the world to basically say, “Look, we will cover that transition but on a performance basis. So, we will pay out each year the government of Brazil takes a step in the right direction.”

And it has become a model that many other governments in the world now want to follow from Bhutan, to Peru, to Colombia, to even the DRC in Africa. And so, we are now looking at: how do you scale this up to do likewise in the most important forested of countries in the world?

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Gary Knell, President and CEO of National Geographic Society Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Gary Knell, President and CEO of the National Geographic Society, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.


 

 

 

Gary Knell, LinkedIn

Gary Knell © LinkedIn

 

Denver: Legacy institutions, many of them over 100 years old, have an immunity to change because so many of our organizations are architected to resist change and withstand risk. So when you see one that is successfully reinventing itself for the 21st century, taking its brand from reverence to relevance, you really take notice. One such organization is the National Geographic Society. And it’s a pleasure to have with us this evening, their President and CEO, Gary Knell.

 

Good evening, Gary, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Gary: Denver, it’s really great to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Denver: Let us start with some of that legacy, if you will, and share with our listeners a little bit about the history of the National Geographic Society and the mission of the organization.

Gary: Yes. So, 129 years ago, 27 guys… and they were guys… got together at the Cosmos Club in Washington D.C. This was an era of discovery and exploration. The Smithsonian Institution had started just a few years before, with the legacy of diffusing knowledge.  And the folks around National Geographic felt we needed to diffuse geographic knowledge. So, it was an amazing group of pioneers. Some of them could’ve been working in hipster coffee shops, I’d like to say, but they were out there as geographers, scientists, explorers wanting to tell the public about the beauties of the West and exploration and to satisfy the curiosity gene that so many people have.

I would just say also, the first issue, Denver, the cover story was the geologic strata of the Potomac River, a real page-turner if there ever was one. So, over time, when Alexander Graham Bell took over as the second president, and his son-in-law, Gilbert Grosvenor, they introduced photography into National Geographic, really the first major publication to introduce photography. Two board members quit in protest because they thought it would dumb down the magazine.

Denver: No kidding.

Gary: They were wrong. So, don’t always listen to your Board of Directors. I’m sure my chairman will be thrilled with that comment. But, the rest is history where National Geographic, of course, is known primarily for photography and storytelling and visual storytelling. So, it was a courageous move back then that has paid off in so many ways.

We’re going to have 9.5 billion people here by 2050. There are twice as many people on the planet today than there were since we graduated high school. We’re probably roughly the same age, and that wasn’t that long ago… So, it wasn’t 1888! But how can the planet really sustain all these people? How can we feed them, educate them, provide energy for them, house them without burning up everything in or on the planet? That’s the big question.

Denver: 1888.  National Geographic covers the planet and beyond unlike anybody else. Science, exploration, culture, environment, ecosystems, animals and so on. So, let me ask you a big picture question if I can. What’s your assessment of the planet in 2017? Is anything getting better?  And what are you really worried about?

Gary: Well, there are things getting better, and there’s a lot of amazing people in the sector of public service and NGOs and government and the private sector that are doing incredible things. The biggest issue, really though, is we’ve got so many people on our planet. We’re going to have 9.5 billion people here by 2050. There are twice as many people on the planet today than there were since we graduated high school. We’re probably roughly the same age, and that wasn’t that long ago… So, it wasn’t 1888! But how can the planet really sustain all these people? How can we feed them, educate them, provide energy for them, house them without burning up everything in or on the planet? That’s the big question. And when I pose this actually in Washington where we’re based to Republicans and Democrats, nobody says, “Boy, that’s a dumb question.”

This is a non-partisan, existential question that we need to face head-on, and we hope that National Geographic can provide some answers and post some of those questions to give our political leaders and others a longer lens that they can look through… as opposed to the quarterly lens that so many of our organizations are stuck with.

Denver: Yeah. Well, you are certainly leading a lot of these conversations. It was just about two years ago that the National Geographic Society expanded its relationship with 21st Century Fox in a venture called National Geographic Partners. How does that partnership work?  And what have been some of the benefits of it to the National Geographic Society?

Gary: Well, it’s been a terrific partnership. The leaders of 21st Century Fox, led by their CEO, James Murdock, have been fantastic partners who really believe in our mission. They are certainly putting a lot of resources behind it. They’re out there publicly really promoting Nat Geo as one of their core assets, creative assets.

We had an almost 20-year partnership, Denver, with 21st Century Fox on the National Geographic Channel that Fox owns 70% of, and it is now the largest cable channel in the world in terms of distribution. It reaches about 450 million people around the world in 170 countries. And in many countries, National Geographic is known through the channel even more than the print magazine.

So, what we did two years ago is we simply put our print assets– the books and magazines and our digital assets– into the cable venture. So, we now have a 70/30 partnership. There’s a joint board between Fox and National Geographic Society people that oversee that. We have a lot of bells and whistles about making sure that it’s still consistent with the mission of National Geographic and the brand of National Geographic… so it doesn’t go off sideways in some place. And I would say that so far, it’s been a resounding success.

The other part which is critically important is: because we were able to monetize some of the equity around the print magazine and the digital, we’ve been able to create a $1.2 billion endowment now to fund scientific exploration and storytelling pioneers out in the world, which is something.  Now with this war chest, we could double down on our impact.

Denver: That’s wonderful. And it was about a year ago that you underwent this extensive rebranding effort across all your media platforms, reinforcing this idea of one National Geographic. As a matter of fact, I think, in some ways you almost dropped the word channel because you just wanted to get that concept out there.

Gary: We actually did drop the word channel.

Denver: Yeah.

Gary: It’s now National Geographic on air.

Denver: So, give us your thinking around this rebrand and what the impact has been so far?

Gary: Well, I’m a big believer in brands. And as I have had the privilege to oversee big brands like Sesame Street, and NPR, and National Geographic, we have to stick to our knitting, and I think consumers know actually much more than you think they do… knowing when things are off brand. And you can lose people and dilute yourself very easily chasing a buck. So, it’s critically important that we stick to our knitting, that Sesame Street really was, and still is, all about educating pre-schoolers to give them an opportunity to succeed, and NPR is really about educating the public about national and global affairs and inspiring them. And National Geographic is really about satisfying the curiosity that will get people inspired to care for the planet.

So, we have to come back to those all the time, and we actually have these conversations in National Geographic every week. Is this on brand? Is this not on brand? How do we make sure it is on brand? It’s a really important part of what we try to do.

Denver: And with this new rebranding, you also have a tagline, right?

Gary: We do. I mean, “Further” has really been what we’ve tried to express in one word which cuts across all of our media. And it’s really a human inspiration to go further which has been, of course, the legacy of Alexander Graham Bell, who not only invented the telephone but also came within a week of putting the first airplane into flight… which most people don’t even know. He was a serial inventor.  But then we funded people like Hiram Bingham, and Jacques Cousteau, and Jane Goodall, and Dian Fossey, and the Leakeys and all kinds of other people… all the way to today where we have amazing pioneers with that exploration gene. And they all had the inspiration to go “further,” hence, the idea that each of us has that opportunity in our own lives.

It’s really about photography, and I have to give credit to my predecessors– who were nimble and entrepreneurial– to be able to take what was simply a print magazine and push it into books, push it into television, push it into cable, push it into social media. And now through integration… scale, we have an opportunity to make a much bigger impact.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Sesame Workshop

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


Denver: And this evening, you’ll be heading up just north of Columbus Circle in New York into the happy and oh-so-joyful offices of Sesame Workshop. We will begin the segment with their CEO Jeff Dunn and then hear from other members of the Sesame Workshop team.

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Jeff: I think it’s the CEO’s number one job. I’ve often said to people – if you know well the CEO of the company, know who that person is, you can predict the corporate culture. Conversely, if you don’t know the CEO at all but you know the corporate culture, you can predict pretty clearly what the attributes and values of the CEO are because, over time, the CEO and culture get very closely aligned. Whatever attributes and values the CEO has and expresses and brings, and says “this is what’s important to me,” that’s what the company begins to absorb and take on and deliver on. So the CEO owns the positive and the CEO owns the not so positive. So I think a lot about it. I think about: what do we do to have the right culture here? How do we make sure that we articulate what we want our culture to be? And then, what are the things that we can do to try and deliver on having that culture?

Phil: I think one of the biggest surprises that a new employee will experience about the workshop culture is that we don’t consider our Muppets to be children’s characters; we actually consider them to be colleagues. Elmo is as real to me as Louis is sitting across this table. And I think it’s because when you work at Sesame Workshop, you can be walking by a conference room and the performer for Elmo will be in there perhaps reading a script or reading a storyline, and you’re just walking to the water fountain and you hear Elmo coming from across the hall, and you think, “That’s Elmo.”

Diana: I was given the opportunity outside of my regular responsibilities to head a communications group, which was a cross-functional group of people – different levels and different departments represented. The sole goal of the group was to help foster communications, both sort of vertically up to senior management as well as across departments. For me, personally, it was a great opportunity to take on a role outside of my regular responsibilities and get to work with different people, but most importantly, we, as a group really have the ear of senior management. I was very impressed by the fact that they really wanted to hear what people had to say. They wanted feedback about what’s working well for the organization, what’s not. They took it very seriously. I was often the representative, kind of sharing the feedback from the group to management, which wasn’t always an easy role to be in, but they would hear it and they would think about how they wanted to act on it and they’ve taken tremendous steps to really act on that. So I think that has helped foster a real sense of openness and transparency for the organization.

Estee: Because it’s exactly the same process. We get our work done the same way in every single territory, in every single co-production. We sit down as a team and we discuss: What are those features that we want in this new Muppet? Or what are the goals that we want to achieve in the creation of a new format? It was really incredible. The team around the table was so enthused by this because they were like, “You’ve been doing it for 40 years and yet you still ask the same question as you’re asking us where we are creating this for the first time in Afghanistan with our Muppets.”

Bridget: One of the things that I find so unique to Sesame Street is you’re going to have the world’s worst commute here in New York City and you can expect the subway to treat you horribly on a daily basis. You could come in and you could have had such a tough day already at 9:30 in the morning, and you walk in and you see a mural of Sesame Street in black and white with all the Muppets in color, smiling and having a great time. You look at that and you’re like, “How could anything in my life ever be bad?” It is just such a welcoming environment to step into the office every single day. And then when you go to your desk – everybody’s desks are covered in Sesame paraphernalia.

 

Jeff: Some of the things that I brought here was what we call “Ask Jeff anything” which is people get to submit anonymous questions before a staff meeting. The reason we make it anonymous is because people won’t ask you the things that they really want to know, particularly if it’s unpopular, if they have to stand up and put a face and a name to it. But if you allow people to submit them anonymously, then you really get to know what’s on people’s mind. If you answer them, and you answer them honestly and you make all that available to people on a regular basis, then they get to know what’s going on.

The death of any culture is the grapevine, and what you want to do is you want to prevent the grapevine from going off in a lot of different directions because information abhors a vacuum, right? So by allowing employees to ask whatever questions they want, and promising them an answer and giving them an answer…and we post all the answers, make it all public. It’s all public. Well, public, I say, within our company. People get to know what’s really going on here.

Cheroc: I was instrumental in naming the conference rooms after characters and naming the printers after characters, so we try and keep it fun here at the office. I’ve worked in a few other places, but Sesame has the perks pretty much nailed down. Not many of them have changed. They’ve gotten better. I don’t feel that any of the perks have been taken away, but we’ve got amazing benefits here – from the 401(k) to having off the between Christmas and New Year’s and the amount of PTO days you get and just understanding when there’s family emergencies or bereavement to the maternity leave.

I’ve had the opportunity of being out on two very generous maternity leaves while here at Sesame and all of my friends and family are just like, “How does your company allow you to be out for so long?” But I think it speaks to the mission and how important family and children are to Sesame Workshop.

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Janelle: One of the questions that came to mind for me was how are decisions made, and I’ll say that for me, that has been one of the biggest surprises and delighters for me joining the workshop pretty recently. If I had to boil it down to one word on how decisions are made, I would say collaboratively or inclusively would be the words I would choose. There have been huge initiatives that have been put out company-wide based on upward feedback, and Jeff, our CEO, implemented some of these initiatives.

Philip: “Here I am just a few years into my career and I’ve booked a meeting with the United States Ambassador to Bangladesh.” I think it’s important for any employee to feel like your employer trusts you to go out and do the business for the organization and the brand. I have seen that with a lot of my colleagues and I think a lot of people at Sesame Workshop appreciate that type of trust and respect.

Louis: I was asked to be part of the Principal for the Day program, and again, I didnt even realize that we participated in that, but one of the chief executives actually asked me if I would do it. I said, “Well, sure, I’ll do it.” They said, “You could pick whatever school you want.” 

So I went to my elementary school and actually brought with me Elmo and Ernie. Im not allowed to do the voice or anything like that, but I snuck a little bit of Ernie only because of this little boy–Ive met a lot of children on the spectrum of autism and this little boy was brought from another school by his mother. He loved Ernie but she didnt know he was going to be there, so she went and got him and brought him to the school. And I said I have to do a little bit for him because this is his favorite character, so I did Rubber Duckie and things like that. The kid looked frozen. He didnt respond. He was a non-verbal child on the spectrum. Later on, I got a letter from that woman. Im trying to find that letter. She told me that for the first time, her child started to speak. He didnt put sentences together, but he started to talk about Ernie — “Ernie talked to me!” — and he just kept on. She didnt know what do herself because it was a miraculous moment. So talk about a wow factor.

These characters have impact on so many people, from children to adults. I know its going to be a long story, but it gives me chills every time I say this. One of the most amazing moments in my life in general, but it happened through Sesame Workshop.

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Denver: I want to thank Elizabeth Fishman for helping to organize my visit and to all those who participated in this piece –  Jeff Dunn, Bridget Miles, Louis Henry Mitchell, Estee Bardanashvili, Cheroc Slater, Philip Toscano, Diana Polvere, and Janelle Petrovich. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, you can hear this again, read the transcript, and see pictures of the participants and the offices of Sesame Workshop. 


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Kessler Foundation

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


Denver: And this evening, we’re going to go across the Hudson River and over to West Orange, New Jersey to an organization that is on everybody’s best places to work with year in and year out. It is the Kessler Foundation. We will begin the segment with their President and CEO Rodger DeRose, and then hear from the other members of the Kessler Foundation team.

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Rodger: I think the other area that is so important is if you manage your organization with a real human element– where you are human first and manager second, it really shows in the culture of the organization… and how you address personnel issues, for example, that are going to live with the organization for a long period of time. Every organization has to release somebody at some point for not meeting the performance metrics. How you release that person, for example, says a lot about the organization. If you do it in a very dignified way, in a way that allows an individual to leave with grace and dignity, it says something about the organization. And that as that person leaves, that you continue to have a very meaningful discussion or relationship with the person, so that it’s a positive relationship as opposed to a negative one. That translates to how people view you in the marketplace.

Sharon: My review is coming up next month but Anne sits down with me on a bi-weekly basis and provides me an hour of her time and we normally sit there for two hours. And she provides that time for me to talk to her about anything that I want to talk about, whether it be how do I figure out something? What’s going on with the organization? Where does she think we should be going? She’s invested her time in my development and my understanding the organization and she tells me every two weeks, “You’re doing a great job!” which really helps me as a person to know that I am making a difference, at least she thinks I am making a difference, and it’s a good quality to have in a boss because they are invested in you. But it’s not just her and time that she is investing. She is investing her time in me allowing to grow with the organization and to think of ways to help the organization grow.

Raza: And I think what’s been most significant for me and kind of has provided the base wild factor is the tangible impact and the hands-on role that the senior leadership plays in making sure they stay involved, making sure they stay aware with what’s going on within the organization, and the fact that they try to be personally invested in the work and the mission of each individual employee. So, I was pretty impressed that some of the senior administration, they actually know exactly what I am doing, when I am doing it and they take a vested interest in what we do.

Nancy: So, the mud run, this was our third year doing the mud run together and the team has gotten bigger every year and everybody, it seems to be more fun every single year. And that’s not the only event that we do. We do other fundraising walks. We have parties. We do a lot of things offsite just because we enjoy being together. And I think that that really makes a tremendous difference in how we work together during the work time.

Laura: One of the activities that I wanted to mention that demonstrates the transparency here at the foundation is the employee focus groups that Roger holds. So, basically, he takes an employee from different departments. I guess he has some type of formula for choosing who comes and then he sits down with them for about an hour, an hour and a half, and we’re able to openly discuss our experiences at the foundation, any issues that are evolving if any and he wants to actually hear from the employee. So, it doesn’t matter what level they’re at. They can be at a lower level or upper management level and we’re all sitting together at a roundtable discussing the issues. He also allows us to propose resolutions. So, we’re learning where each department is, what the activities are that they are doing, and he’s really taking into consideration everybody’s opinion and experience and I think that’s as transparent as you can get.

Chris: At Kessler Foundation, a lot of the supervisory staff and a lot of the bosses, they really encourage their employees in my position, in particular, to forward their career and to forward their knowledge. They want them to go on to get some kind of education. That’s why one of the plans that we offer at Kessler is a tuition reimbursement plan for a lot of the people who might be interested in going back to school. So, I have the good fortune of taking advantage of that this Fall. I talked to my supervisors at Kessler and I said to them, “Look, I am interested in applying for school but I still want to continue to work here while I go to school.” And they worked with me and we discussed what research studies I could still continue to be on and what research studies I’d be able to stop being on and how I’d work my hours throughout the week.

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Ameen: I think what makes Kessler Foundation the best place to work, just bottom line, coming here, you’re going to be a better person. You’re working with some of the leaders of the field — leaders in stroke research, neuroscience, you name it. You’re with the cream of the crop when it comes to education-wise. Then you meet some of the people, the people themselves are so like a wealth of knowledge themselves. A lot of participants I talked to, they really leave an impression on me, makes me appreciate things even more. So, being here, you’re going to be a better person regardless whether it’s scholastically, whether it’s intellectually, or whether it’s on a humanitarian level or – you’re just going to be a better person.

Trevor: In turn, I’m going to address the question of how decisions are made. So, I think, Roger is open to, I guess, all the time, he comes across as a very easy laid back guy, but he’s tough. But he is open and receptive and at first, he may say no but if over a series of time, if you make your point, he is willing to change his mind. He also, with different things, I don’t want to give specific examples but he handles everything by a case-by-case basis. There are many organizations that will handle things just as one blanket way and he’s open-minded enough to realize that each situation is different for individuals and what may be appropriate for one individual or really is best for one individual and go with that, and then have to deal with any ramifications as in other instances. So, he’s easy going yet tough but also very open-minded.

Sharon: The other thing I wanted to talk about was the communications. When grants are awarded, Roger personally puts out an email to congratulate the scientist who has achieved that award because it’s not an easy process that they go through, which Nancy can easily talk about. And it helps everyone in the organization know what’s going on. And all that flooding of emails that come back from people congratulating them on receiving that award because each of those scientists knows how hard it is. It makes us, as the rest of the individuals who aren’t necessarily involved in that process, feel as though we’ve helped in some way.

Samantha: One of the things I love about working here is that I feel like my hard work is really noticed and my research manager will tell me when she sees me doing something she likes or if my recruitment numbers are high, they let me know. I’ve actually had Roger tell me, “Thank you. Thank you so much for all your hard work,” and that’s pretty amazing. Most of my friends don’t know the CEOs of their company. They’ve never met them. They might not even know their names. But Roger really takes the time to get to know us and he appreciates our hard work and he tells us. And sometimes they’ll give out a little Visa gift card, a little bonus, which is a small gesture but it really goes a long way in making me feel appreciated and I really love that.

Nancy: And I generally know what to expect but he always surprises me and there’s always something that I didn’t think of or I didn’t notice, some place where I can improve, and I find as an employee that, that review is extremely beneficial. I also enjoy it as the supervisor because I think it gives me an opportunity to provide the feedback in a constructive way but also hear what the scientists that worked with me, how they feel they’re doing and where they want to go in the future. So an important part of our employee reviews is goal setting, and it’s not only goal setting in terms of what the lab goals are or what the grant goals are, but it’s also goal setting in terms of what the employee’s goals are. So, yes you want to accomplish this in terms of your line of work or in terms of your position in the lab but what about your professional development? What else do you want to learn? What else do you want to do? And let’s set that as a goal and make sure that in the next year you do that. So, I think the employee reviews are fantastic.

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Denver: I want to thank Susana Santos for helping to organize my visit and to all those who participated – Ameen DeGraffenreid, Raza Husein, Trevor Dyson-Hudson, Laura Viglione, Christopher Bober, Sharon Cross, Samantha Schmidt, and Nancy Chiaravalloti. You can listen to this again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and facilities simply by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, and waiting for you there will be a link to my full interview with Rodger DeRose, the President and CEO of the Kessler Foundation.


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

 

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Jim Canales © The Barr Foundation

Denver: No matter what the field of endeavour, we all enjoy watching organizations take shape, emerge, grow and evolve into something that increases their effectiveness and impact. There’s a foundation based in Boston that fits that description to a tee. It’s The Barr Foundation. And it is fortunate to be led by one of the most capable individuals in the field of philanthropy, and he just happens to be with us now. He is Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation.

 

Good evening, Jim, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Jim: Good evening, Denver and thanks so much for having me.

Denver: Tell us about The Barr Foundation, your mission and goals.

Jim: The Barr Foundation has been around for about 20 years. We have assets of $1.7 billion, and we grant approximately $80 million a year in the areas of arts & creativity and climate and education.

Denver: The evolution of The Barr Foundation, at least for me, has been a fascinating thing to watch. It started out as sort of an anonymous giving entity, and it evolved into a family foundation, and now it has become a professional operation and a major legacy foundation. Tell us about that journey, Jim, and some of the challenges along the way.

Jim: The foundation was created by two individuals who are enormously generous and strategic about the kind of impact they want to have. Amos and Barbara Hostetter created the foundation 20 years ago. Amos was one of the co-founders of Continental Cable Vision, and that’s what led to the opportunity to create the foundation.

The foundation has grown over time from that initial gift to, as I said earlier, $1.7 billion in assets. And the foundation did start anonymously. It began anonymously because Barbara and Amos felt very strongly that it was important to focus on the work and not to focus on the foundation itself. And that’s evolved over time. And interestingly enough, part of the reason that it has evolved has been feedback from the grantees of the foundation. Many of whom said to The Barr Foundation almost a decade ago, that it was actually better for them to be able to be public about where the funds were coming from, that the foundation had achieved a certain kind of reputation in the community as a thoughtful grantmaker, and that being anonymous was not necessarily serving them well. And that, I think, was a pivot for the foundation.

Now, I arrived in 2014, so I’ve only been there for about 3 &1/2 years, and in that time, there’s a lot that we have done, and there’s a lot more that we have to do.

Denver: Oh, I bet. I bet. But that’s good to have co-founders who listen. And they listened, and they acted on that listening. You mentioned a moment ago, you have three major program areas. I’m going to ask you to say a word or two about each one.

The first is Arts & Creativity. Lots of things going on here like Boston Creates. What’s your overarching goal for your Arts & Creativity program?

Jim: Arts & Creativity is focused on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So originally, the arts program had a focus on Boston, and as part of a strategic planning effort that we went through a couple of years ago, we made the decision that Barr was going to take a more regional approach to its grantmaking. And within that, we decided that Arts & Creativity would become a statewide program. And our focus is: How do we create and foster a creative, vibrant, cultural and artistic community for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

And we focused in three principal areas. One is: How do we invest in arts organization so that they can become adaptive and relevant, given so many changes that are going on around them– which I’m happy to get into. We also focus on ways that the arts can connect with other sectors in ways that ultimately contribute to that vibrancy that I described a moment ago. And then we also focus on ways to build advocacy on behalf of the arts.

Denver: Arts have really become a key driver in urban renewal, haven’t they?

Jim: They have. And in fact, we’ve seen a lot of that in the Commonwealth. One of our partnerships is with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and we focus on ways that we might revitalize certain cities that have suffered significant changes because of changes in industry… and ways that certain spaces that lie fallow could be revitalized and used for creative purposes. And so, this is one of the partnerships that we’ve been engaged in the last number of years, and we see it as a hopeful sign. Think about ways that you can repurpose these old mills, these old buildings, these old factories to foster the kind of creativity and the kind of entrepreneurship that I think will help these cities to turn things around.

Denver: Great stuff. Second program is around Climate. Now, we sometimes don’t think of a locally-focused organization doing something on climate, but that would not be the case. And part of your focus there is around an initiative called  What’s the strategy here?

Jim: The strategy for that evolved from a decision that was made about seven years ago. The foundation had had a broad-based environment program up until that time. And in 2010, the foundation trustees made the decision that it was evident that climate change was one of the most urgent and pressing issues of our time. And as a result, that the environment program should shift into a climate program. And in deciding how to focus the climate program, they looked at: What were the greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the region? And they were buildings and transportation. And so, that’s what led to a focus on energy and on transportation as two core areas of focus.

We did that work for about five years, and as part of a planning effort that we undertook a couple of years ago, we shifted to a focus on clean energy and renewables and then a focus on mobility.  So, what we think about with our Mobility focus is how we can achieve two things: How we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and at the same time, focus on how we help people to get where they need to get in a more efficient and effective way.

Denver: Human-centered designed to a certain degree. It’s around people.

Jim: It’s very true.

Denver: And finally, there is education. And your concentration here is around secondary schools and your desire to see that all students succeed. What is working there? And what are you especially excited about these days?

Jim: So, I think your emphasis on all students is absolutely right. And many people across the country look at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and say, “Wow, Massachusetts is a real success story.” Across many indices, Massachusetts is often at the top in terms of student achievement and in terms of other measures that we use to assess academic achievement.

But underneath that data, you come to realize that it may not be that excellent for all students. And that’s what led us to focus on ways that we can think about re-envisioning secondary education in ways to create more relevant experiences for students when they’re in high school, in ways that help them to connect to both postsecondary and career opportunities, and also in ways that perhaps personalize the experience. To realize that every student comes at this from a different perspective and with a different set of competencies. And if we can reimagine the way we deliver secondary education in a way that acknowledges the need for that kind of personalization, we can really make a significant difference for those students, particularly those who are at greatest risk of dropping out.

Denver: Can you give us an example of one of the things that you are supporting?

(more…)

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Navy-Marine Corps

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


Denver: And this evening, we’re going to take you down to Arlington, Virginia into the offices of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. What they do is help provide financial, educational and need-based assistance to active duty and retired Marines and sailors, their families and survivors. So let’s find out why the people who work there like it so much. 

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Bryan: I just wanted to talk a little bit about how the organization really makes you feel like you’re a part of a family. I actually went away for 12 years and came back. So I’m kind of a retread. And there are people who are here, who just recently retired, who have been some of my closest friends ever and continue to be, as well as a lot of new people who I knew coming back and re-interviewing. And the people that were gone, I’m sure they were missed but the new people coming on board had been taken in and been made a part of the collectives so it was just great.

Wayne: When I got here, it felt so comfortable. The idea only entered my mind once about moving and then I actually rationalized to myself: What in the world would you ever wanna do that for? Because I enjoyed what I was doing so much. I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to go to another job and get that same kind of fulfillment. So for me, the feeling was immediate and I still felt close to the military being working with the Navy and the Marines and still felt like I was doing something and giving back to those groups. So that’s what it was for me.

Telisha: We are very volunteer-oriented. We’re big on volunteer recognition; that whole volunteer week is very special here for obvious reasons. I think that is the part of the culture of just giving back and serving, so that is reflected on how employees are as well. You’ll see people who really are passionate about what they do. How can I help? Even if it means always going the extra mile. You don’t want to burn out, but you see people who really care enough and they want to find the solution because we are dealing with tough problems

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Holly: I think one thing that is specific to the society that you probably wouldn’t know unless you work here and I thought was interesting when I came here was our saying of “Spend what you need and not a penny more.” I always found that saying perfect when you’re dealing with donor dollars and how you have to tell people to get the job done, so you can support the client and the service members, but also not to spend too much and be responsible with the funds that we get.

Kim: And I’m just going to touch on one thing where it says here… when a new employee really belongs. I’m going to have to say it’s the Christmas ornament that if you’re a new employee and Christmas time comes around, you get to place your Christmas ornament on the tree. But years go by and each Christmas we still — you may not be here, you may have been retired, you may have moved — but each Christmas you still are here because your ornament is still here

Tammy: To me, the “wow” is our Visiting Nurse Program. We are the only military aid society that offers home visits by registered nurses; be that with a new mom or baby or our combat injured and their families. So that allows the clients that we worked with to have that financial side of the house with Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society but then we also bring in the nursing piece to address all the other issues that they may have going on, be it access to medical care or other resources that they may need

MonicaBut I had more volunteers that actually said they wanted to come in that I had space where I could plug them in. And I was just thinking: Wow! I mean it’s a weekend, it’s Sunday, I can’t believe that I have more people raising their hand to come in and help than I can even plug in. And that’s just the kind of people that are attracted to the society and why I feel so lucky that everyday I’m around people that really have a servant heart and want to give back and help people. So just being surrounded by people like that everyday naturally makes the culture just a nice to be because you work with great people everyday.

Josie: I wanted to just touch upon how management trust us in place with decisions like when we were on disaster mode. There’s a group of people, we sit there and we handle all the decisions… We don’t have to worry about going as high up as we can go. We work as a team to make sure that the field was supported.

And we make sure that they have what they need so they can do their job helping service members that are in disaster situations.

Susan: I’m considered the area trainer and developer, so I get to be in both worlds. I get to be here at headquarters and work with a fabulous team in the divisions that we have. But then also I’m able to go up to the field and be in awe of our volunteers and everything that they accomplish with sometimes with just one employee and the rest of them just take it and run. And we try to evaluate what would improve their environment and their opportunities whether it’s training or communication. And then take all data and bring it back and then reach out to those that can make changes and make differences

: What I find something amazing about the society is that we have, always at headquarters, had Friday was casual work day; you didn’t have to wear work clothes. And in the past, very often, people at headquarters seems to take that a little far. But then we started really paying attention to branding and Shelly came in and it amazes me how many people on Friday choose to wear their branded shirts because it is now become an organizational thing that we are all proud. We put on our branded shirts on Friday and instead of wearing a T-shirt like we could, we now wear branded shirts because we were part of the team and we are proud of that. And I find it very interesting that that has evolved into what Friday is now. Instead of being “Casual Friday”, it is now “Wear Your Branded Shirt”. And yet we all proud of that. We all are onboard with that. And I think that is amazing.

 

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Denver: I wanna thank Shelley Marshall for organizing my visit and to all those who participated in this piece – Kim Zamagni, Josie Militello, Monika Woods, Wayne Osbourne, Susan White, Tammy Ackiss, Brian Brookbank, Winnie Orsini, Holly Robertson, and Telisha Woods. To listen to this again, read the transcript as well as see the pictures of the participants and the offices of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, all you need to do is go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits Hamilton College

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 


Denver: And this evening, we’ll be taking a drive up to Clinton, New York, one hour east of Syracuse and to the beautiful campus of Hamilton College. We’ll begin the segment with my daughter, Andrea, a 2011 graduate of the college, speaking with their president David Wippman.  And they’ll be followed by members of the Hamilton faculty and staff.

Andrea: How would you describe the organizational culture at Hamilton?

David: I’ve been here just a little over a year, and when I was learning about the community, that’s the word that kept coming up. This is a real community. That’s how I describe the organizational culture. People really care for each other here at the college.

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Andrea Frederick and David Wippman

Dick: When we’re hiring, we now take along a laptop with a series of pictures of the space, and when we’re talking to a job candidate and say, “Here’s what it looks like.” And you can see a picture from inside a faculty member’s office with the faculty person sitting there… several students sitting across the desk.  And in the background, you can see out the door, and there are 10 people outside the door too.  You look at the face, and some people look at that and say, “Are you crazy? Who would want to do that?” The people that we hire are the people who look at that and say, “That’s where I want to be. That’s what I’m going to be doing.”

Phyllis:  I have this world-famous recipe for fried chicken that I can do like no other. I’m allowed to go into the dining hall and fry that chicken and prepare it so people can share. The back part of that is: I just simply love the fact that everybody knows my name. I can walk across this campus and get a hug and get a hello from people who call me by name and acknowledge that I’m here. To me, that’s a real perk.

Vige: I have a lot of interface with faculty and students, but one of the opportunities that I have that I really, really enjoy is the international host family program that I participate in every year. Almost since I came here in 2002, I’ve “adopted” a student or students. I usually stay in touch with these students. So now I have alumnae families in Turkey and China and Luxembourg and France and all over the world. Whenever I get a new student, I call upon my graduated students to e-mail that student and tell them what to bring and how to prepare, and it’s their responsibility…what to order from Amazon. It creates a network, and they start helping each other.

IMG_2893Stuart: At any rate, from the day I got here, I’ve been proud to be a part of this faculty. Frankly, pretty much in awe of everyone I’ve ever worked with – at times overwhelmingly so. But to see the impact that my colleagues have had on my children, and the impact of a Hamilton education on my children…now, I love my colleagues. I’m grateful for them in ways that I… sometimes… I hope there’s some parent out there that feels that way about me. Having some kind of impact on your kid, because I’ve seen it three times over now.  And talk about blessing!

Patty: One of the things that makes me happy and feel so grateful to be a part of this community is just the sheer fact that one of my graduates, Catie Gibbons, shoots me a text message the other day telling me that they’re moving her little brother into Hamilton tomorrow. He’s coming in as a new freshman and wants to know if I’m around and she and her dad want me to come find them, and that just makes me so giddy and proud that we’re in a relationship with so many people like that.

Marianne: My favorite perk that I want to talk about is actually the free spot in the cemetery, which when I tell people about this, they are always just blown away.

So you look at the map and you’re like, “Oh, I’ll be over by so and so. I’m sure she’ll have a really cool statue, so people will come over and visit me.” I joke with my students about that, and they say, “When you come back for reunion, you can come visit me over by the Truax pillars. Have a drink, have a toast, read some Kant or something in honor of me. So that’s my favorite perk.

David: This is the place where Samuel Kirkland, who founded the Hamilton-Oneida Academy, which was the predecessor of Hamilton College back in 1793… That’s where he would greet students. Now we’re greeting the students as they come in to sign the register. You tell me, but to me it’s a really moving moment. You’re inscribing your name in the book of the college, and you’re connecting with that 206-year history, and you’re also looking to that community going forward.

IMG_2909Stuart: But Hamilton’s history, certainly the modern history, is absolutely stunning compared to almost anywhere else. It is this insane combination of the old stuffed shirt, men’s campus on one side, and the raging liberal female campus on the other side. What we’ve got here is hormonal balance. It’s just fabulous, and it took the best of both of those perspectives and rolled it into one ball, and that is what everybody here benefits from every single day.

Patty: This is a co-curricular education where so many different people are going to challenge you and literally put a mirror in front of your face so that you also educate yourself and gain some kind of self-awareness, which I don’t think you can get in any textbook or from any specific person other than you wanting to own that yourself. I know that this college presents those opportunities to our students and it’s just wonderful to be a part of that and also be the beneficiary of that because I know that I have grown as a professional and as a person in this community because of my colleagues and the students and just living where I live on College Hill. It’s absolutely a blessing to be a part of it.

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Marianne: I’ve taught in many places, and I’ve formed attachments to students in all those places, but there has been just something particularly… I don’t know… connected between me and Hamilton students. I don’t know if that’s partly because we have sort of an informal culture here, and so we make these bonds really easily… and the college encourages that, or if it’s just these students. I don’t know. It could be both.

Mike: We had the idea that we would take these students down to the National Press Club, and they would actually present their research in front of…We invited the media and the like, and there was no question of the college… we’d come up with the resources and we would do this kind of thing for the students. It just kind of epitomizes for me the opportunities that students have, and things that fit with the culture of the institution.

Phyllis: I consider that a true testament to the movement of inclusion and diversity here on this campus, and the fact that it’s so present, but then so not, because we do a fantastic job of including folks and making room. When I started here, the student of color population was 0.3%. There were 12 of us. And now we’re at 30%. I take that as a personal commitment to me, and the fact that this institution makes room. That’s my story.

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Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece: Richard Bedient, Marianne Janack, Stuart Hirshfield, Phyllis Breland,  Patty Kloidt, Vige Barrie, and Mike Debraggio. You can listen to this podcast again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and the Hamilton campus simply by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com.  And while you’re there, check out the link to my full interview with David Wippman, the president of Hamilton College.


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of One Acre Fund

Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations. 

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Matt Forti and Denver Frederick

Denver: And this evening, we’re going over to Broad Street in Lower Manhattan to meet some of the staff at One Acre Fund. One Acre Fund serves smallholder farmers in Africa and works to help make them more productive and prosperous. We’ll begin the segment with Matt Forti, their Managing Director and a recent guest on The Business of Giving and then hear from members of the team.

Matt: I think some people equate nonprofits with just good-hearted people out there delivering services. But we really want to borrow from the best of the business world, which is really about good professional development and training. No matter what level you’re at at One Acre Fund, you’re probably going to be spending at our organization 30% of your time in some kind of a formal training program. It’s a leadership accelerant program…

Jillian:  What it means, first and foremost, and which we’ll see in every email signature and every document that comes across your desk, is “Farmers first.” That means, everything that we do, we’re always working toward this number one goal of putting farmers first. The values that go into that, like I said, they’re kind of everywhere in the organization.

Some of the main ones we talked about are humble service, so really making sure that we are meeting the farmers where they are. Most of our staff actually work in the field right alongside our farmers. Even our staff in the US office get out to the field at least once a year to make sure that they have a real connection with the farmers that we are serving.

Ross: One Acre Fund really stands out in terms of feedback comparing to other nonprofits I’ve ever worked with. It’s a pretty fundamental thing to know what’s expected of you and where you stand with your managers, and so One Acre Fund does a good job of creating a culture of feedback. The main mechanism for this is the check-ins we have either each week or every other week with our managers, and it’s a space where we check in on sustainability and workload, problems solved through our current projects, and also this key: Dedicate time to big picture thinking. That’s where a lot of the innovative ideas for our teams and for organizations come out of.

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Dave: I thought that broadly applies to our sort of GSD attitude, Get Stuff Done, and then specifically, how that GSD applies to input delivery.

Where the GSD comes in is we have truck breakdowns, we have farmers that live in areas that just don’t have access to the one, the services that we provide, but many, many other services as well. So when it comes to our input delivery, when we say we’re going to get inputs to a farmer on a certain day, it happens. We don’t call a farmer up or send a messenger to say, “Sorry, your inputs are going to come a week from now, a month from now.” They come the day that we say they’re going to come, and that’s how we build our trust.

Emily: The data that we get from this really allows us to tackle different areas that may contribute to an employee’s life cycle at One Acre Fund. We’re able to make better decisions regarding retention, better decisions regarding work-life balance and personal sustainability, and we’re able to implement new programs that really ensure that employees are going to stay with us for a long time and have a successful career at One Acre Fund.

I don’t know of any other nonprofit that uses that type of data to make those decisions. It really ensures that all of our people decisions are grounded in metrics and that we’re able to assess our projects going forward.

Briehan: Four times a year, people have career chats with their supervisors, either informal coffee chats, which you’re reminded and encouraged to do, or a 360 review that we do twice a year as part of our annual evaluation cycle.

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We also have a formal mentorship program to make sure that staff members have access to mentors that they can talk to about their career challenges and their paths that might be available to them.

We also have trainings around the kind of subjects that we feel like are really important to growth. Things like how to delegate efficiently, on how to hire effectively, and even trainings around how you can identify what it is that you want from your own career path, either within One Acre Fund or even if that path were to take you outside. That’s something that we really feel like as we face this incredible challenge of ending poverty, we are able to make sure that people are growing and taking on as much as they possibly can.

Dave: We have people in Kenya, New York, Seattle – we’re kind of all over the place, and we all come together on a big conference call around a different topic every month. And we really dive deep, and everybody prepares to learn about that topic in advance. On the call, it’s sort of like a pop quiz, you know, call out someone, “What would you say about X, Y, Z?” What that does is really kind of build the culture of, “You need to know what you’re supposed to know” sort of a thing. I think that’s a little bit unique. Can be, I guess, high pressure at times, but it really forces you to understand the nitty-gritty of what you’re supposed to communicate externally.

Ross: The model is very scalable as well. We’re able to move from districts and scale the same unit out within countries and to new countries. But having data around what works when we do technology trials and what our impact is, is also really important for getting donors and other supporters onboard. It really is this excitement from donors and other organizations that have enabled us to mobilize our efforts and serve so many farmers.

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Jillian: Our people teams in general were allowed to really dig in to certain specializations, so whether it was people support or people data or recruitment. And that allowed us to establish stronger relationships with people in different departments so that we could provide better support to them. That also allowed us to really kind of flex these team building muscles, provided me with an amazing management opportunity where I got to work with individuals on my team, with senior leaders in the organization, and really helped build up our team, and then in turn, I’ve been able to provide that opportunity to the people who have been working with me.

Thea: And one thing that I really love about our office space is that even though we are in New York City surrounded by concrete and brick and glass, when you’re in our office space, you really feel connected in many ways to the field and to the farmers that we’re serving. In every single room, there are photos of farmers who are clients of One Acre Fund working in the fields with the crops that they are producing.

Emily: I want to talk about one of my favorite rituals at One Acre Fund. Whenever I go to the field, I try to attend a farmer meeting or a field officer meeting, and one of my favorite aspects of attending these is that they always start out with a song. Often, a dance accompanies it too. But in every meeting I’ve been to, there’s a song about One Acre Fund in the local language or just a really joyful expression of working with One Acre Fund and working with farmers. So that’s one of my favorite things about attending meetings in the field.

Denver: In addition to Matt, I want to thank all the others who participated in this segment: Jillian Joseph, Ross Miranti, Dave Betts, Emily Laser, Briehan Lynch and Thea Aguiar. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we’ll have this podcast, a transcript and pictures of the participants in One Acre Fund offices and we’ll put up a link to my full interview with Matt Forti, the Managing Director of One Acre Fund.

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The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

Amy Goldman, CEO of The GHR Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Amy Goldman, CEO of The GHR Foundation and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

Amy Goldman

Amy Goldman © ghrfoundation.org

Denver: In philanthropy, good ideas can come from anywhere. And one of the very best was hatched by a relatively modest family foundation in Minnesota, the GHR Foundation.  And the idea was something called the BridgeBuilder Challenge. And here to discuss it with us this evening is the chief executive officer of the GHR Foundation, Amy Goldman.

Good evening, Amy, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Amy: Good evening, Denver. I am happy to be here.

Denver: Why don’t we begin by having you tell us about the GHR Foundation, your mission and the areas that you have traditionally supported?

Amy: Certainly. As you mentioned, GHR is a family foundation based in the Minneapolis area. We’ve actually been in existence for over 50 years in a relatively quiet way, and focused primarily in the areas of education, health and global development.

Our mission is really focused on creating transformational change in the areas that we work in. A lot of this stems from our legacy — our founders created a real estate development firm that really pioneered the concept of design-build and construction & design. And we have taken that approach and applied it to how we do our giving. So with design-build, we really think about how to have an integrated process, how to collaborate with partners, how to be creative… and not really often know what the outcome is going to be because we’re constantly learning as we’re working in the areas that we’re investing in.

So, the BridgeBuilder Challenge, which I am certainly happy to talk about, really was an outcome of our thinking more directly about this inheritance that we had of the design-build approach. And so it was our opportunity to start to test some of those ideas a little bit more out in the open than we had been in the past.

Denver: Well, how was this idea conceived, and how exactly does it work, Amy?

Amy: We have several grants that we call legacy grants, which we really view as long-term partnerships with specific institutions that mean a lot to the founders of the foundation. We had one legacy grant where we were thinking – we wanted to take an opportunity with that grant and that partnership to try something new. And we clearly were inspired by Pope Francis’ will calling globally to build bridges across areas. We found that very powerful. So Denver,  we were thinking about: what are we going to do with this legacy grant to perhaps respond to that call of Pope Francis?  While at the same time, we were thinking about: how can we open the windows at our foundation and let some fresh air in?  How can we find out what those good ideas are out there? We started to think about creating a challenge.

So initially we thought, with the BridgeBuilder Challenge, again, that was inspired by Pope Francis,  we started thinking about doing this internally and realized very quickly that we had limited capacity to do this ourselves. So, we looked around for partners and ended up partnering with OpenIDEO and we were very attracted to the OpenIDEO approach of human-centered design. We thought that that was completely consistent with our approach at the foundation to really put people at the center of all of our goals for our programs.

So we started our partnership with OpenIDEO, and frankly, it was a bit of an experiment and a stretch, I think for both of us, I will certainly talk for GHR Foundation; OpenIDEO had not issued a challenge with a private foundation before. So we were learning as we went,  but also, as I mentioned, learning in the open in a very transparent way. And I’d be happy to discuss more details of that if you’re interested, but that is the basic outline of how we landed on the BridgeBuilder Challenge concept about a year ago at this time.

We chose those three pillars, along with the fourth pillar of People because, again, it really resonated with this call from Pope Francis, on building bridges across these areas.

Denver: And the three pillars of the BridgeBuilder concept were: Peace, Prosperity and Planet. How do they intersect?

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