THE BUSINESS OF GIVING VISITS THE OFFICES OF MDRC

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

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Gordon Berlin

MDRC is committed to finding solutions to some of the most difficult problems facing the nation — from reducing poverty and bolstering economic self-sufficiency to improving public education and college graduation rates. They design promising new interventions, evaluate existing programs using the highest research standards, and provide technical assistance to build better programs and deliver effective interventions at scale.

They are also one of the very best places to work in the nonprofit sector. Gordon Berlin, their President and CEO, was good enough to invite me up to their offices to speak to the staff of MDRC and learn what makes the organization so exceptional.

Below is a podcast from that visit. I want to thank all those who participated: John Hutchins, John Martinez, Sharon Huang, Kate Gualtieri, Patricia Weiss, Ada Tso, and Leigh Parise.

You will also find the podcast and transcript of my recent interview with Gordon Berlin from The Business of Giving.

Transcript

Gordon: We want the people here to understand that their voice matters. I think it matters in several ways for us. We’re really concerned about our credibility, our reputation, the impact that we’re going to have, and we’re only as good as the next study that we do. Every person here has a role to play. We operate as a team and the final product is always a team product. So your role matters but also — and we have to work at this, we’re not perfect at it — but at least in terms of the goals as we’ve set it, your voice matters. We want to hear from everybody.

Leigh: People ask me all the time what I like about working in MDRC and my answer is immediately always for anybody I’m talking to who’s applying for a job here or just friends — is the people. I think that I work with people who are incredibly smart, incredibly thoughtful and incredibly caring people.

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MDRC Staff

John: I’ve grown a lot in my career since I’ve been here. I’ve actually managed to do a lot of different things while I’m here. And everytime I’ve been interested in exploring something new or going off in a different direction, I’ve got a lot of support to be able to do that. And that’s been really important for me in terms of my career growth and my personal satisfaction with my job and I think it something that really drives my loyalty to the organization.

Sharon: I would echo my colleagues in that the thing I value most here is this shared commitment that we all have to this work. And kind of feeling like there isn’t anything more important that I could possibly be doing with my day. And so as a result in meetings, people are listening to each other and not just waiting for their chance to speak and I find that really inspiring and refreshing.

Kate: There is also something about the way that we do our work and the culture of the organization: we are a business but there’s also a really supportive culture and a flexibility to the way that we do our work. MDRC has been above and beyond supportive in my challenges in this year; allowing me to take some time off when I needed it.

John: We’ve developed this mentoring program here that pairs more senior people with newer people for a year. And I think it’s been a really great program because I’ve been a part of it and — of course a mentoring program you think, “Oh it’s all about the mentees, it’s all valuable for them.” But it’s been much more valuable for me to be able to learn from these younger people than anything I’m sure that I’ve ever been able to teach them.

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Leigh: And so we have been something in the last couple of the years that are end-of-year policy area meeting where we’ve brought in a toy that’s gonna be donated or a book that’s gonna be donated and we’ve brought something that we said “your little kid self would like.” And so we got to go around the table and tell stories and get to hear from people who are recently out of college to people who’ve been here for 30 years. And they would bring in different toys and say: “This is the toy that when I was five, I would love to have and here’s why.” And it was just the time that we got to know our colleagues a little bit better and to hear different kind of stories than you would typically hear in a regular work day.

Sharon: So there’s a lot about our culture that kind of reminds me of like a great college for adults where — we’re very team-oriented culture and so we’re in meetings a lot. And we have this internal staircase, so I feel like there’s like a bell that rings at an every hour and then you see people migrating from conference room to conference room and you see your colleagues in the hallways, and their carrying their laptops and their notebooks. And then you see little gatherings of people in the lunchroom or in the hallways talking about the studies they’re working on.

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MDRC Building Entrance

Patricia: Well, another thing that strikes me as interesting about this organization is, in addition to the mentoring program where we invest in people as well as the American Express Leadership Program that some individuals went to, we also look at individuals who we know have potential but may need a little bit more work on certain things and we provide them with executive coaches. And we work with them to develop certain skill sets to help them focus on what we think they need to improve upon to go to that next level. And not every organization would invest in that as well and I think that’s something, again, unique.

Ada: But I think one of the nice small company things that still happens is that there’s a lot of all-staff emails and I know that probably many people find it to be a burden on their already full inbox. But I actually really enjoy them, I really enjoyed the emails about how our bathrooms are not Port Authority and they need to be held to a higher standard, and I just love that it goes to the entire organization and emails about threatening about how if you don’t get your dishes out of the sink, they’re gonna be thrown away. But I don’t think that was actually a threat! So, I don’t know. I think those are the kinds of things that makes me feel like I still work at a little place, even though it’s in many ways that nonprofits has a lot of corporate elements and this corporate size, it can still feel like I’m working somewhere very familiar and cozy.

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