Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving examining the best places to work among social businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: One of the hot young nonprofit organizations that people have been buzzing about is Venture for America. So I made my way up to their offices at West 29th street to check it out for myself and to hear from some of the staff on what makes it so exceptional.
We’ll start with their CEO, Andrew Yang, and then we’ll hear form some of the other folks who work there.
Andrew: Venture for America is a nonprofit that recruits and trains top college graduates who want to learn how to build businesses. We train them for a summer, and then we send them to work at early-stage growth companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other cities around the country that could use an economic boost. Our goals are to help create American jobs through helping early-stage companies grow, and also to train the next generation of entrepreneur.
Natalee: Working here for the past seven months, I wake up every single day excited to come to work. I woke up late this morning and was wondering, “Should I just work from home?” And then I was like, “No. I want to be in the office. I really want to be with everyone because I just love doing what I do.”
Isa: The biggest event we do every year is our Summer Training Camp. So we bring all of the new fellows in our program together for five weeks to learn all the skills they need to do a great job as early stage employees at a start-up company, but we do that off-site. So every year, we’ve done it on campus at Brown University in Providence and that means that our team has to travel for five weeks up to Providence. And for the past couple of years, we’ve lived just off campus in a big house together. So we spend five weeks all in the house, working crazy hours but then coming home every night and just chatting with one another and hanging out. I think the fact that we think that’s fun, I think is a testament to how great our team is.
Jason: In a lot of places, we have team members that are younger for their role and the leadership role they’re in is a stretch for them, so you have a lot of young, ambitious, energetic people at different stages in their career that are stretching to grow. I think as a whole, that type of organizational dynamic creates really exciting and challenging environment where I feel like I’m surrounded by people that are super ambitious, but also because of the nature of our work, super thoughtful and in line about much more than simply making a profit or serving shareholders but bringing impact to our communities, our broader country. And so I think a big part to me is that people are really strivers and ambitious and stretching themselves in their day-to-day.
Natalee: We all get to share our perspective and basically build something beautiful together versus something happening on the top and then coming down to us. We all get to be a part of every part of the process.
Isa: We do regular “work-from-home Fridays,” so everyone on the team can work from home one day a week. We also do “gym mornings,” so every week, you can come in late one morning a week so that you can go to the gym and exercise.
Helen: And then someone else said, “Let’s bring in Andrew so he can approve it,” and he just popped over. And we had this thing approved all within about 20 minutes; whereas in a really large institutional organization, it would’ve taken a week or two because approvals just take such a long time. It makes collaboration incredibly easy. I can just lean over and ask someone a question rather than having to email or walk over or spend time or think about it. But it also is very distracting, which is why we have to work from home on Fridays so we can actually write our proposals and get the work done that we need to do.
Jason: Slack is something we’ve been using for about a year now. It’s been helpful to move information that was previously communicated in team emails and certain conversations into Slack, and it’s a great way to get information out to a team quickly and it’s great to distinguish between things like all-team announcements or fun announcements. Some of the great Slack announcements are the “3:30, there’s sushi at the kitchen table so grab it before it’s gone” pretty quick deal. So a lot of our business can happen on Slack channels when we just need quick tips from one another.
Helen: I also would brag about to my family that I work with really, really incredibly high-character people. My dad actually once asked me, before he understood what I was doing, he said, “Helen, do you ever have any concerns with the ethics or morals of your company?” And I said, “Well, no, Daddy. I work for a nonprofit for one thing, but we screen not only our fellows but all of our team members for character and integrity. I work with the most high-integrity people I’ve probably ever worked with in my life.”
Denver: I want to thank Leandra Elberger and Antonia Dean for organizing my visit and to those who participated: Natalee Facey, Isa Ballard, Jason Tarre, and Helen Lynch Laurie. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for a transcript of this podcast as well as pictures of the participants and the offices of Venture for America.
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