Author: denverfrederick

Candice Schmitt, Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon,Talks About Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

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. 


teammember-Candice-Schmitt

Candice Schmitt © teamrubiconusa.org

Denver: It is no coincidence that the very best nonprofit organizations also happen to be the very best places to work. And that is certainly true in the case of Team Rubicon. And here to discuss it with us is Candice Schmitt, the Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon.

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

Candice: Thank you so much. Happy to be talking to you.

Our mission is really dual purpose. We provide the service to communities that have been affected by disasters, by helping residents begin the cleanup process and by continuing their service after taking off their uniform.

Denver: Before we look at your corporate culture and work environment, tell us about Team Rubicon and the mission and objectives of the organization.

Candice: Sure. Team Rubicon is a veteran-led disaster response organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans, the first responders, to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. So that is the boots on the ground just as soon as the disasters strike. They’re usually there within 24 hours doing recon work and finding out how we can help building relationships at the local agency and seeing how we can best support them. And our mission is really dual purpose. We provide the service to communities that have been affected by disasters, by helping residents begin the cleanup process and by continuing their service after taking off their uniform.

Team Rubicon helps the veterans rediscover a sense of purpose, community and identity which is often lost after separating from the military. We’re really motivated by both of those things and I think it makes us a really unique player in the space.

Denver: Great mission. Well, some organizations might say they have a feedback culture. I know others describe them and they’ll say this, “Hey, we have a coaching culture or a data-driven culture”. What word or phrase would you use to describe your culture?

Candice: I would say our culture is truly like a family. And I think some organization say that because their employees hangout outside of work or know a lot about each other’s personal lives. And here, when I say that, I mean we communicate with candor and there’s an unspoken bond that exists among us. So, it’s a raw and honest and sometimes dysfunctional culture or community of people. And I believe, it’s a version of the camaraderie that exists in the military because we are such a military-centric group. But as one of our kick-ass civilian team member who can’t speak to, at first hand, to what the culture is like in the military, I can say it reminds me a whole lot of growing up in a family of six. So much love, so much chaos and yet you’d have it no other way.

Denver: Well described. What are some of the things that leadership does to sort of influence and shape the culture there?

Candice: I think the biggest thing that they do is they’re really just part of it. They’re just one of us. We’re a very flat organization. They’re approachable, easy to talk to and similar to how parents would in a household, like when they sense tension or a little bit of angst among the group, we all get called together to clear the air. They pave the road but then get out of the way for us and I think that’s how they lead by example and reinforce our camaraderie or culture.

Denver: Well, in every household, sometimes there’s a way of getting things done. And looking at your family, how does work get done at Team Rubicon?

Candice: This actually hits on a couple of our cultural maxims. First is our attitude and approach. And so, to those two things, we have a couple of things we see around here. One is everyone has a role and we know it. We know we can’t all be good at everything so we rely pretty heavily on our expert in a variety of subject matters. And sometimes, those experts are interns and sometimes, the experts are our C-suite staff. So, we pull in the people who know the subject matter best on the team regardless of their level. And we have an attitude that we describe as just gets shit done, whatever you need to do to get it done. We’re highly collaborative via in-person meetings, video conference, and we’re pretty motivated by a challenge. So I think, the combination of those things is really nothing that we don’t get done and we get it done just working together and removing roadblocks from each other’s way.

 

 

team-rubicon-office

Team Rubicon’s Cultural Principles © glassdoor.com

 

Denver: Well, you know an organizational culture is built around values. And so many values of organizations kind of either sit on a piece of paper or on a website. How do your values get animated, communicated and then reinforced?

Candice: We do have the piece of paper as well. So we have them codified  And within that document, we have more than just a list of our culture or values and what they mean but we also have a quote and a story to help bring that value to life for our staff. Our cultural values are not defined as the things that people possess when we hire them into our team but more the guiding stars as we make decisions in a highly autonomous environment. So these are, absent policy and procedure, we want these seven principles to guide your way. And so, we do have them documented. We have them on the walls of our offices. We have them in all of our conference rooms. So, they’re highly visible.

When we have new hires come on, they spend 45 minutes to an hour with our CEO and COO going over each of these principles and what they mean, what they look like in real life. So, following on to largely military stories or different events from history that reinforce these values. We use examples within TR’s history on where we’ve seen these values applied. They’re also built into our employee recognition programs so that we are reinforcing the behavior that we feel is consistent with these guidelines, again just so all staff really understands what they look like in real life. So the new hire orientation, they’re weaved into our programs and we always find a way to get them into content that’s presented at our all staff meetings. So, whether it’s just using the language or referring back to them, recognizing again, employees who really standout as those living by these guiding stars, we try and just make sure that they’re very much alive, active and referenced in everything that we do.

It’s the passion. Hands down, it’s passion. Everyone coming in, everyone going through our interview process, the folks I talk to who are leaving all say the same thing, the Wow is the passion. Everyone is here for something bigger than themselves. And that creates a really unstoppable force and an incredible energy that’s hard to describe. Nobody is here for themselves or the paycheck. It’s for something bigger than any of us can achieve individually.

Denver: Great stuff. Well, if I was one of those new hires, and let’s say I had been working there three months, and somebody were to ask me, what is the Wow of Team Rubicon, what do you think I might say?

Candice: It’s the passion. Hands down, it’s passion. Everyone coming in, everyone going through our interview process, the folks I talk to who are leaving all say the same thing, the Wow is the passion. Everyone is here for something bigger than themselves. And that creates a really unstoppable force and an incredible energy that’s hard to describe. Nobody is here for themselves or the paycheck. It’s for something bigger than any of us can achieve individually.

Denver: A lot of people in non-profit organizations leave those organizations because there’s just no clear road to advancement. There’s no place where they can go. What kind of things do you do to help promote the personal and professional development of an employee?

Candice: There’s a ton that we do. The beauty of being a small organization is we really have the opportunity to understand each person’s individual ambitions, skills, weaknesses for that matter. We do skills assessments to find strengths and how we can leverage them in people’s existing roles. Then we also have the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations whether it’s between people ops and our employees or employees and their managers to really dive into where they want to go and what it’s going to take to get them there. I’m actually really excited to say, in preparation for this, I just checked because I felt like I’d really been seeing a lot of advancement this year, and we haven’t even entered the year-end review cycle and we’ve already seen 21 of our 74 staff receive formal recognition of increased responsibility, increased scope and that’s through title changes, compensation increases, and just being recognized for really taking their role to the next level. We’re just at a point right now where everybody here really writes their own future. And for some folks, they’re really content in the role that they’re in and they want to continue to contribute in that way but for a lot of our folks here, they are looking for that next step and we offer certifications. We offer advanced education. But you have to come to us and tell us this is where I want to go and here’s how I want to get there. What do you think and it’s a really collaborative effort but when we’re very supportive of keeping our rising stars. We’re really excited about where we’re seeing people go and our future leaders really taking shape.

Denver: You also sound like you’re a kind place where people get a lot of feedback on how they’re doing.

Candice: Absolutely. We have the performance review process which is our formal feedback system and that’s every six months. However, we are, like I said, just like a family and that candor comes back into play here, we give feedback often in real time and very directly. It’s an environment that’s incredibly open to it and we’re very receptive and everyone, again, being here for something bigger than yourself, it’s very easy to redirect and apply that feedback because you know the impact it’s going to have is greater than just making you a better professional. It’s the ability to execute our mission with more efficiency and to be able to help more communities, more people, more veteran. So generally, feedback is given in real time and it’s just formalized twice a year and solicited twice a year but we request feedback or solicit feedback at all levels and we also do it as an organization from our employees via an employee satisfaction survey.

Denver: What role does technology and social media play in sort of joining the group together and promoting the workplace culture?

Candice: I think, it’s the same as anywhere else on this one, and word of mouth is actually our biggest asset. People who have touched the organization in some capacity, as a volunteer through the recruitment process, whether they saw us on- we’ve gotten a lot of media around our efforts in Houston so that has been pretty powerful but I think people are really drawn in by the mission and the culture that we display via social media. I don’t know if you’ve had an opportunity to see some of our videos.

Denver: I have.

Candice: But if you check them out, I dare you not to be drawn in.

Denver: They’re fantastic. They really are.

Candice: So I think, it’s really just a way to highlight our mission and that organically just draws in all the people we need.

Denver: In addition to the surveys that you use, do you use any kind of data analytics to measure employee engagement?

Candice: We’re not really doing much on that now to be honest. We’ve looked at it but we have, again, the small group really lets you dive in. Once I do that broader survey, it’s a 12-question survey, I can kind of dig in. People always raise their hand. We offer it up to be anonymous. People are always disclosing information saying, “Hey, I’d love to talk more about this”. So, we haven’t really found a need to run any analytics. We still have a pretty good handle on it at this size.

Denver: Sounds like you do. So, diversity, inclusion and equity is on the top of everyone’s list. But the places I’ve been, it is so, so very difficult to actually put into place. What have you done around that?

Candice: One of our advisory board members does this for a living in DC so they’re really high level, and he actually brought that up to us in seeing some of our social media posts, more centered around our member-base. Do we have enough diversity and inclusion within our member-base? So we held a sensing session earlier, I believe in April of this year, to see if it’s something that we need to put broader initiative around and by and large, people felt like we were very inclusive and welcoming environment. Then we listened to several stories where folks had seen different minority groups or women in leadership roles and all these things and were very impressed with what we are doing. So, I think it something we’re going to continue to monitor and always have, like you said, top of our minds just like everybody else. But, we didn’t feel like there was a need to launch any major initiatives on that and certainly, from a full-time staff perspective, we have a very diverse group and as we open new positions, we always check the pulse and make sure, “Hey, where could we do a better job diversifying?” and we keep that always in mind and balance it with getting the very best people in every seat on the bus.

Denver: It’s a work that’s never done. It’s always in progress.

Candice: Yeah. Exactly.

It’s that flexibility and adults-only mentality that people enjoy most about Team Rubicon.

Denver: What are some of the best perks there that the team really seems to like?

Candice: It’s a little bit of a different approach when you are in the nonprofit space and people are motivated by the mission and the passion that they have for that mission. So, I think what people would describe as the best perk of Team Rubicon are going to be our adults-only environment. So, it’s another one of our cultural maxims I’m referencing there. We expect everybody to treat each other with trust and respect and as long as you’re doing that, you know you have a lot of freedom, you have a lot of flexibility and autonomy and decision making authority, and I think people really enjoy that because it gives them the opportunity to have maximum impact on our mission and really maximize their investment at Team Rubicon. I think that’s probably the number one perk.

In addition to that, we do, as I spoke to earlier, make significant investment in development opportunities. So, whether it’s conferences or certifications, we’re really committed to having folks leave here better than they came and they are committed to leaving TR better than it was when they came. And I think that dual commitment really is a perk and in addition to that, we have the work from home flexibility, really flexible work hours. We do catered lunches, happy hours. We have gyms in our offices. So, all of that but I really think it’s that flexibility and adults-only mentality that people enjoy most about Team Rubicon.

Denver: And just speak, in closing, people are more worried about that and that has to do with the work-life balance. Because I know in organizations where your people have tremendous passion, there is also the danger of burning out. So, what are the things that you do to maintain that work-life balance among the team?

Candice: Absolutely. It is really hard to get people to step away. That passion is a double edge sword and we’re very aware of that. Our CEO calls staff together regularly to ask them when their next PTO, “When are you unplugging next? You’re going to need to take a week off by the end of the quarter.” In the nature of our business, it’s very hard. There are only certain times that we can really force people to do that and still keep the trains on time.

The military believes “You take care of us by taking care of yourself” and we really enforce that idea so we will force days off. We force people to unplug. We give alternate days off for those who are hourly]. We don’t want to see you stressed out. We do have track-free PTO so that folks can step away when it allows but we really are one of those workplaces that practices the integration of work and life. So, people are pretty free to come and go to take care of their personal life and I think by not forcing those really strict office hours and giving that flexibility, we can help ease the stress for those who just really have a hard time stepping away.

Recently, we had an all staff meeting to kind of reflect on how Hurricane Harvey from both an operational response perspective and a fundraising perspective may have changed the course we see around the future of Team Rubicon because it certainly has. And in that, when we recognize those who are exemplifying our cultural standards, we talked about the difference between when we talk about our quote “Gets shit done” motto or value, we put up there what that did look like and what it didn’t look like. And under what it didn’t look like, it was not the person who lived at our ops center 24 hours. You have to take care of yourself to be able to be productive, to be highly effective. We need everybody at the top of their game and that means at some time, you have to give yourself that mental and physical break. And so, we don’t recognize or give praise to the person who’s working round the clock, 24/7. We give praise to the person who put in the long day but then knew it was time to step away and take a break and cover down for themselves. And I think, that’s kind of what we do to promote the work-life balance or work-life integration as we refer to it.

Denver: And as you said, adults-only. Well, Candice Schmitt, the Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon, thanks for joining us this evening. Where can people go to learn more about the organization and the work that you do?

Candice: Absolutely. www.teamrubiconusa.org.

Denver: Thanks, Candice. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Candice: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.


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

Jane Davis, CEO of Ability Beyond, Talks About Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

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. 


 

thumbnail-e1470681223590

Jane Davis © abilitybeyond.org

Denver: One of the very best places to work in a non-profit sector is an organization called Ability Beyond, which is headquartered up in Connecticut. And here to tell us what makes it special is their president and CEO, Jane Davis.

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

Jane: Thank you so much, Thanks for having me.

Denver: First, tell us about Ability Beyond, the mission and goals of the organization.

Jane: Sure. Ability Beyond is a non-profit organization. We’re in Connecticut and New York. And we serve over [03:21] people a year. Our mission statement is to discover, build and celebrate ability in all people. We serve people with disabilities of all kinds but mostly, folks with developmental disabilities, people that are on the autism spectrum, people with mental illness, and traumatic brain injury survivors. And we do that through employment services and through transition of services helping young adults go from school to work. We serve people in our family home. We serve people in apartments that need help with daily living. Family operate a number of group homes in Connecticut and New York and have a bunch of other services from certified special Olympics program and a bocce ball team, and service coordination. We do a whole plethora of services.

We have five offices but our main headquarters is in Connecticut, in Bethel, and our New York office is in Chappaqua in Westchester. Then we also have two sort of unique thing about Ability Beyond, and maybe we can talk more about them.

We have a rose farm in Gilford, Connecticut on the shore where we operate a business called Roses for Autism. We grow Connecticut grown roses there and that entire business is supported and a training ground for people on the autism spectrum of developmental disability. And we also sort of offset our cost thereby selling the most beautiful roses you can get anywhere and we ship anywhere in the United States at rosesforautism.com.

We also have a consulting service called Disability Solutions. I’ll tell you more about that hopefully because part of our inclusion, in adversity, nationally where we help corporations welcome people’s disabilities into their workforce.

Denver: We’ll before we get into the culture piece of it, why don’t you give us a word about that.

Jane: Sure. I’d love to. We have been providing employment services for people with disabilities for decades. So, we started in 1953. We’ve been in this business a really long time. Most people understand the value of work in a person’s life and it gives you a sense of purpose and helps people be a valued member of the society. So, we are really into helping people find jobs and we’re very good at that. We’ve been good at that for decades and recently, there’s been incentivizations for corporations to hire people with disabilities as part of their diversity programs and we thought, “You know what? We really know how to do that well. We know how to help corporations do that.” And we’re Medicaid business here, so we’re always operating at a loss. And we thought, “Okay, that might be a win-win for us. It can help offset our losses by offering consulting services but also help people with disability to find jobs across the country”.

So, we launched Disability Solutions and we have some great clients like American Express and Pepsi and Synchrony Financial and many others where we’re helping them figure out employment gaps that they have as a corporation and helping them hire people with disabilities into their workforce. And the business case behind that is that it helps meet the job-gap needs that corporations have and it really empowers the diversion and equality in the workplace. It gives you a more robust and inclusive culture and we also talk about the retention rate being improved and the hire rates being faster when we’re involved and we are hiring people with disabilities. And the buying power of the disability community and the loyalty there is also a huge sell for corporations. So, it’s been win-win-win-win-win for the companies that we’ve been working with and we’ve done all kinds of great work all across the country and consultants working for us across the country. It actually just went international because we were not too long ago in India, working with Synchrony Financial, and helping them figure out how they can meet some job-gap needs in India for the first time.

Denver: Well, that is an extraordinary breadth of services, not to mention, enterprises which help support those services. In order to be able to do that all successfully, you have to have a really engaged and motivated workforce. So, let’s turn our attention to the corporate culture of Ability Beyond. Some people describe their cultures as a coaching culture, a data-driven culture, feedback culture. What word or phrase would you use to describe your culture?

Jane: I think that we’ve had, I think something like six names for our organization in the last six years. We’ve changed our name multiple times. And the name that we have now, Ability Beyond, has evolved from other names. But to me, our name Ability Beyond, and our mission statement: discover, building and celebrating the ability in all people really does capture our culture not just for how we approach the services that we provide to the people we serve. Our job is to help them move beyond disability and find what their abilities are so they can move forward and be always moving forward. And it really, kind of, how we approach our business. We always want to be doing better. We want to be moving forward. Do we want to be growing and figuring how can we do our job better? How can we move our workforce and empower them more? So, I really think our Ability Beyond kind of captures the work that we’re trying to do and thus that feeling of moving beyond today.

Denver: Right. Never happy with the status quo as what it sounds like. Always trying to get better every single day. Talk to me a little bit about your core values and how you communicate and then reinforce the core values of the organization.

Jane: It’s funny that you’re asking us that now because we have the pillars of our business.  We have our mission statement. We have our values written down. We’ve had them for decades and we actually have an organizational objective this year. So, we have strategic things that we’re always working on and every year, we have organizational goals that we’re measuring against. And this year, in particular, we wanted to redefine our culture and our values and make sure that we’re defining them a little more dynamically and correctly and constantly. The values that we have here, I think right now, we have something like 12 or 15 values. They’re all right. They’re all great. We’ve got transparency. We’ve got excellence. We have all those words I think most companies have. So, we’re actually trying to define them this year as a team working with everybody – the people we serve, our families, our direct support staff to redefine them in a more dynamic way, a way that’s a little more us.

So, you have to stay tuned for that. But exactly how we’re writing it. But I love that we’re ready to kind of rebrand who we are and keep it a little more synced and dynamic.

Denver: Yeah. I hear you. It sounds you want to keep the essence of all those values intact. But just crystalize them a little bit better and animate them some more and make them a bit more contemporary and a little bit more up-to-date where people can relate to them better than they have perhaps and as always, part of what you just said a moment ago, we’re never being happy with the status quo but take all what you have, as good as it is, and always trying to make it better.

What would you say with the “Wow” of working at Ability Beyond is? When somebody comes to work there, what is the thing that, when they’ve been there for a little bit, they just say: “Man, this is something special.”

Jane: I really think that the “Wow” and the “Wow’ that’s kept me here for 33 years is that it is fun! The work that we do is really fun and I think the fact that our leadership team, our board, our direct support staff are focused on the work that we do and that’s the direct service to a person with a disability and there’s really nothing better than helping someone achieve a goal. Whether it’s small like relearning how to brush their teeth, to getting their first job, to transitioning to their first department or even helping someone end of life. It’s really special, special work. And to me, that’s the “Wow” factor. And I think our feeling of support of the organization and the leadership team here to support that work is the other part of the “Wow”.

Denver: So many people who work in non-profit organizations complain that there is no road to advancement. There is no place to go. What do you do to sort of help promote the people’s possibilities and invest in their professional and personal development?

Jane: I think we’ve got a really good answer to that. Most people in our industry haven’t even heard of it. People have heard of being a CNA. They get that you’re going to work in a nursing home or a hospital. Other jobs are a little more well defined. Most people in our industry kind of stumble into it. I stumbled into it because I had a choice between writing a term paper or volunteering in a group home. I never would have thought about working in a group home. Never would have thought about it. And then I loved it once I’ve tried it. So, most people kind of stumble into the job. They like it and then it’s really hard to see what your career path is. If you’re a CNA you might realize that, that makes you feel a licensed nurse, a registered nurse and work your way up that way.

And the other thing to know about our industry for direct support staff is that the national turnover rate is about 50%. So, for most organizations, half the staff that you hire in the first year are gone. And nothing impacts quality more than the person serving a person with disability not really knowing them or understanding them.

So, we worked with the University of Minnesota years ago and developed what we call the Pathways Program which has actually won national awards. Our Pathways Program is where a direct support staff can apply and then go through additional training, 30-hours of training, and class-work time and mentoring time and online training time and develop their skills, learn more about the work that we do and more about the different disability types or better ways to approach the job and when they finish that, they graduate and get a bump in pay and a bonus.

We’ve started with Level 1 which is direct support professional. When you come here, you’re not a DSP yet but once you go to the program, if you go through the program, then you become a direct support professional that’s graduated through Pathways and you can go on to mentoring and supervision or behaviorals or aging. Specialty areas that you might want to pursue within the organization and we try to map out literally a ladder for people so they get it. But it also helps them be more prepared to do their job better. If you’re more prepared, you’re going to be happier at work and we’re going to have a better result that’s meeting our business needs and needs that people that we serve. And we found it to be really, really highly successful. It’s a worthy investment. It took time and resources to develop it. It takes time and resources to complete the class and to find money for that bump in pay. But it’s brought our turnover rate, we wanted to hit 21 last year and we hit 17.6.

Denver: Which is compared to 50% on the national average scale. That’s dramatic.

Jane: Absolutely. And for the DSPs, the retention rate, it’s in the 90s. Generally, people that have gone through the program are so much more likely to stay. So, the more people that we have go through the program, the more prepared they are, the better our quality is, the better results for the people we serve and the better our retention rates are. And that also helps us save money. And then we can reinvest that back into more Pathways classes. So, it’s been a win-win for us and the people we serve and project support staff.

Denver: Well, very forward thinking. People always look at this as a cost. It really isn’t a cost. It’s an investment and at the end of the day, it saves you money and improves the quality of care.

You mentioned a moment ago that you’ve been there for 33 years so you’ve seen a lot of changes. One of the changes I’m sure you’ve seen has been this influx of millennials into the workforce. How has that impacted your culture?

Jane: I think a couple of things. One is we want to be known for a few things here are Ability Beyond and one of those is technology. We put a lot of investments into doing what we do more efficiently because the Medicaid system is so challenged, and our state funding is also challenging in both of the states that we operate in. So, we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient.

The other challenge we have is we have a workforce of 1200 but they are spread out through about 120 different locations in both states. So, we have a lot, a ton of small teams. Sometimes one person, sometimes six, sometimes 12 in all these different locations so communication and staying connected is a challenge for us. The great thing about that work forces that they embrace technology too. So, it made it easier for us to roll things out that help us be more efficient in E-systems. And this year, we’re launching electronic learning management system so it’s easier for our staff to go to classes and gain knowledge. So, it’s made it easier for us to roll off those kinds of initiatives.

On the other hand, it’s challenged us to do a better job with transparency, with engagement, and with staying connected with our workforce and throughout all these different locations. And it’s also challenged us to really embrace how we help people connect with purpose-driven work. This year, in particular, we’re looking at different tools for that in how to attract people that are purpose-driven and then retain people that are purpose-driven because they’re more likely to stay. They’re more likely to connect with the work that we do and the Millenials are into that.

TIP Squad

TIP Squad © @AbilityBeyond

Denver: That’s true. What are some of the technology tools that you’re looking at?

Jane: Well, some of it is kind of boring. Some of it is around how we – our electronic record for the work that we do and to help us get through Medicaid audit, so things like that. Our human resources information system may be a little boring to people but to help our workforce of 1200 get information they need at their fingertips has been great.

A lot of it is around, we call it TIPS. So, Technology Innovations for People. We coined that phrase here and that’s about direct service to the people that we serve. So, helping them be more independent through technology, it gives them a great sense of empowerment, help them be more independent. They’re less reliant on paid staff and when they’re less reliant on paid staff, it saves Medicaid system money. And we’ve been getting a lot of grants for the last couple of years to help people be independent and save through remote supervision and different tools to help them, prompt them to take their medication. We’ve been rolling out medication dispensers. All kinds of things like that that help people communicate, to help them be more independent, save the Medicaid system money and help us be more efficient and it’s really cool. We have what we call a TIP Squad which is the Technology Innovations for People Squad which is actually is run by our technology person, Laurie Dale, here. And it’s made up of people with different disabilities and people that we also serve who are testing technology for us and helping to roll it out for other people that we serve.

We’ve been Beta testing products in our industry like a product from a company called Nix Health which is an independent transfer system. Most of our workman’s comp injuries here are from helping people transfer into a wheelchair from bed. And their system, the bed actually transfers you from the bed to the wheelchair and back without touching the person. It’s an amazing piece of technology. Huge implications in our industry. So, we’ve been helping them test that specific to people with different types of disability for us. And, we’re working with MIT right now on an alternate use of a product. They’re testing a seizure watch and we are alternate use testing it for people with – we serve young adults with mental illness and most of them have post-traumatic stress disorders from, at least, in trauma histories. And the watch also helps measure biometric indicators that someone with PTSD will just say “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine” and then all of a sudden just…

And we’re alternate testing the watch to see if we can predict when someone is saying they’re fine and they’re really not and intervening before they get past the point of no return. So, we can intervene and pre-empt it. Really super fun stuff. We really want to be– with one of the things we want to be known for and in fact, people that we served have been speaking across the country and are working on a technology space and people can check out our website because we have a whole page on our technology innovations on our abilitybeyond.org website.

Denver: Well, you do very difficult and challenging work. How do you try to maintain work-life balance and what do you do to help people to avoid burning out?

Jane: It’s funny. I just learned this. I didn’t know this but I actually was just doing a podcast for someone else, Christopher Kukk from Western Connecticut State University here and he sort of has a theme around –– I’ll say it incorrectly but it is around kindness and compassion. He was talking about how empathy uses the same brain triggers, I guess, as stress. And he’s actually going to be coming and talking to our direct support staff about the difference between compassion and empathy and how to try and make sure you’re being completely compassionate with the people we serve without sacrificing too much of your own brain power and life force. So, we’re looking at ways to offset that. We’re always looking for ways to be supportive as we can to our direct support staff and really trying to find a balance of work-life balance with flexibility and support for that.

As our organization has evolved over time, at this point, our leadership team, almost three-quarters of us started as direct support staff… including me. So, that shift in our leadership team over time has helped really have a greater understanding of what our direct support staff who are doing the real hard work are going through. So anything we can do to support them, we’re going to try it.

Cz0LD5TUsAAdAMv

National Ugly Sweater Day 2016 © @AbilityBeyond

Denver: I bet. Let me close with this. Is there anything at Ability Beyond that nobody would know unless they work there? Something unique or quirky or some ritual that you have that really just distinguishes your place of work from any other?

Jane: We have a ton of rituals here. We have ugly sweater contest, and our annual barbeque, and our golf event, and our gala. We have a lot of ritual events and celebrations here. I will go back to what I said at the very beginning, I really think that what is unique about us is if you’re going to work here, we’ll want to support you. We want you to see your career path here. But you really need to embrace change because we are constantly sort of moving forward and looking for better ways to do that. And part of that is accepting change and that’s not always easy for everyone. But if you’re someone that embraces that and enjoys that, I think that’s really part of our “Okay, this is unique to us.” We’re always trying to move ahead in the work that we do and most of the time, it’s amazing and fun.  And it makes you really proud to work here and I know that’s what it is for me when we hear that a lot from our team and our staff that say they’re proud to work here.

Denver: Well, I can hear it in your voice and that’s a very nice sentiment indeed. Tell us about your website, the kind of information people will find there and what they can do to help support the work if they should be so inclined.

Jane: Well, yes. First, they should buy any floral needs, should be met through rosesforautism.com for sure. Go to that website in our link from abilitybeyond.org as well. We ship anywhere and we hope you enjoy our locally grown roses. They open all the way and they’re really fragrant and beautiful because they help support people with disabilities learn all aspects of the business and supports awareness of autism.

For corporations listening out there, disabiltysolutionsarwork.com is our consulting and you can learn more about that. Also, there’s a link from our website. And at abilitybeyond.org you can see what’s new. You can learn about all the services that we provide, more about our technology, our employment services and apply for a job there too. We’d love to have you. It’s fun to work here. You can work here.

Denver: It sounds that way. Well, Jane Davis, the President and CEO of Ability Beyond. I want to thank you so much for being on the program this evening. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Jane: Thank you so much.


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 Bildner, President and CEO of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jim Bildner, the President and CEO of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and Denver Frederick Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


 

 

Denver: We see all the time the extraordinary impact that startup companies have had on our lives. Uber and Airbnb, to take just two. The same is true in the nonprofit sector. Imagine the social entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas and plans to make our communities and world a better place, but their ability to access capital is often not as clear-cut as it is for their counterparts in the private sector.  And that it why it is fortunate that we have Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation to help address this urgent need. And with us this evening is their President and CEO, Jim Bildner.

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

Jim: Thanks, Denver.

 Denver: Tell us about Draper Richards Kaplan, how the foundation got started, and what your mission is.

Jim: Absolutely. So, we were started in 2002 by Bill Draper and Robin Richards, now Robin Richards-Donohoe; later joined by Rob Kaplan. In 2002, Bill and Robin had had a successful venture capital career. Bill is an amazing human being. He’s 90 years old. Still comes to the office every day. Still the toughest questioner of our social enterprises, and he followed again this very successful career in venture capital, but even more importantly, had served as the head of the UNDP for seven years.  He comes with a long-term commitment to public service as well as to venture capital. In fact, his father, General Draper was one of the first venture capitalists. Also, the person who operationalized the Marshall Plan.

They came to this with a realization that, in 2002, they had a very successful return on their India Fund and realized that they really didn’t need to do more venture capital.  But the same principles that they had applied so carefully in the venture capital investment community could be applied to the social sector, and that was really the insight, that intentionality, and I’ll talk more about that later.  In terms of what you invest in, who you invest in, and understanding at the beginning, what the ultimate end game is, is actually more important in the social sector than it is in the private sector.

In 2002, they formed their own fund; basically, it was Draper Richards. Roughly, $13 million to $14 million of their own funds then went into 26 to 28 social enterprises, many of which are legendary. And their model was exquisitely simple, which is investing for a three-year duration, then stops. So, beginning and then ending in three years. Again, the innovation here was not just the capital, but like venture capitalists in the private sector, a board seat, and an aggressive and constructive board seat. And that really, from the beginning to where we are today; and I’ll talk about how Rob joined us in 2009 and 2010, became the essence of what Draper Richards Kaplan is, and I’ll tell what we invested in later.

Rob Kaplan in 2010 joined Bill and Robin, and Rob had a successful career at Goldman Sachs and was a professor at Harvard Business School.  And now he’s the president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. So, for sure I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have those three as my senior partners. Rob brought the same discipline that we had had all along. When Rob joined us, we raised our second fund, about $33.8 million that funded about 56 new enterprises. Again, same model, three years, board service, and a lot of intentionalities, and we are just now closing our third fund. It’ll be about $65 million to fund another 100 new social enterprises.

(more…)

Dave Newell, President and CEO of Nebraska Families Collaborative, Talks about Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

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. 


 

NFC-Logo

NFC Logo © Heartland Family Service

 

Dave Newell

Dave Newell © Omaha World Herald

Denver: And in our continuing series, Better Than Most, today we are going to feature the Nebraska Families Collaborative based in Omaha. And here to join us is their President and CEO, Dave Newell.

Thanks for joining us, Dave, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Dave: Thanks for having me.

Denver: Why don’t we begin by having you tell us about the history of The Nebraska Family Collaborative and the goals and missions of the organization?

Dave: Sure. We’re a member-based nonprofit that was created back in 2009 in response to an initiative that the state of Nebraska was launching and we provide the ongoing child welfare, child protection services for the State of Nebraska for about 5,000 kids annually. We serve the greater Omaha area which is about two counties of the state and it’s about half of the child welfare population for our state. The greater Omaha area is really the only urban part of the state and that’s the part that we’re responsible for. And we’re nationally accredited as a network provider and we have about 50 agencies that are in our network and we provide the full continuum of care for the kids and families from home-based services to out of home services for all of those kids.

Denver: Fantastic. Well, you’re also considered to be one of the very best nonprofit organization to work for and I want to examine as to what makes NFC such a special place. Some organizations, they have a feedback culture. Others may say they have a coaching or data-driven culture. What word or phrase, Dave, would you use to describe your culture?

Dave: I would say it’s both data-driven and the feedback culture both internally as in regards to feedback and also externally would be how I would describe us.

It’s probably the most important thing because if the culture isn’t healthy, and in child protection, it’s very challenging to create a healthy environment because our employees experience a lot of secondary trauma. All the kids and families we serve have had very difficult experiences in their life and so as a result of that, even just sitting down and hearing their stories is a painful experience often times. And so, if we don’t take care of the staff, then they are not in a position to be caring and nurturing to the kids and the families that they’re working with.

Denver: In light of all your other responsibilities, I know you have a lot, Dave, how important is creating and nurturing the corporate culture for you?

Dave: It’s probably the most important thing because if the culture isn’t healthy, and in child protection, it’s very challenging to create a healthy environment because our employees experience a lot of secondary trauma. All the kids and families we serve have had very difficult experiences in their life and so as a result of that, even just sitting down and hearing their stories is a painful experience often times. And so, if we don’t take care of the staff, then they are not in a position to be caring and nurturing to the kids and the families that they’re working with.

Denver: It makes an awful lot of sense. What are some of the things that you do to influence and shape the culture? Do you try to model certain behaviors through your actions?

Dave: In some respects, I try to be a servant leader and so one thing that I hear from our staff is I don’t have a designated parking spot which is actually not a big deal to me. But actually, parking at our location is at a premium. So, just even little things where I don’t consider myself any more important than the rest of the staff and so I don’t have a designated parking spot, I think most of our staff feel that I’m approachable and they can give me feedback on anything and that I’ll listen to it and if it’s something that we can act on, then we’ll do it.

One of the things that my COO and I do is, out of 6 mark with our new staff, we sit down with them and do a check-in and we ask them what’s working at the agency for them and what’s not working. And we’ve made a variety of changes over the years based on the feedback that we did at those six-month check-ins.

Denver: What are some of those changes been?

Dave: Sometimes it’s like a really simple thing. For example, all of our staff have smartphones but when individuals were in training, we were giving them smartphones late in the training process. And what we were finding is a lot of the critical communication that they would have received through their smartphones, our new employees weren’t getting because we haven’t given them the phones yet. This is an example and so, we said, “Oh, we need to change that.” So, we implemented giving them phones very early in the process so that the communication wouldn’t break down.

We, for a lot of our staff too as a result of feedback, we have changed training several times and we’ve now developed a mentoring program for the staff. We’ve changed our on-call system which especially for new employees who is kind of daunting and now the way we’ve restructured our on-call system, I think it’s much more supportive to the bulk of employees. And so, a lot of changes did happen as a result of feedback that we received.

I’d say the biggest one for me and for us is that we always want to put the kids and the families first in everything that we do.

Denver: Yeah. It really does pay to have your ear to the ground. Tell us a little bit about your core values and how you try to communicate and reinforce those values across the organization?

Dave: So, I’d say the biggest one for me and for us is that we always want to put the kids and the families first in everything that we do. And so, we reinforce that a lot of different ways. We have quarterly meetings that are for all of our employees but also open up to the community and we start each one of those meetings with what we call a mission moment where staff will share a story, a success story around a child or a youth or someway that we’re trying to improve the system for kids. And so, we start each meeting with that. Our board meetings are also started with mission moment where we’ll have different staff from the agency come and present to the Board of Directors and give a story about a child or family or system improvement that we did that’s resulted in better outcomes for kids and families. And then also at these quarterly meetings, I was talking about earlier, we do community recognition where we have partners in the community who help us achieve our mission and so any staff can nominate those people and tell their story about how they helped us support a child or family or improve the system. So, we try to build that in especially any of our meetings.

family-picnic-2016 (1)

Family Picnic 2016 © Glassdoor NFC page

Denver: Yeah, that’s great because I do know how sometimes people in organizations can get disconnected from the mission particularly people in the administrative roles and we certainly have done some significant things to make sure that doesn’t happen and everybody has that present in front of them at all times. You mentioned a moment ago that you are a data-driven culture. It’s one of the phrases that you chose. How does your organization use technology to improve the way you go about doing your work and what influence do you think it has on the workplace culture?

Dave: I think it has, here again, has a significant impact. So, I mentioned earlier that our staff all have smartphones and when they started, they didn’t. And so we have found that deploying smartphones to our staff, that has been a major improvement both for internal communication and external communication because a lot of the kids and families we serve, they often times communicate through text. And before, we just had kind of antiquated cellphones that were difficult to text on and not easy to work with. And so, we saw a major improvement with that. We are now in the process of rolling out tablets for our staff and a lot of the paperwork that they have to do, we’re going to be migrating to that being electronic where individuals and families can complete paperwork via tablet rather than paper. So, we’re excited about that, too.

Then as far as the data goes, there’s a ton of performance measures associated with our contract with the state. We have steadily made progress on all those. So for those, we gather up that data at whatever frequency we need to gather and some of it is weekly, some of it is monthly, some of it is quarterly and so forth, and we’re always communicating that back to the staff so that they can see, “Okay. Here are performance measures where we’re improving on and here are some that we’re struggling with”, and then having a CQI process around the ones that we need to improve.

Denver: So you have that dashboard in front of people at all times.

Dave: Yes.

Denver: What have been some of your efforts around diversity, inclusion and equity?

Dave: Starting at the board level is- when I started our board of directors was all Caucasian. And now as our board has evolved over time, we now have about of a third of our quarter, individuals of color. We are line workforce. We’ve done really well of nearing the local population as far as demographics are aligned. Workforce is very reflective of the local community where we need to continue to develop is in our middle management and upper management that we haven’t made as much progress. And so, we actively recruit people of color and we’re also looking internally of how do we develop our existing workforce so that they can move up the leadership chain of command and have opportunities at all level of the organization. So, we’ve made a lot of progress but we’re not where we want to be yet.

Denver: Right. And it sounds like just listening to you, you are never going to be happy with whatever the status quo is going to be.

Dave: No. It’s always going to continue to move forward.

Denver: It never ends in improving.

Dave: That right. Absolutely.

Denver: I speak to CEOs all the time who want to change the culture but they really just don’t know how to go about it or where to begin. What advice would you give to them?

Dave: I think the big thing is you just have to start and it is incremental and now I look back. I’ve been here seven years and we’ve made tremendous progress when I look back over a seven-year period. But especially during the early years, it went quite slow. And I think as we have gotten more solid and since we are a young organization, we have a much healthier culture today than we did seven years ago. But we had to start and we just had to pick something to work on and once we made sufficient progress on that, then you have to move on to the next thing. And I would say that the majority of our staff has been here all that time. I would say that the organization is much healthier than we were seven, eight years ago.

Denver: It sounds like from what you just said, don’t try to do it all at once. Just pick something that is important and focus on that and get it right and then just move on from there.

Dave: And then communicate it back to the staff.

Denver: Absolutely. Well, Dave Newell, the President and CEO of the Nebraska Families Collaborative, I want to thank you so much for being with us today. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.

Dave: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure being on.


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

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.


 

 

deborahrutter.jpg

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 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 a 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, building on those kinds of ideals, what do programmers do? We had such creativity from our really brilliant programmers. 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.

(more…)

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?

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

IMG_2974

 

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.

IMG_2964

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.

IMG_2979

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.

Kessler Foundation 3

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Kessler Foundation 4

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.

 

Jim Canales

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…)