Better Than Most

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of The Nature Conservancy

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


 

Transcript

Denver: And for this edition of Better Than Most, you’ll be traveling to Arlington, Virginia and the corporate headquarters of The Nature Conservancy, the largest nonprofit environmental group in the world.

We will begin with their President and CEO, Mark Tercek, and then hear from several of the dedicated members of the TNC team.

Mark: So we have 4,000 people on our team. We have 1,500 or so volunteer leaders we call trustees. Everywhere we work, we’ve got boots on the ground. In other words, therefore, we’re not just telling other people what to do. We’re trying to do it ourselves. Now, whenever we do these things on the ground, we’re doing it in partnership with others too, often local organizations, local people, but it kind of keeps you humble, keeps you focused. We don’t get carried away with crazy ideas. I think it’s a very good formula for us.

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Denver Frederick and Mark Tercek

Rosita: Another thing I love about this organization especially as a woman of color who works here is that the organization is constantly self-critical and trying to be better, and part of the team of that I work on is actually focused exclusively on how can we make this organization better in terms of a place where all employees feel valued and can actually thrive. And it’s a testament to that self-criticism that as an organization we don’t rest on our laurels and it’s always “how can we be better and smarter and more impactful?”

Gondan: I started off as a conservation staff and then after five years, I moved to development, and then went back to conservation and now, here, I’m in development, in changing countries at the world office. So at TNC, as long as you know what to do and you proved that you can do the work and that you can do it while you’re having fun, really lets you do whatever you want to do that fits with our mission and our core work.

John Bender: It is that ability to reinvent yourself that has been one of the greatest strengths I think of the organization. And part of that reinvention has been our recognition over many years of the desire and the need for a more diverse workforce. And we have a more inclusive workforce and we’ve taken a number of runs at it over my career here at the organization, but we finally, I think, have a lot of heft from the whole organization behind it, and that has made a big difference. I think that going forward, you’ll see many more different faces siting in the cubes, both here at WO and then around the offices, the business units outside of the US.

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Jon Fisher: And if you’re in a conservation organization, you kind of know the outcome before you do the science. So talking to colleagues at other organizations—I won’t name any—but the scientists’ job is to prove what you want the message to be. At the Conservancy, of course, we’re doing science to meet the mission, but when we have an inconvenient result, we still publish it. And so as somebody who has honest – one of our core values is integrity beyond reproach – and that’s something that I just really think is so important, especially at a time when trust in scientists is declining.

Johnny: I work in the legal department for The Nature Conservancy, and I tap dance to work. I tap dance to work because I love the people.

Professional development is really important to me and my supervisor has been really helpful. He empowers me to be the best person I can be, not only for myself but for the Conservancy, because a better me is a better conservancy. A great example, I support folks in Brazil. I told my boss, “I speak Portuguese but I think I could be better at it.” So he said, “You need a strength in that skill set, let’s send you to Brazil.” So I spent a month in the Rio de Janeiro office, both working and in a language immersion program. And it was an incredible experience because I got to work in a different culture, see the mission from a different perspective, learn Portuguese, and also work from the beach on occasion, which is a part of the mission.

Tom: Because the mission is what brings people here, but the people are what make you stay. I think I had more folks walk in to my office in the first week I was here at the Conservancy than in the first year I was at my last private sector job. And all of them were coming in largely with the message that said, “Hey. Welcome to the team. Welcome to the party. How can we help you be more successful? How can we help you help the mission and help us all be the kind of organization we want to be.” I’ve been around the block a few times like a couple of other folks in this room, and that really is something rare and it’s something that’s very special about this place.

John Bender: We have some guidance, we’re getting tons of input, but we’ve got leadership who are actually making what I think are some really interesting decisions and are really putting us on a path to some pretty heavy goals but also some really exciting work, and that is one of the things that I find so rejuvenating.

Jon Fisher: And I’ve come to realize that a lot of people don’t eat lunch together. I think it’s partly, aside from being introverts, a lot of people, we just have this almost panicked devotion to the mission. And so I think a lot of times, people are like, “I can’t take time for lunch. I can’t take time for coffee. I got to get back to saving the planet.” And so like I said, it took me a while to kind of get through that but it’s also kind of endearing in a way that it’s not that people don’t want to hang out with you. It’s that they’re all really caring about the same thing you’re caring about.

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to Tom Casey and Geraldine Henrich-Koenis for setting up my visit and to those who participated in addition to Tom: Gondan Renosari, Johnny Cabrera, Rosita Scarborough, John Bender, and John Fisher. If you’d like to listen to this again, read the transcript, or see pictures of the participants and the offices of TNC, go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and while you’re there, you can hear my full interview with Mark Tercek, the President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Generations United

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


Transcript

Denver: This week, I traveled to our nation’s capital to visit the offices of Generations United and to see how a smaller nonprofit organization went about creating a healthy work culture.

We’ll start with their Executive Director, Donna Butts, who will tell you about the goals of the organization, and then hear from some of the people who work there.

Donna: Well, Generations United has been around for 30 years now. We were founded by the leading children, youth and aging organizations at a time when people were really trying to pit the generations against each other. Our mission is really to develop solutions that involve the strengths of each generation and connect the generations, so we promote intergenerational practices, programs, and public policies.

img_0341Adam: One thing that I really like about working for a smaller organization is that it gives the staff here an opportunity to kind of be a jack of all trades. I think everybody here feels empowered to say that, “Oh, I’m really interested in doing this” or “this thing interests me,” whether it’s web design for social media or just things that maybe wouldn’t traditionally fall under their job titles. Everybody here, I think, feels empowered to step up and say that, and to kind of pursue maybe other avenues outside of just what their normal job title wouldn’t tell.

Alan: And it’s pretty much like wherever your interests are and if the interest align with GU’s mission, stuff like that, there’s really no problem in pursuing that. Generations United has made it easy to do that. You just have to speak what you’re interested in and the folks who are here who are either connected in some way or another with the opportunities that you want to take advantage of, they’ll help make that possible for you.

Jaia: I think we like to think of ourselves as fast, friendly, flexible, and fun. And I think a lot of that has to do with our size, but when we have an idea or we want to take action on something, there’s not a large bureaucratic process that you need to go through.

Emily: I also want to speak to how much I appreciate the balance between being in a really hardworking office. I think here, being on a small team, there’s this expectation that you are pulling your weight. And there’s not really room to not hold yourself accountable let alone one another accountable for doing your part to contribute to all the things that need to get done, but on top of that or I guess on the reverse of that, we’re a fun office, too. So we’re a hardworking office that also has just a general sense of humor and lightheartedness.

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Jaia: So if we have a young worker that we think is doing too much multi-tasking and on their phone while they’re doing this other thing, but what about that is a strength and how can we tap into that strength? Or we have this older worker—I’m totally playing into the stereotype here—who is struggling to pick up on the technology but is so skilled at telling a story, how do we tap into that strength and help connect the younger and old to maybe be mentoring each other in some way? But not focusing on how we have to change this young worker, change this older worker to fit a particular mold, so really focusing in on the strength. But we have to keep ourselves in check. I’ve found myself and other staff playing into this young worker-old worker kind of conversations, so you have to be real about it, I think, and be honest.

Alan: So we were doing our strategic meeting and the whole time the staff was doing this, they were planning a baby shower for my wife and I in the backroom. And to this day—my wife, I’m surprised she doesn’t get tired of me talking about it—but that was like “wow.” They went all out, like they have all these signs and stuff up.

Emily: I just want to give Donna credit as a leader. She really models the way and I think she sets the tone for the office. She models that balance of hard work and commitment to also being a fun workplace. She goes out of her way to get to know each of us individually and makes sure that in our own roles, that we’re fulfilled and know that we’re a valuable part of the organization and play to our strengths. So I just want to give her credit because I think she’s a huge part about the strength of our organization and how much we’re able to do.

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Denver: I want to thank Alan King who organized my visit and the others who participated as well: Adam Hlava, Jaia Lent, and Emily Patrick. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for a transcript of this podcast, pictures of the staff, and the offices of Generations United.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Venture For America

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


Transcript

Denver: One of the hot young nonprofit organizations that people have been buzzing about is Venture for America. So I made my way up to their offices at West 29th street to check it out for myself and to hear from some of the staff on what makes it so exceptional. 

We’ll start with their CEO, Andrew Yang, and then we’ll hear form some of the other folks who work there. 

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Denver Frederick and Andrew Yang

Andrew: Venture for America is a nonprofit that recruits and trains top college graduates who want to learn how to build businesses. We train them for a summer, and then we send them to work at early-stage growth companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other cities around the country that could use an economic boost. Our goals are to help create American jobs through helping early-stage companies grow, and also to train the next generation of entrepreneur.

Natalee: Working here for the past seven months, I wake up every single day excited to come to work. I woke up late this morning and was wondering, “Should I just work from home?” And then I was like, “No. I want to be in the office. I really want to be with everyone because I just love doing what I do.”

Isa: The biggest event we do every year is our Summer Training Camp. So we bring all of the new fellows in our program together for five weeks to learn all the skills they need to do a great job as early stage employees at a start-up company, but we do that off-site. So every year, we’ve done it on campus at Brown University in Providence and that means that our team has to travel for five weeks up to Providence. And for the past couple of years, we’ve lived just off campus in a big house together. So we spend five weeks all in the house, working crazy hours but then coming home every night and just chatting with one another and hanging out.  I think the fact that we think that’s fun, I think is a testament to how great our team is.

Jason: In a lot of places, we have team members that are younger for their role and the leadership role they’re in is a stretch for them, so you have a lot of young, ambitious, energetic people at different stages in their career that are stretching to grow. I think as a whole, that type of organizational dynamic creates really exciting and challenging environment where I feel like I’m surrounded by people that are super ambitious, but also because of the nature of our work, super thoughtful and in line about much more than simply making a profit or serving shareholders but bringing impact to our communities, our broader country. And so I think a big part to me is that people are really strivers and ambitious and stretching themselves in their day-to-day.

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Natalee: We all get to share our perspective and basically build something beautiful together versus something happening on the top and then coming down to us. We all get to be a part of every part of the process.

Isa: We do regular “work-from-home Fridays,” so everyone on the team can work from home one day a week. We also do “gym mornings,” so every week, you can come in late one morning a week so that you can go to the gym and exercise.

Helen: And then someone else said, “Let’s bring in Andrew so he can approve it,” and he just popped over. And we had this thing approved all within about 20 minutes; whereas in a really large institutional organization, it would’ve taken a week or two because approvals just take such a long time. It makes collaboration incredibly easy. I can just lean over and ask someone a question rather than having to email or walk over or spend time or think about it. But it also is very distracting, which is why we have to work from home on Fridays so we can actually write our proposals and get the work done that we need to do.

Jason: Slack is something we’ve been using for about a year now. It’s been helpful to move information that was previously communicated in team emails and certain conversations into Slack, and it’s a great way to get information out to a team quickly and it’s great to distinguish between things like all-team announcements or fun announcements. Some of the great Slack announcements are the “3:30, there’s sushi at the kitchen table so grab it before it’s gone” pretty quick deal. So a lot of our business can happen on Slack channels when we just need quick tips from one another.

Helen: I also would brag about to my family that I work with really, really incredibly high-character people. My dad actually once asked me, before he understood what I was doing, he said, “Helen, do you ever have any concerns with the ethics or morals of your company?” And I said, “Well, no, Daddy. I work for a nonprofit for one thing, but we screen not only our fellows but all of our team members for character and integrity. I work with the most high-integrity people I’ve probably ever worked with in my life.”

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Denver: I want to thank Leandra Elberger and Antonia Dean for organizing my visit and to those who participated: Natalee Facey, Isa Ballard, Jason Tarre, and Helen Lynch Laurie. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for a transcript of this podcast as well as pictures of the participants and the offices of Venture for America.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Population Services International (PSI)

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


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Transcript

Denver: And this week’s Better Than Most takes us to Washington, D.C., at the offices of Population Services International or PSI, one the blue chip names in global health. 

We’re going to start with Kate Roberts who leads the Maverick Collective, one of the initiatives of PSI, and then hear from other members of the staff.

Kate: Well, first of all, I should say that PSI is one of the largest health organizations in the world that nobody has ever heard of. We have about 9,000 employees… big organization. We have about $600 million annual budget. PSI focuses on market solutions for health programs. So we’re obsessed with measurement, and really our goal is to provide universal health care to the poor.

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Kate Roberts and Denver Frederick

Maria: I really want to talk about Karl Hofmann, our CEO. I like to say he’s like the godfather I always wanted. I’ve been to meetings with him, conferences abroad with him, and he’s always been incredibly accessible, very easy to talk to. He’s been very high up in his diplomatic career. He has “ambassador” in front of his title if you want to get technical, but he’s so easy to talk to. He has brown bags every quarter with all 250 of us. I just love Karl. He’s my favorite.

Pierre: Let me speak from the heart to say that one of the reasons that I value working at PSI is around this corporate culture of honesty. And what does that mean in practice? One of the beautiful things– when I moved here in Washington about 2014– that I started seeing was people admitting when things were going wrong, people admitting when they made mistakes. And that goes from Karl Hoffman to anybody else in the organization. And it’s (a) a really refreshing thing because it allows people to make mistakes; (b) it’s really productive because it means that it lances the boil of tension that is caused when people are quickly trying to find blame, and allows people to just move on, find a solution, and as my colleagues have been saying, “get things done.” So, honesty.

Kristely: So I graduated from GW in MPH program about two years ago, and I remember being in school, and PSI always coming up as a golden star in global health. So when you see or hear about PSI, you think it’s like the “Ivy League” of global health. So coming here, I was really excited about it, but I was also scared because it’s the “Ivy League” of public health. But I was really surprised to see that work-life balance is really important here.

Yasmin: I think if somebody were to say what makes PSI different from any other organization in development, it’s the value we put on action, and that’s right from our country programs to everybody here. We deal with intractable problems in development. It can seem like it’ll take a lifetime to do things like find the fix for HIV or malaria, but what PSI has managed to do through numbers, through programs, is make that real. So every single employee in this building… or in any of our field programs—and we have 9,000 of those in about 50 countries—will be able to say what they did today that led to a better market, or a better program for somebody that they have identified as their consumer… right that day. I think very few organizations in development can give that link of my action to my impact… to what gets measured for the whole organization.

Taylor: Someone with a lot of energy is a PSIer, and I think another key factor of being a PSIer, which I didn’t know when I started but ended up working out nicely with my personality, is a high degree of irreverence. I don’t think many PSIers take themselves very seriously. I think there’s a lot of trying to keep things light. As Yasmin said, we deal with some really serious issues, and you could get kind of bogged down in that, and that’s not the vibe at PSI at all. Fun, like people just really bringing their full selves.

img_1440Sandy: And what I love about PSI is that we have this—it’s actually part of our character– we’re locally rooted, but globally connected. PSI and the nature of this organization is that many of what we call our affiliates or members are actually locally grown organizations. They have their own boards of directors. They have their own staff that come from the local population. So for me, it’s really good to see that ideas are coming from the countries themselves and not just being dictated from Washington.

Yasmin: I was going to say I love the question:  “How do you unite 9,000 people over 50 countries to make them feel part of an organization?” Internet and social media is one answer, and we do it the old-fashioned way. If you ask anybody anywhere in the world who works for PSI: “Why do you wake up in the morning?” They’re going to say, “Sara”.  And what we mean by that is our consumer. We don’t say the marginalized population. We don’t say beneficiaries. We don’t say people who need our assistance. We give them the dignity of being a consumer. We give her a name, and we really make an effort to study who she is, what motivates her, what is her life like beyond the health problem. You can show up anywhere in any language, and that’s what brings 9,000 employees together. We wake up for our consumer, to give her the choice of living the life she wants and having the family she desires. And that sounds like a mission statement and, honestly, it is.  But it’s a mission statement I think 9,000 people with or without social media relate to.

Taylor: It’s just very exciting. My former team had a stuntman on it. So he had worked in Los Angeles. He’s in the Screen Actors Guild. He was a stuntman in LA for a few years. Then he got into innovation and doing design thinking and brought that to PSI. We had another person on staff who worked for Sesame Street and worked in public television, brought playfulness and that childlike quality which we have in spades at PSI. Karl, the ambassador background is not necessarily public health focus. So, yes, I think there’s just a very diverse set of perspectives and hopefully, it’s not an echo chamber. You don’t put out an idea and everyone nods their head and says, “Yes. That’s exactly right.” You have people saying, “Well, what if we did it this way?” or “I disagree with that.” Just adds to the quality of the work we put out.

img_1459Denver: Special thanks to Maria Dieter for organizing my visit, and to the others who also participated in the segment: Taylor Schaffter, Sandy Garcon, Pierre Moon, Kristely Bastien and Yasmin Madan. Now, if you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we have this podcast with the transcript and pictures of the participants and the offices of Population Services International.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Smile Train

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

Transcript

Denver: And now we’re going go over to East 26th Street of Manhattan and the headquarters of Smile Train. We’ll start with their CEO, Susannah Schaefer, and then hear from the members of the Smile Train staff.

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SusannahCleft lip and palate and afflicts 170,000 births per year around the world. It tends to be more prevalent in the developing world. If you take a location like China, for instance, it could be one in every 500 births, and sometimes even more frequent. So, it’s genetic. The surgeons who we’ve worked with who are experts, nobody knows what causes cleft. But there’s definitely some sort of an environmental factor. If it’s maternal health, access to good nutrition, the environment, we don’t know what causes it.

When we started out at Smile Train, we wanted to solve one problem. We felt we could solve this problem because we look at it as a financial problem and not a medical problem because we can fix it through providing 100% free surgery.

Shari: …the best thing about working at Smile Train is, and I think that’s I get to market smiles on a daily basis. I’ve been around the world to see our patients in the field, which I think is really important. Seeing the work that we do with our local partners, which is the core of our model here at Smile Train, and watching a patient who has an untreated cleft get a new smile for the first time in their life is such a powerful thing that you cannot see or have happen at any other job that I’ve ever had in my entire life.

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Smile Train Office

Adina: I’m always happy to come in to work. I think we all really respect each other here and do our best to deal with our differences, keeping that foremost in our mind. We want to respect each other. We want to know where everyone is coming from and how we can make sure to support our mission of creating new smiles as effectively as possible.

Another reason why I’m still here is because I’ve had such wonderful mentors here, and I’ve had a lot of people looking out for me and making sure that new opportunities came my way and that I was aware of them and able to take advantage of them.

Jessica: This is my third job out of college after a lot of internships as well and I’ve never felt a sense of community at a workplace like I have at Smile Train. And specifically when I first started, I think within  my first two days, every single person in the whole office came and introduced themselves, wanted to learn my name, but also wanted to learn about me, not just the “What’s your name? Where are you from?” but they also wanted to know what I did outside of work and what my interests were and I thought that was really special and really exciting because I’ve never had that in a workplace before.

Mackinnon: I have to say I think it’s rare that you will have a group of people from a nonprofit setting around a table and saying “I’ve worked here 10 years, I’ve worked here 12 years, I’ve worked here 7 years.” I saw one point of data that I think the average fundraiser usually works somewhere like two years, and Smile Train just blows those stats out of the water because of all the things you’ve heard. It’s such an incredible mission that we’re serving and such a special place to be, and I know we’re all grateful for that.

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The Journey of Smiles program allows anyone who has been working at Smile Train for one year to visit a program in the field. There are programs in maybe five different countries, people can choose where they want to go. They typically visit a partner hospital. They’ll visit patients at their homes and really learn about what it is that we do in the fields and why they’re working for this organization. Speaking from my perspective, people always come back incredibly jazzed about their experience and Smile Train‘s mission and I would say, it makes people even more excited to be here.

Justin: So when someone comes back from their Journey of Smiles, it’s really great because they share their experience with the rest of us. So, they produce just a short presentation, they share all of their photos and their stories, and we all get together at a staff meeting or just around lunch, and they get to share their experience with us and tell us the stories that are unique to that experience. Because that’s what’s so great about the Journey program, is that everyone has a different experience because they’ll go to a country that no one has ever been to before or even hospitals in the same country that all the folks have been to but different hospitals, but always seeing different patients, seeing different children and visiting different families.

Shari: So I think that is also what makes Smile Train such a great place to work because you can see the immediate connection and why our Journey of Smiles is just such an important program because it not only shows staff the impact that they have on a daily basis but it also shows the importance of our local partnerships and building capacity in the developing world.

Jasmine: I think a lot of people either prefer to love the work that they’re doing or love the people that they’re working with, and that’s what keeps them going to work every day. And I think that we’re so lucky here that it’s both for us.

Mackinnon: And just in terms of how we work well together, one tool that has been really helpful in the programs department is we try to use video conferencing for all of our meetings. We shy away from email. Obviously, email is needed sometimes, but there’s a completely different experience of getting on a video conference with a colleague rather than just firing off an email with a request on it. So every day, I’m on a video with someone from Kenya, maybe someone from Egypt, our team in India. We even have staff in Washington, D.C. who we video conference with all the time. And that’s really just helped keep all the lines of communication open, break down any silos, make sure that when we are communicating, we’re communicating well.

Pamela: So our mission statement talks about teach a man to fish. That’s our model, the idea that we are not flying doctors around the world to provide the cleft care. We are empowering local doctors to provide it on every day, every corner of the world because children are born with cleft at all times and need attention at all times.

Our mission is very much respecting from the bottom up what children’s needs are and then what local providers needs are and what local hospitals needs are. And that basis is really for me, it’s within the culture of our New York office because of the idea that we very much respect one another. It’s not about what—well, yes, we all respect their handbook and what rules are in place, but we also just really are very much at the forefront of “What does this person want to do? What is best for them?” Just what’s best for all our colleagues because of we have this founding of respect about teach a man to fish, what’s the best quality care for the children who are receiving cleft treatment, and it’s just neat to see that permeate within the office.

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The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6 and 7 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on I Heart Radio. You can follow us at bizofgive on Twitter and at facebook.com/businessofgiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of DoSomething

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

DoSomething CEO Aria Finger and Denver Frederick

DoSomething CEO Aria Finger and Denver Frederick

Transcript

Denver: And we’ll now travel to West 21st St. in Manhattan into the offices of DoSomething.org. DoSomething, which is the largest global organization in the world for young people and social change, is consistently listed as one of the best places to work in either the profit or nonprofit sector and you will soon find out why. We’ll start with their CEO, Aria Finger, in celebrating and learning from failure, and then hear from the members of the staff.

Aria: So, twice a year, we hold a FailFest, and you are nominated by your manager to present— but when you do, you must wear a pink boa, and you must give three learnings that you had from this failure… and three learnings that the organization had.  Each of these learnings must be accompanied by a pop culture corollary. This is to keep the afternoon light and fun and in a mode of learning…as opposed to feeling ashamed and sweeping that failure under the rug. It’s been a really excellent way to both normalize talking about failures that we’ve had in the past, but also to really spot talent… to really see, “Oh, wow….that  employee analyzed the failure, thought of new ideas, and really has a plan for the future.” So instead of being a bad thing to present at FailFest, it can actually turn into a positive.

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Greg: One of the stories that really embody our culture in my mind is how we celebrated when DoSomething.org surpassed the 3 million member mark. So we’re a nonprofit, we don’t have a ton of resources for big celebrations or big parties, but the leadership team gave every staff member $100 to spend in a way that would benefit the organization or prank the organization or just contribute to this celebratory atmosphere. We had people do everything from pool their money to buy a foosball table for the office to one of our teammates who hid 100 $1 bills all around the office so that people we’re finding them for weeks and just being excited to find money under a cabinet or something like that. It was a great way to celebrate. It empowered everyone to feel like part of the accomplishment and it got us really excited to keep moving and keep recruiting more young people to take action for social causes.

Kayla: One thing that we do is every Tuesday, we have something called “Toto Tuesday.” How that works is at 5:30 on the dot every Tuesday, on the Sonos speakers for everyone to hear at a very loud volume that is inconvenient for everyone is Toto’s Africa, and the point is to try to get people to leave the office on time on Tuesdays. I think specifically, too, with the nonprofit world, you’re working later hours than usual, so it’s just a push to get people out on time to go live their lives; and nobody wants to listen to Toto’s Africa on repeat, so it’s very effective.

Adam: Every three to four months, names are thrown into a hat and they’re drawn out at random, and that’s important because the order your name comes out of that hat is the order in which you get to choose where your desk is. We have an entirely open office, which means the CEO sits next To associates which  means directors sit next to managers. In fact at my pod, at my seat, I sit right across from our chief data officer and right next to our CTO and right across from someone on our finance team.

So despite being on the campaigns team, I actually don’t sit anywhere near other campaigns team member. It actually encourages people to meet people and to get out of the bubble of their own department. Also some of the best collaboration that I’ve had here has come out of that.

when-you-see-people-at-the-directory-level-or-the-ceo-level-talking-about-their-failures-in-the-organization-it-makes-you-much-more-comfortable-with-making-those-big-risks-and-taking-those-leapsShae: One thing we do at DoSomething is we have a staff meeting every Wednesday and at the staff meeting, everybody goes around and says one thing they accomplished, one goal for the next week, and any requests that they have from the room. And then at the end of the staff meeting, we have the ritual of giving somebody the penguin, which is an actual literal stuffed animal penguin that the person who got it the week before gives to another member of the staff. The idea is to give it somebody who hasn’t gotten it in a while, not to give it to somebody who’s like a direct report or your manager. So people really reach across different teams and you tell them why they deserve it: it’s usually somebody who’s completed a really big project; it’s somebody who’s done something really cool; or who has, overall, been a really, really important asset to the team and has been performing really well. It’s just a really good way to have that kind of shout out and know that other people in the org recognize you for your work.

Adam: If there’s ever a conversation about which way we should go or what way we should run a campaign or what thing we should prioritize, something that will literally be said in meetings is, “We need to fight for the user. What’s the best thing for our members? What’s the best thing for the 5.4 million young people that we want to give to them to make their world a better place?” Everything else is secondary to that. I mean those words are now branded on my brain. “Fight for the user” is one of the first things I think of when I wake up in the morning, for better or worse.

Sam: I think one of the pieces of our secret sauce here that so many places underutilize and I’m almost hesitant to share it, but it’s really our interns. We have a phenomenal internship program, the best that I’ve ever seen. We actually treat our interns so well and they love us so much that a quarter of our staff is former interns and we try to keep it at that number, that sweet spot, because we know that our interns are the best in the game. We’ve crunched the numbers and it’s harder to get an internship at DoSomething.org than it is to get into Harvard and we like to brag about that.

Shae: One of the things I love about working on the tech team at DoSomething – I have previously worked at a for-profit organization, corporate organization as a developer, I’ve worked at another nonprofit – this is by far the most diverse team I’ve ever been a part of as a developer. Being in spaces where I’ve been the only woman of color, the only queer person in the room, it’s very isolating and it’s very hard to succeed. I get to walk into a room full of developers that is like half women, a bunch of us are queer. I’m not the only person of color on the team, and it’s really, really empowering for me to be a part of that and it allows me to be more comfortable with my voice and speaking up. It makes me feel like I’m going to be heard by the room.

Kayla: I think the culture at DoSomething and something that makes it so special is that everyone who works here plays a part in the culture of DoSomething. One way that we make sure that happens is every six months, we do a staff survey with very detailed questions, very specific questions to find out staff happiness, to sort of see what areas in office culture and office happiness that we’re lacking, and also just to see how we can improve on this.

I think every person who works at DoSomething has affected the culture in one way or another.

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Adam: One of the great things about the rituals here at DoSomething is we don’t know where a lot of them came from. I mean that’s one of the strange, weird things about rituals. If you ask me to describe where Christmas came from and why we have a Christmas tree in the middle of our home every December – or most of our homes – I couldn’t tell you but there’s a certain weight behind them. I’m someone who’s been here for only a year and a half and has now experienced all the various rituals, but they work because they have weight.

Shae: I think one thing that I’ve always enjoyed about DoSomething is that from the moment you’re hired or being hired, during the interview process to the moment that you work here and to the moment you leave, you’re evaluated and you’re thought of based on who you are and what you can do. I think sometimes you work in organizations where people evaluate you based on your output, based on the work that you do but don’t think of you as a full person. I think what’s critical is that every employee is seen as a human who has a life outside of work, who has interests outside of work, who can bring that all to the room when they come to their job and they sit at their desk, so they’re not leaving parts of themselves behind.

Sam: Although we always want constant feedback to be given, it’s really nice to know that every three months, you have the ability to sit down with your manager in a room and say like, “This is what I really want to work on; this is what was super helpful that you did last quarter; and this is what I think I need some more coaching in,” and not going 11-1/2 months in between knowing how well you’re doing or where you stand in the organization, and so you always know what you should be working on and when to pivot. I think it just is a testament to how well we’re able to innovate and how quickly we’re able to move because we are constantly aware of kind of where we fit in the larger mission of the organization.

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The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6 and 7 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on I Heart Radio. You can follow us at bizofgive on Twitter and at facebook.com/businessofgiving.