Better Than Most

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

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here: https://www.denver-frederick.com/2017/11/09/candice-schmitt-director-people-operations-team-rubicontalks-corporate-culture-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. 


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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.

 

 

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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

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here: https://www.denver-frederick.com/2017/10/23/jane-davis-ceo-ability-beyond-talks-corporate-culture-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. 


 

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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.

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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

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

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


 

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NFC Logo © Heartland Family Service

 

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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.

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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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Sesame Workshop

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here: https://www.denver-frederick.com/2017/10/02/business-giving-visits-offices-sesame-workshop/

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Kessler Foundation

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here: https://www.denver-frederick.com/2017/09/18/the-business-of-giving-visits-the-offices-of-navy-marine-corps/

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

The Business of Giving Visits Hamilton College

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here: https://www.denver-frederick.com/2017/09/12/the-business-of-giving-visits-the-offices-of-hamilton-college/

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


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

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

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

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Andrea Frederick and David Wippman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of ANDE

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here: https://www.denver-frederick.com/2017/08/28/the-business-of-giving-visits-the-offices-of-ande/

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: Tonight we’re going to go down to One DuPont Circle in Washington DC to the offices of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs. Their global membership network of organizations that propel entrepreneurship in emerging markets. We’ll start with their Executive Director, Randall Kempner, and then hear from some other members of the team.

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Susannah: I think that one of the ways that we build culture here is a little unusual. We have a Whatsapp group — where it’s a kind of an international texting app — where all the staff were on it all around the world. And because we do have staff in seven different countries around the world, sometimes timezones and things we’re working on can mean we’re not always talking to each other everyday. And so, by using this Whatsapp group, we’re kind of in constant communication.

Stephanie: I think the fact that we send professional shout-outs as well as share photos from vacations shows that we genuinely like each other and care about each other as well. I think that that represents our value; one of our values of working hard and having fun. We worked with a consultant to define some of our values and not just the ones that go on the website. What does the staff think of? What matters to us working here? And so that was actually one that came up sort of across the board because of the idea of working hard but having fun and also valuing diverse opinions.

IMG_2571Stephanie: I think that in terms of what our meetings say about us, I think we try to be really conscious of other people’s time. We’re really good about not having meetings just to have a meeting. It’s fine. It’s a kind of if someone sends you a meeting request to just feel like: Hey, is this something that maybe we can do quickly over email? Just not forcing to be there who don’t necessarily needs to be there. So I think that always an open discussion and dialogue and I appreciate that.

Brianna: What I would say is really the wow factor about ANDE is how much we do with so little. The organization isn’t even ten years old; it was founded in 2009. And it’s just been amazing to me to see the network that they’ve been able to build. The sort of tools that they’ve been able to put in place for members. It’s funny because we do have this goal of elevating countries out of poverty. It’s not just something we write. It’s something you can feel in the organization. There’s really a sense of urgency about it, but we don’t necessarily take ourselves very seriously. We have a lot of fun while we’re doing it. We take the work that we’re doing very seriously and you can really feel that. I think that’s one of the things that initially really surprised me coming on board, but it’s just how much we get done in so little time with so few resources. That’s something that continues to impress me that I’m really proud to be a part of.

IMG_2570Susanna: Speaking of silos, our physical office is moving and we are one of over 40 different programs at the Aspen Institute. It is kind of an umbrella organization but we’re a part of that culture in a sense that the Aspen Institute has many programs have different issue areas that they’re working on. But ultimately, often the goal is around bringing people together who should be talking to each other but aren’t and kind of providing these forums where people can have these non-partisan discussions where there is an equal playing field for everyone. ANDE does that in the context of small and growing businesses in developing countries. So our offices themselves are moving and in that move, we had the opportunity to kind of create a new space. And so, they engage everyone within the organization within the Aspen Institute to understand: Where are the silos? How can we help break them down? How a space plays a part in that? How does technology play a part in that?

IMG_2566Brianna: We also have weekly check-ins in which it’s basically like: Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s how it’s going. Here’s where I could use your feedback. I found this to be extremely helpful. But one thing that I love about Genevieve, my supervisor, is that she’s able to be very honest and say, “How was your workload?” And I feel like I can very honestly be like, “It’s not good right now” or “I’m actually feeling okay” That’s been one of my favorite thing — to feel that not only management cares about my work-life balance but be able to honestly talk about it. I think we are all very ambitious and try and do a lot with a little but not being burned out is in everyone’s best interest and I loved that. ANDE really tries to recognize that.

Randall: One is our sort of external focus, and that is very much of a kind of a customer service mentality. And the kinds of people that thrive in ANDE are people that recognize that we are in a member service organization and you got to like to ask the question: What can I do for you? People who like to ask that question and get a thrill out of actually accomplishing that are going to be a good fit here.

People make a company. People make an organization. And what makes people tick and creates an environment in which people can thrive or not is the culture in which they’re working.

IMG_2562Randall: Here’s a term which I like, which may be different. It didn’t make it to our official list of values, but it was close, and it’s “celebrate irreverence.” That is very much my perspective. I would like people to not necessarily take the status quo. I want people to challenge. But irreverence kind of in a soft way, right? It’s not disrespectful. It’s saying, “Well, you know what, we’re going to do things in a different way. Like we’re going to be informal, we’re going to try it. We’re not going to do it. We’re not going to wear tie because people have to wear tie.” I really want that to be the vibe. Again, it’s not about whatever every other NGO is doing. It’s not about the traditions of Washington DC and the formalities supposed to exist. It’s about being creative and celebrating that and not having to agree all the time.

Randall: The second thing I would say is that we have become a place where we recognize that if you want to treat people the same, then you treat them differently. What I mean by that is that the way I want to treat someone the same is to recognize that every individual is different and is going to have a different need. If we can let the person that wants to work from home more, work from home more, great. The person that wants to work in the morning instead of the night, great. The person that wants to have their vacation as three consecutive weeks versus a bunch of different weekends, great. The person that they want to move and work in a different community. We want to try to find those things that reflect the particular needs of people so that everyone feels like they’re getting a special deal, and the special deal becomes the quality across the numbers, or across the staff. We’re not perfect. The way I want to treat someone the same is to recognize that every individual is different and is going to have a different need.

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Denver: I would like to thank those who participated: Randall Kempner, Stephanie Buck, Brianna Losoya-Evora and Susannah Eastham. You can listen to this again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and the offices of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs just by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of HarvestPlus

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here: https://www.denver-frederick.com/2017/08/28/the-business-of-giving-visits-the-offices-of-harvestplus/

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: One of the 8 semi-finalists in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition is HarvestPlus and as you might suspect an exceptional organization like HarvestPlus also has an exceptional corporate culture. So I made my way down to Washington DC to check it out. We’ll start the segment with their CEO, Bev Postma, and then hear from some of the other members of the team. 

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Beverley: Well, first of all, people have a work ethic off the scale. My challenge is telling people to go home in the evening because they’re so passionate about what they do. But we have a very good work-life balance. We celebrate—just yesterday, we had our regular “Celebrate the new babies day.” We’ve got five new arrivals in the last few months. What we do is we celebrate family. We celebrate our extended families. We know that our families are our support system in HarvestPlus, so we make sure that they’re welcomed into the organization. Whenever we have events, we invite extended members of our staffs’ families and we consider ourselves all really working towards the same goals.

Adewale: At HarvestPlus, as you can see, diversity is its key strength of HarvestPlus and biofortification is our language. Biofortification itself is diversity. [Begin] different crops to work together, to bring more nutrient and a diverse of nutrient, and that what’s you can see in the strength of talent at HarvestPlus as well. And I can remember the first time I was interviewed for this job. What I like the most is that everybody was involved in my interviewing process, so people ask me different questions. Everybody raised their concerns and I was able to openly address them. I could see that I am coming into a family and that’s what you can see at HarvestPlus. We have a lot of groups of small teams, so you can feel like you belong to a family or a group of friends. And that’s exactly how we work at HarvestPlus.

Jose: What I love in HarvestPlus is the fact that they provide you all the resources to tackle the specific problem. And you connect with your staff based in Colombia, based in Uganda through Whatsapp. We have Whatsapp groups. We post questions and people are over-passionate about the questions we pass. I feel like I have so many degrees of freedom when I come everyday to HarvestPlus to answer these specific questions.

Peg: Said to me that our founder and at the time CEO, she had never in her six years at HarvestPlus once heard him raise his voice. And I thought that that can’t be true; that’s superhuman. But it was true. His personality has really permeated our culture. He was someone who had an idea that people said was too good to be true and would never work. They said it wouldn’t be possible to include extra vitamins on plants. They said, “Even if you can do that, no farmer will grow them. Even if that happens, nobody will eat them because Vitamin A can turn the crops orange. Who’s going to eat orange food? Well yes, you can do that, but it won’t be cost effective.” It turns out, it is. He spent years and years just persisting in his humble way and now 26 million people are growing and eating the stuff. And last year, he won something called “The World Food Prize”. He inspired us. He talked about how it was we who had done it not him. His first reaction when he won was to say, “Oh gosh, they really should have also given it to the person who’s the head of our crop reading.” That was his first reaction. So that was something that is really unusual and has truly affected our corporate culture.

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Brittany: Nearly every single one ask me: What are my opportunities for growth here? It’s generally for administration job, so people want their foot in the door at an organization that’s doing international development. I love when I get that question because I love being able to answer it by telling them that the great thing about HarvestPlus is how accessible everyone is and how multi-disciplinary we are. If you want to know more about agricultural economics, if you want to know more about advocacy, if you want to learn more about the gender work that we do, there’s opportunity to engage with and speak conversationally with someone about that.

Jamie: To speak a little bit about the hiring process, I initially thought: Wow, this is kind of intense! I went through several rounds of interviews with the team and with HR and various people I would be working with. But I think it actually really speaks to the level of dedication that the organization has for– a fit not just technically but also culturally, also personality wise. I see a lot of dedication to building that kind of family environment. Because we’re such a culturally and professionally diverse organization, there is the potential for that to be a great asset, but also an insurmountable hurdle. I think the hiring process and that level of dedication given to making sure the fit is there is really important to building that bridge and steering the diversity that we have in the right direction.

Benjamin: And one thing that has helped me track my progress and development as an employee throughout that process has been the review and feedback mechanisms that we have within this organization. There are standard protocols and processes for evaluations of employee work, setting of goals, and also staff development is a part of your annual work plan. Also in addition to these more standardized feedback mechanisms, I have found a lot of value in the fact that managers from all the way in the top of organization across a number of different countries and all the way to even our consultants who assists us on things we don’t know are always willing to provide candid honest feedback on an ad-hoc basis or in the moment. I found great value in people’s willingness to help me to grow as an employee as I have transitioned from an entry level employee throughout my career with this organization. It has really helped me both learned and also set a trajectory for my future in terms of how I envisioned myself developing with this organization in the future.

Adewale: Outside HarvestPlus, people think HarvestPlus is an organization with like 1000 employees. We do so much but we are very few. But one thing that is so unique about HarvestPlus in terms of our culture, is the fact that when there’s a task on the table, everybody come and put the hand on the deck and the job gets done. And that’s exactly what’s going on now with some of the high-priority level task that are ongoing on the organization. Everybody’s hands are on the deck right from those in the field and to those on the headquarters. And this is what you see in a confident leadership.

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Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece: Peg Willingham, Brittany Leoboldt, Benjamin Uchitelle-Pierce, Adewale Oparinde, Jose Funes and Jamie Leidelmeyer. If you want to hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants in the HarvestPlus offices, you can find them all at denverfrederick.wordpress.com and while you’re there, check my full interview with Bev Postma, the CEO of HarvestPlus.  


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 Mental Health America

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here: https://www.denver-frederick.com/2017/08/14/the-business-of-giving-visits-the-offices-of-mental-health-america/

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: This evening, we’re going to take a trip down to 500 Montgomery Street in Alexandria, Virginia, and to the headquarters of Mental Health America. We’ll begin with their President and CEO, Paul Gionfriddo, followed by some of the members of the MHA staff.

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Paul: Mental Health America’s more than 100 years old but we’ve been functioning for the last several years like a start-up. We value highly our employees. I believe that some of the most creative enterprise, they can emerge from nonprofit, emerge from the brains of young and interested individuals who are working toward the betterment of society. For us, that’s people with mental health concerns and as a result to the work we’re doing, we think we’ve changed the way people think about mental health. From a public safety issue to a public health issue where we need to engage not at times of crisis but far before stage 4 to promote prevention, early identification and intervention, integrated health behavioral help and other services with recovery as the goal.

Valerie Sterns: What is the “wow” at MHA for me is flexibility: work-life balance. MHA affords you growth opportunities, support, even support when the outcome is not the desired outcome. MHA cares about not only my talent, but me as a whole person. We have a flexible work schedule. We can work two days from home. And that was incentive for me because I have a husband and two sons and it’s really hard for me to get time for myself. Across from the office is a wellness room, so if I need to take a nap and relax, take some time out for myself, I am afforded that opportunity. So certainly flexibility is certainly a great incentive to work at MHA.

B94DE93F-8C8F-45CD-9670-88771094EECCKelly Davis: One of my favorite parts about working at MHA is really the open style of communication and lack of really enforced kind of power roles that exist. I think especially, traditionally in the nonprofit sector and in kind of government work. Because here, we are always making jokes with each other. We share a lot of memes online. We have a lot of inside jokes. Our CEO made his own meme. And we can shoot jokes back and forth. I mean when you work in nonprofit especially, a lot of the problems you’re working on are really serious and it can be hard to keep up with that stamina of working in such intense work. But when you have an environment that’s so open and can keep the playfulness, it’s easier for passion to stay alive. I would also say that the openness and the lack of intense structure mean that everybody’s ideas are important. So I’ve been here for two years and I can just walk into our CEO’s office and say, “Hey, this is a thing I think it’s important. And this is why I think it’s important. Can I do something like this?” And he gives me feedback. I’m 24 and when I talk to other people my age, that’s really, really rare. So I love MHA.

Siobhan Carpenter: I went in there the week before the conference and said, “You know, Paul, I think my service dog could use some extra trainings and things I’d like to work on with him to help him support me better. Can I use my personal development budget for that?” He said, “Make sense to me.” And we started training so we are now in our fourth week and he’s being promoted to level 2 this week. So just really, really great things that I’m really, really grateful for.

B4133A33-18BB-495D-A540-4AAE57233378Michael: Everyone that comes to our office is always wowed to its appearance and its openness. We have windows. We’re on the 8th floor and we can even see the Washington Monument and the dome on the Jackson Memorial. We see the airplanes flying in over the Potomac River. On the other side, we can look over one of our four balconies that are wi-fi capable and fully-furnished. We can look over and see United Way building and the MGM Casino and Hotel. It’s just a fabulous place. I think Sacha mentioned that it’s like being at home. And when we moved in, a lot of staff took the liberty to stay after hours and enjoy the snacks that we provide. It is always well-stocked. One of my responsibilities is to make sure that all staff had everything that they need to do their job effectively and efficiently.

Jennifer: So coming in, I get really wound up and worked up about things that… most of them are out of my control. And I think one of the most important things that a lot of the people who have been here for a while have told me is “It can wait.” That was a huge thing that really changed a lot of the ways that I worked around here.

We have an instant messaging system in the office called Slack, so there’s general threads where the entire staff is in or just individual threads and in the general threads, we also recognize people for the things that they’ve done well. So I think that’s been a really great way to keep people positive because when you’re facing such a colossal issue especially in the nonprofit world, it can get really tiring and very hard really fast. I think it’s called burnout. Well, a lot of people talk about burnout professionally where they just work 60 hours or 80 hours a week and you just get tired, but I think in the nonprofit world a lot of that burnout comes from being frustrated with things that you feel like you can’t fix and things that you care so much about. And that just little positive things bring you back up.

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Sachin: One of the things I like about the way that we communicate now is that when we moved over to Slack, we were able to start looking at some of the statistics around how many fewer e-mail we ended up sending between each other and the office. I get a weekly rundown of how much we’re using Slack and it is frankly a little absurd how easy it’s made communication. Between the 24 of us, we send something around 3000 messages over Slack to each other every week. And on the other hand, our inter-office communication over e-mail has gone down by about 40% but what I really like about this is there are things that you just frankly send over a platform like that that you wouldn’t bother sending an email over.

Siobhan: There’s something about the culture of MHA and I’ve had a friend and we were doing lunch and she came by and I said, “Hold on, I need to finish up an email. You can just come walk around the office with me real quick. I’ll give you a quick tour before we go out to lunch.” She just walked around and she just was so amazed at how everything was just neat and organized, but open, inviting and modern. And the bell! She loved the bell — our Mental Health Bell — cast from the shackles of those who were in institutions, in psychiatric facilities years ago. And it just captures the essence I think of MHA and what we’re about. And the liberties that we have here.

Denver: I want to extend my thanks to those who participated in the segment – Valerie Sterns, Kelly Davis, Michael King, Jennifer Cheang, Sachin Doshi, and Siobhan Carpenter. If you want to hear this again, read the transcript, or see pictures of the participants and the offices of Mental Health America, all you need to do is go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com.

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