Better Than Most

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Sesame Workshop

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


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

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of GiveDirectly

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 headed over to Irving Place of Manhattan to visit the New York offices of GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly aims to reshape international giving by sending money directly to people living in extreme poverty. And when Fast Company recently named their 10 most innovative nonprofits, GiveDirectly popped up as number two on that list. So, I thought we would go over there to find out what makes them tick.

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Piali: At GiveDirectly, we are pretty ruthlessly focused on the execution and high-quality execution at that, and really creating clear accountability around the metrics that we think are going to shift the needle in terms of the changes that we want to affect in the sector. And so a lot of the times, what that really comes down to is  actual dollars put in the hands of poor households that we’re enrolling in our program and not KPIs that are incidental to that but really that core metric of getting money to very poor people.  We’re looking at ways to embed that more explicitly in terms of how we think about compensation and performance and bonuses for people so that we can really get everybody marching to that tune. I think that’s really a core part of how we think about success and good culture at GiveDirectly.

Max: Like in our world that prioritizes data, we have, for instance, internal dashboards via Segovia and Tableau and other software that basically shows how well we’re doing against various specific metrics and they’re like coded different colors and you can very clearly see how the team is performing against certain metrics. We also have this dashboard in our office, for instance, that shows how many recipients, how much money we’ve raised, what that converts to in terms of how many recipients we’ve served, and so these constant reminders of both performing against metrics and then also using data to determine whether or not we’re succeeding.

Matt: It’s been really interesting for me and my time here at GiveDirectly to employ a different set of values to my work and to think about a hypersensitivity to transparency and to complete respect for our recipients, so that really what I need to do here is just tell it like it is, tell the truth in as direct and simple of a way as possible at all times. There’s no spin, there’s no hyperbole, there’s no exaggeration of how exciting our programs are. We really have a deep cultural value of honesty and transparency and just telling people what the real story on the ground is.

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Caroline: Working at GiveDirectly basically over the last nine months have been quite an experience for me. This is something that has been quite uplifting for me because when you come into an organization as a staff, one thing that you look for is not too [keen], but a challenge that is worth your time, something that challenges your brain, something that challenges your career path and pushes you to work harder each day. It is exactly what I’ve got here at GiveDirectly.

Piali: We’ve made it kind of an explicit value and principle to not be the kind of culture that gets bogged down in excessive e-mails and meetings. I think we view those as purely instrumental tools to getting to good decisions and moving things forward. So we’re pretty strict and default to asking the question of “Do we need to gather these five people together or can we throw something in the Google Doc or exchange an email in way that can get through a decision much more quickly?” I think folks that have joined the team from bigger companies or from different environments are often kind of heartened initially to see that because of that, decisions get made quite quickly and I think that’s been critical to our ability to grow fast and iterate on the product in a way that we have.

Matt: For me, the biggest driver of our culture is actually our hiring strategy and it’s something that we spend a lot of time thinking about and iterating on. We have a general policy here to kind of skew more towards people with more of a generalist background, people who are highly intelligent, have proven that they can produce really strong work in a variety of different context throughout their career but don’t necessarily come from the nonprofit sector and don’t necessarily have a 10- or 20- or 30 years of deep domain expertise in the specific functional realm that we’re looking to hire for. We tend to hire people who are a little more generalist, who we then trust that they kind of figure it out.

Joe: It’s a sort of technical, analytical process of taking in all the data we take on recipients and saying “who should we follow up with again to make sure we got it right?” This was a real PowerPoint deck we’ve seen in a call recently and I just started sending it to candidates and saying “I want to talk about this when we have a chance to talk.” We’d go there and I’d of give a little bit of an explanation and we talk through does it make sense, how would you approach this problem, where do you think Well (the person who made the presentation) is making a mistake or not. And I found both of those to give you a good sense of how they approach problems and how they think.

Max: I think the culture is intellectual and casual and very open. In the way that Matt was describing like here are the types of people that generally GiveDirectly hires and that stay at GiveDirectly, that naturally produces this sort of generalist…everyone is interested in what other people are doing in like a probing, sort of curious way. I think that’s really cool. I think it’s very friendly. People are very supportive of other people.

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Joe: The other thing I’d add on culture is there’s a sort of intensity to it. We care a lot about quality in basically every facet of what we’re doing and the bar for a good email to donors or a good interaction with recipients or even a sort of a good decision on just about anything I think is really high that we value a certain level of strong reasoning, a certain level of quality in how we write about GiveDirectly or quality in what our finances look like, and I think that pervades every different part of the organization.

Denver: I want to thank Paul Niehaus, the President of GiveDirectly, for allowing us to visit their offices, and to those who participated – Max Chapnick, Matt Johnson, Caroline Teti, Piali Mukhopadhyay, and Joe Houston. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com to hear this again, and while you’re there, we’ll have a link to my full interview with the President of GiveDirectly, Paul Niehaus.

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 Devex

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

Denver: It was only a couple of months ago that Raj Kumar, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Devex, came to the AM 970 Studios, so I thought I will return the favor and visit the offices of Devex, which I did on my last trip to Washington. We’ll start the segment with Raj telling us about Devex, and then we will hear from some of the members of the staff of what it is like to work there.

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Raj: We’re a lot like the Bloomberg of the global development field… meaning we’re this media platform; we’ve got all different ways that journalists and analysts around the world could get information about what’s going on in global development to the people who are actually doing that work. So our audience are people who work at the World Bank or the Gates Foundation or the UN System or lots of NGOs, charities– small and big– all over the world.

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Carine: The staff is really young in comparison to other development organizations, or other media companies even, and I think this is a place where ideas are really valued both by the staff and also by the senior management. So if you have an idea for something, whether it’s like totally bananas and crazy or actually just something to improve the way that we’re doing things, you can take that idea to anyone in the team and people are willing to help even make that come to life.

Margaret: And so what we did was we implemented this thing called “Small Improvements,” and we do reviews every two months and it makes it a lot easier. And instead of calling them reviews and thinking of them as these big reviews, we talk about it as coaching. And I think that’s really integral to Devex’s culture. It’s this idea that we’re all coaching each other, and the teams are coaching their team leads and the team leads are coaching their teams. Everyone is allowed to give feedback to whomever they want and the teams are specifically guided to give feedback to each other in a coaching way. And I think a really good way to think about our culture and one thing that makes us unique is that we’re a high-performing team.

IMG_1978Colleen: One of the “Wow” moments for me working at Devex–and a lot of us here have come from other companies–is related to these reviews. And even at the time when we were doing them semi-annually, one of the questions that always gets asked is “What do you want to do within your profile that’s outside of what your job description is?” And I think that it’s a unique and special thing to be asked what more do you want to do, maybe not necessarily specifically within your role, but what are you interested in.

 

Nina: We don’t make a practice of extending office to people we’re not 100% confident in. So in summation, it is definitely at the core of our hiring process to consider if someone is going to add to the Devex culture, especially as we’re growing.

Carine: Every Friday at Devex, you will find “Frine,” which is Friday plus wine put together. We created our own word called Frine. And I think that’s one of the pillars of Devex culture and being able to every Friday afternoon–for some of the different offices, it’s a little bit later–but we take time to  just kind of put our computers away.

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Allison: Another way we use Slack is by posting on our new business channel, so anytime someone has a new business win, you can share it with everyone and everyone reacts with emojis and it’s really exciting to sort of get that praise. And it also helps just with other teams so other teams can know what new business is going on across team. So I think that that’s another thing that I find really valuable because I’m a words-of-affirmation person. I need a lot of praise. It’s my love language. And so I think that I absolutely feel supported because I have that from my colleagues and I really value their opinion.

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Colleen: Another perk that I think is pretty unique to Devex, and it’s relatively new, but it’s something called the YAY! days. So twice a year–and you’re meant to use them in the first half of the year, and then your second one in the second half–you have a day where it’s not a sick day, it’s not a vacation day, it’s just a day where you take off and you do something really fun, and the only requirement is that you take a picture of yourself doing it and you post to everybody in Slack.

Nina: So that’s a big part of it, the Devexplain. I explain how we operate as a flat organization, what that means, how that will kind of come to bear in their time at Devex and how they can navigate certain situations. A lot of people are coming from organizations that are more bureaucratic, so telling them, “This how it’s different. These are the words we use.” We don’t use the word manager, we use team lead. We sway away from even the word company because we serve a sector that is about social impact, so we like to think of ourselves more of an organization or a social enterprise. So really imparting to them the language that we use, our values, our culture, and really spelling it out so that there’s just no ambiguity. They understand that this is the culture, and we’re really setting them up to succeed here and what that looks like.

IMG_1979Margaret: I will say that all the things that we’ve mentioned are because our leadership across the board thinks that it’s important to be constantly changing and evolving. And while the focus is always helping the people who are doing good work do it even better, we are constantly looking at ourselves and evaluating the data that we’re—we collect data on ourselves, on how people connect to the mission, on how people are feeling. We’re data driven. We really are. And so, when leadership looks at the data, when anyone looks at the data and says, “What about this idea? What if we add wellness walks because people are feeling like they don’t have enough—they’re not pushing themselves to work out? So what if we just all get out of the office?” or “What if we really try to focus on getting diversity in this area?” Anytime that people look at the data and have ideas, they’re taken seriously.

Denver: I want to thank Margaret Richardson for organizing this and to all those who participated: Margaret Richardson, Allison Punch, Colleen Casey, Nina Takahashi, and Carine Umuhumuza. Podcast, transcript, and pictures of the participants and the Devex offices can all be found at 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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of United Way Worldwide

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 for this evening’s Better Than Most, you will be going down to Alexandria, Virginia in the headquarters of United Way Worldwide. The United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. The United Way is 130 years old and there are 1,800 local United Ways in 40 countries. And often older organizations and bigger organizations have more difficulty adapting to changing times. But as you’re about to hear, the United Way is more than meeting that challenge. 

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Lori: So we actually have four behaviors that represent our culture here at United Way: one is extend your reach and it’s about creating communities because we solve problems together with other people, not alone; Forge trust, again, in order to do the work that we do, we need to have trust which is about integrity, it’s about character and commitment; Find common ground, which is about inclusion and having representation for all different perspectives; and the last is believe because it is about the mission and what we do. So those are the four culture behaviors that represent United Way.

Donna: One of the things that I feel is a “wow!” about United Way are the people. I’ve been in the DC area for 11 years and I would say that everywhere I’ve worked, it’s always felt like people do not care about the people around them it was just about getting the work done. I’ve never worked somewhere where everywhere you go, people stop and they talk to you. They want to know more about you. They want to know your story. They want to know what brought you here. But also, everybody is just really in tune with the mission and they really care about what they do. I think that shows, too, with how long people stay here. Every other year, we actually host the 30 Year Awards.

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Jon: I want to talk about the avenues that employees have here to express our voice, to share ideas about how we improve the workplace as a whole. We have a great opportunity in our staff council. So our staff council is made up of staff from all levels, from all departments and it gives us a great chance to again express our ideas, what we want to see improve in the culture, and it’s a body that our executive management team recognizes and responds to.

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Jennifer: United Way Worldwide pays up to 75% health insurance for all employees and their dependents. We have 100% coverage for short-term disability up to a max of six months. It’s just an incredible benefits package that really stresses work-life balance. We don’t want people taking their vacation time being sick hence the short-term disability. I think every time I sit down with a new employee and while we’re going through the onboarding process, they really are amazed at what a good package it is and they haven’t had packages like that elsewhere. Being a nonprofit, it’s just mainly…Brian Gallagher has always stressed “don’t cut the benefits” and I think he realizes how important it is to employees and we really haven’t had to cut a lot and I think being able to continue these good benefits and stressing the work-life balance over the last years that I’ve been here, it shows when it’s important to the EMT, to our CEO, it really trickles down and I think the staff feels it as well.

Alex: One of the things that I thought was unique to our organization is all of the new employees besides getting announced at the next quarterly staff meeting and any celebration on their teams, things like that, is also the lunch with the executive management team. It’s not that their doors are closed or anything but it’s nice to take a moment in time and be intentional about creating that connection. So regardless of your staffing level, you’re sitting next to executive management team and the CEO and getting just to know each other on a personal level and the work that you do, and I thought that was really helpful back when I was a new employee. But then also a question is asked during that lunch whether you came because of employer of choice or a mission of choice, and when we did it almost everyone there was because of the mission. And that’s unique to United Way. The mission itself but also the fact that it just collects so many people to advance it.

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Marveen: The other thing I’ll say is that about two years ago, I had a very serious accident where I couldn’t walk for six months. And the outpouring of gifts, of cards, of coming over with casseroles and cookies and cleaning my kitchen…I even had someone that would come over and take my trash out once a week because I couldn’t get down the steps. It’s that kind of caring that is phenomenal. Recently, we had a team member that suffered a health crisis and it rocked our building because we care, and I’ll even use the world love, love this gentleman so much that we just needed to see his healing and we have done everything we can to make sure that he’s progressed and it’s good that he’ll be coming back real soon.

Jon: So one uniquely United Way thing that all of our staff should be familiar with is Rudy. So Rudy is a reindeer statue that makes an appearance every holiday and from what I understand, Rudy has been around actually for decades and this statue will appear on each floor for a week or two during the holidays. It’s bedazzled, it’s got Christmas lights on it, and it survived building renovations, it survived…it’s just been around for a long time. So we know during the holidays, Rudy the Reindeer is going to make an appearance.

Megan: I think one final thing that I would want everyone to know about United Way is that although we have a rich 130-year history, we are not sort of this old, soggy organization that I think we often get perceived as. We are innovating. We are moving fast. There is a lot of energy here. So we are breaking down silos in lots of different ways.

There’s a lot of disruption in our world today and United Way needs to and is adapting to that change and that’s exciting and it makes United Way an exciting place to work.

Lori: So we’re recognizing and our CEO recognize that it’s time for us to really transform our organization with the disruption that we’re seeing in the marketplace and the way that the world is becoming more digitized and globalized, and so that’s part of the goal, is to say let’s not lose any of the great things that are in our culture but let’s turn the light up and add some pieces that help us to transform and move quickly.

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Denver: I’d like to thank Southerlyn Reisig for organizing my visit and for all those who participated: Lori Malcom, Megan Walker, Jennifer Chavez, Alexander Fike, Donna Platon, Jon Swann and Marveen Hart. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we will have this podcast, a transcript and pictures of the participants as well as the headquarter offices of United Way Worldwide. 

 


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