Better Than Most

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Smile Train

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

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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Smile Train Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of DoSomething

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

DoSomething CEO Aria Finger and Denver Frederick

DoSomething CEO Aria Finger and Denver Frederick

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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