Better Than Most

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Share Our Strength

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: Share Our Strength is one of the most highly regarded nonprofit organizations in the country. Their No Kid Hungry Campaign is ending child hunger in America by assuring that all children get the healthy food they need everyday. I was recently down to their offices in Washington DC and had the opportunity to sit down with the members of the staff and ask them what it was like to work at Share Our Strength.

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AllisonFor me, one of the best things about working here has to do with this culture of hospitality and especially a charitable assumption. And to me what that means is that when someone misses a deadline or hasn’t done something that was up to your standards, whether it’s said explicitly or not, that people are constantly saying, “You have no idea what else is going on in their life. You have no idea what else is on their plate, what other responsibilities they have…” and it just really fosters this spirit of camaraderie and helpfulness and kindness. And it really, I think, only helps our work product and I think really diminishes any sort of office tension in comparison to other places that I’ve worked. It’s really special and really nice here.

ClayOne is that our president holds regular brownbag lunches with a cross-section of employees to give them a venue to talk about any topics that they want to bring up. It also gives him an opportunity to pose different questions to them that the leadership team here is thinking about or issues that we’re wrestling with through engaging what employees think. Those conversations are translated for the larger leadership team so that they know about we came up and the things that we should consider taking action on or be thinking about how we’re addressing them especially when there’s a misconception about something that’s been communicated or anything like that.

KhiaSpecifically going back to onboarding, I think when it comes to the company culture, we do stress that. For me, I tell my friends, like “If you aren’t open to being creative and doing something new, then this might not be a place for you,” because we definitely do a lot of things new all the time, which is great.  It keeps things fresh, keep things new. And then once they’re onboarded, I do a specific orientation on learning and development, just making sure that people understand that that’s important to us in developing our employees while you’re here and as well as going forward if you do leave the organization.

MorganBut my favorite thing, and I was so, so happy to hear about this when I first joined the team, is that they have this awards called the “Golden Apple Awards.” There are four given out twice a year. It’s based on leadership, fun, team work, and you’re nominated by your colleagues and you actually get this amazing, very high-quality trophy that is of course shaped like an apple. And you’re recognized in front of all staff at the all staff meeting and your supervisor or usually an executive on your team gives an overview of the work that you’ve done. And I can’t say that I’ve ever seen that anywhere.

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AmandaBut one of the things I really liked was it wasn’t an initiative that just came out from the HR team saying, “We are going to become more diverse, and these are the five ways we’re going to do it.” I really liked that the organization opened up the call to anyone and everyone that wanted to join and really take the initiative on. They’re being very fluid and open about what diversity means, whether it’s with the people that we work with, the work that we’re doing, the people we’re working for, partnerships. It’s really kind of across all boards what does diversity and inclusion look like as we implement our work

Allison:  One is about the salary conversations. Increases annually are always very separate from your performance review. That’s set out really intentionally so that the focus is separate on your performance and how you can improve and making sure that you’re growing and concentrating on your skill set and your performance

But it used to be associated with the point system and they stripped the point system from it, too. And I love that because now it allows you to just stick to really what skills and cater that to the individual employee versus being so stuck on this number and making the number fit across your team and making it make sense across peers and different job descriptions. So that’s been really helpful and I think really encouraged honest conversations about people’s performance and how they can grow.

DonnaSo we were all given an opportunity to either be a mentor or be a mentee, and I offered to be a mentor. We had speed-dating round where we all went around to see how we all got along and then we got to vote on the three people we’d want to mentor or who we wanted to be our mentor. I was paired up with somebody from a different department. It’s been really nice and HR gave me some training about how to be a mentor, and I just really liked that opportunity. I’m not a manager but it’s developing a nice, interpersonal, some skills and a relationship with somebody I wouldn’t normally interact with and I just think that’s a very caring and supportive thing to do here and I appreciate that.

Denver: I want to thank Billy Shore, their founder and CEO, for opening up their offices to all of us and to those who participated: Clay Dunn, Khia Carter, Morgan Hultquist, Amanda Villacorta, Donna Batcho, and Allison Shuffield. The audio and transcript as well as pictures of the participants in the Share Our Strength offices can 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 www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving

 

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Feedback Labs

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: We have visited many organizations with thousands and thousands of employees and discussed issues of work culture with them. Most nonprofits, however, have just a few employees who are often asked to wear many hats. And this evening, you will visit one of the very best of that breed, Feedback Labs. We’ll start with Dennis Whittle, who was a guest on the show recently, and then hear from the other members of this lean and multi-talented staff.

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Dennis: I’m pleased about several things about this team. One is that any of us—not just me, but any of us can be photocopying one moment and at the White House co-hosting a meeting the next moment. We can be at the World Bank, the White House, a major foundation, leading that meeting and then reassembling back here and preparing for the next one. And what I like best about the team is almost anybody on the team can interchangeably perform those functions. Many teams are very hierarchical where only the top person does it and everybody else serves him or her – that is not the way we operate.

Megan: So there’s still a culture of working hard, but I appreciate the role modeling of “You have other parts of your life. They’re important, too. It’s up to you to figure out how do you work hard and do what’s expected of you, which is a lot, but also figure out the rest of your life and have room for that.” So I appreciate that.

Meg: I think the culture of excellence that Megan touched on also relates to me of the way in which all of us on the Feedback Labs teams do relate to each other, and that the fact that there’s an expectation of excellence in all of the work that we do enables us to have high expectations for ourselves, which enables us as a team to support each other and cut each other some slack when that needs to happen.

And so I think there have been several examples of times when I know I will beat myself up over something I didn’t get in in time. Or if there’s something that I need some help and didn’t realize I was going to need the support that I did, where Sarah and Megan and Dennis and Jordan – everyone is willing to jump in and are able to do so very willingly and graciously without making me feel like I am slacking on that bit of excellence, that we all kind of hold ourselves to such high standards and we all know that each [other are] doing that. And because of that, we have this culture where we respect each other, we know the work is getting done and therefore we’re happy to jump in where we can. And that’s really, really meaningful to me because I know we’ve all had opportunities where we’ve needed that and it just happens without needing to ask for it, and that’s great.

Sarah: To reflect Dennis’ excellence point, we accomplish the work of a 50-person organization with a 4-person organization, and that’s just because we think we can and we go out and do it. And I’m really proud of that fact. But I also think that we are realistic and we take care of each other and that’s how we can continue to do the amount of work and the quality of work that we do.

And so we have the opportunity to be really small, really agile, and spend some of our time thinking really critically about the extra-curricular parts of our job. So whether it’s editing or whether it’s copying or whether it’s graphic design, who really likes to do that thing? How can we shift our work around so that our job is pleasurable and not only sort of effective? But I do think still that bringing your full self to work is critical when there’s only four of you because you don’t have time for interpersonal friction. You just have to kind of lay it on the table, deal with it and move past it.

Dennis: Part of the requirement is to create magic. And I say this quite often – we can’t succeed as a small team in changing the world if we don’t create magic for the people who come into contact with us. So we don’t even do all the work. A lot of people do the work with us. And they do the work with us because whenever they come into contact with Feedback Labs, they feel good. They feel that we are helping make them productive; that we are helping them project their values and the change that they want to see into the world. And so the experience that we create is one thing that I emphasize over and over, probably ad nauseam to everybody, but I’m really proud that the team, that all of us combined create a sense of magic, whether it be at the Summit or whether it be day-to-day work with the people that we come into contact with or with our 200 and some organizations that make part of the feedback network.

Megan: This drumbeat of interacting with the wider 200-plus organization network that really is Feedback Labs, I think keeps us asking: What do the people – the feedback champions who we’re here to support – what are they trying to do and how can we support them to do it? And then how do we bring magic to doing that?

I think the fact that our focus is always there and that we’re asking ourselves how do we do that with excellence, I think keeps us focused on the right thing.

Denver: I want to thank Dennis Whittle, the Executive Director of Feedback Labs and the other who participated in this piece: Sarah Hennessy, Megan Campbell and Meg VanDeusen. You can get this audio, transcript, and pictures just by visiting 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 Meals on Wheels America

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


Denver: If you take the Blue Line out of Washington, it will bring you to Arlington, Virginia, the home of the oldest and largest national organization representing local Meals on Wheels programs, Meals on Wheels America. We’re going to begin with their president and CEO, Ellie Hollander and then you will hear from the dedicated members of the Meals on Wheels America staff. 

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Ellie: We have four staff who work off-site.  We’re very supportive of flexible work arrangements, but we never want to lose sight of them. And so, literally, whenever we have staff meetings, we actually have cutouts–which you could see if you wanted to look, Denver–of our four team members and we bring them into the room and always have them sitting around the table. We have cutouts of their faces, glossy, so that they’re always present because we believe that we’re all in this together and we don’t want to ever forget there are colleagues who are sitting with us around the table.

Patrick: I’ve been here for just over a year and I started in April. My birthday is in early June, and I recall something that made an impact on me very early on. It was I came in on June 7 and I had a voice mail, and at that point, a lot of people weren’t calling me because I was pretty new. And the voice mail was someone singing “Happy Birthday,” and it was Ellie, our CEO, calling and leaving me a message singing “Happy Birthday.” And that’s really made an impression on me about people caring for one another here.

Sopha: Every Friday, we try to do what’s called our Friday Jam, which is around 45 minutes until the end of the work day. We try to gather together and we pick someone to create a playlist and play some jams and we just chill out and discuss our week, discuss what we’re doing for the weekend and just try to mingle with each other and chill out.

Jenny:  So I think something that keeps us really connected to our mission is the fact that we volunteer with local Meals on Wheels programs in the area. We have a route every month and two employees can sign up to go and deliver meals. So while obviously that’s—we work for Meals on Wheels and it’s something we’re connected to, it’s really helpful to stay connected to the actual boots on the ground mission, why we show up every day. And co-worker bonding, you maybe get paired with someone you don’t work with all the time so it’s great for bonding. You get to drive around and meet a lot of really cool seniors. So I think the fact that that volunteering part is instilled into the entire organization is really great.

Emily: I’ve been with the organization for just under 10 years at this point, and it’s been an absolute blast seeing the organization grow but also seeing how my career has grown over that timeframe and how Meals on Wheels has invested in me and allowed me to go to conferences—and not just the local ones—and learn so much about so many different topics and has allowed me to explore new fields. So I have actually transitioned from one department to another, started a whole new career path that I never expected to see myself on, especially with the college degree that I got, I’m now doing technical stuff, which I never would’ve thought. And it’s exciting. It’s a challenge every day and I love it. It’s really fun challenge.

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Antonette: But we try to make it a life of not just work but also fun. We try to make it exciting and other thigns to do for us to have an opportunity to get together and just be together and have fun as opposed to just working.

Jenny: I’d like to speak a little bit about how we kind of break down silos. Our annual conference is a really great time each year. I like to prefer to it as it kind of feels like summer camp and everyone kind of takes off their role/hat and bands together and does things across all departments and really just pitches in, whether it’s carrying boxes around or staffing one of the training sessions or anything like that. People don’t care like “Oh, well, I’m on the leadership team, I’m not going to help out here” or anything like that. It’s three days of really intense—it’s hard work but we really bond during that time. So it’s conferences that time every year where every one really comes together.

Ellie:  So four times a year, we actually will be providing feedback as managers to our staff and as staff to our managers, and have the ability to automate peer feedback like a 360 but for development purposes and in real time. I think that’s really important because all of us are committed to doing the best we can, and we have an annual staff retreat where we do review the results of our employee survey and we don’t let ourselves get off the hook.

Crystal: And one of the things that I love about Meals on Wheels America is that we did kind of like a work style assessment and it’s called DISC. And it’s been really helpful for me in this work environment to realize oh, yes, not everyone has a work style like myself, but then when I’m thinking about “Oh, okay. I’m going to work with this person. How should I approach them and how should I think about working with them to be an effective colleague?” So I really like that.

Antonette: What do you brag about to friends and family about working at Meals on Wheels America? I would like to say I think I work with the best group of people that I think I’d ever worked with in my career. We enjoy being with each other and that counts a lot.

Patrick: I think it’s worth noting how our office space really reflects not just like the culture of the organization but also the mission. So we have a very open concept with our workspace. We have sort of cubes but not wall cubes, so everything is very open, everyone can see other and speak with each other. But the walls are very colorful. They have our brand colors. We have bright greens and blues. We have wide windows that let in the light. So the whole environment is very light and cheerful, but it’s also…it’s modest yet uplifting. And I think that’s what Meals on Wheels America and our local programs across the country are all about.

Ellie: The other special week I like to spotlight is Spirit Week. You heard a little bit about our annual conference. We do send our employees – all of our employees – to conference because it’s the only chance they get to actually see our members. And we’re a membership organization so we want to never lose sight of who we’re here to support and the seniors that they serve. But there’s so much work that goes into even before we get to conference site. So there’s at least a week or 10 days where we’re meeting every day, we’re pulling together programs, we’re doing name badges, we’re doing whatever. And to keep the spirit, we call it Spirit Week, and each day, we vote on a different way you can dress. So my favorite day is Pajama Day. Every year, I vote for Pajama Day and they let me have it.

Denver: I want to thank Ellie Hollander for opening up their offices to The Business of Giving and to all the others who participated: Jenny Bertolette Young, Emily Persson, Crystal Espy, Antonette Russell, Patrick Bradley and Sopha Sar. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for this podcast, transcript and pictures of the participants and the offices of Meals on Wheels America and hey, while you’re there, listen to my full interview with Ellie Hollander

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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 Oxfam

 

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: And we’re off to visit the offices of Oxfam which are located right next door to the TD Garden in Boston where both the Celtics and Bruins play their games. For those not familiar with Oxfam, it was founded in 1942 and it’s a global movement of people working together to end injustice and poverty. And as you’re about to hear, the people who work there find it to be a very special place indeed. 

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AndreaIf you’re creative and ambitious, you can do whatever you want here and try all kinds of different things here and still feel like you have a culture that supports youI’ve had many managers over the years and the culture of Oxfam has been the same that you work hard, you do your job, you support your colleagues and you go home to your life. And at the same time, what we’re doing here is contributing, you feel everyday like you’re doing something that’s helping people

EmilyI’m a boomerang Oxfam, Oxfam where I left and I came back, because it really is a unique place to work and it has a really welcoming environment that people here we work really closely together and because of that passion I think we feel really united and that there is a family aspect to it, we joke about calling at the Ox family. And there is that sense of unity here that I think doesn’t exist in other workplaces that we’re in it together, we’re fighting, sometimes really terrible issues, humanitarian crises, people who were literally on the edge of life and death and we’re in it together. And I think that is what’s really big about this workplace.

Oliver: One of the things that’s been consistent about my relationship with my managers is the freedom and the autonomy that they’ve given me to do my job and at the same time the support that they’ve given me. When I need help, when I need support, when I need assistance, struggling through a difficult problem or a difficult situation, they’re always there. But if that isn’t the situation, they back off and give me the freedom to go out and do my job and trust. They trust that I will go out and get my job done when it needs to be done and in the way that they expect it to be done. I’ve worked in a lot of organizations that have managers that tend to micromanage and I would be constantly reporting back about every single thing that I did, and that is not the case here

Bridget: I never worked for an organization where I felt like all of me, my whole person was able to be expressed in the organization and I think that’s what’s unique about working in a social justice organization, I think it’s what’s unique about working in a human rights organization that is working in so many diverse places in the world is that I was able to come in to the organization with all the skills that I’d build in the private sector, all of my education. But actually I was able to bring into Oxfam my activism, which I’d never was able to express publicly in the private sector. I wasn’t able to even express really effectively publicly in some of the other nonprofits that I was involved in starting. And that is actually I think what makes from many of us, what makes it unique to work in a place like Oxfam is that I’m able to be–I’d like to say, I’m a Lesbian woman, I’m a Mother, I’m an Activist, I’m a Manager, I’m a person who’s deeply, deeply interested in culture and people all over the world and all of those things come together for me at Oxfam

VinodSo one of the things that I’m extremely grateful for in terms of Oxfam is that Oxfam–and this is something that I always reiterate to newcomers, you will always be given an opportunity. So for me Oxfam is always the land of opportunity, if you have enough agency, if you have an idea, if you seek to desire change and you are resilient, you will be given the chance

IMG_1767Oliver: One of the things that I really appreciate about Oxfam is the accessibility and transparency of our Board of Directors. I’ve worked for another organization that had a board that felt very remote and little bit scary to staff and really was disconnected from staff and that’s not the case here. It starts with the fact that there is a staff-elected member of the board which is rotated on a brand new basis every few years. So the voice of staff is brought into discussions among the board of directors and each time the board meets, our board chair comes in along with that staff member to talk to staff in a wide ranging and open conversation on any topic that anyone wants to raise for an hour or hour and a half without management and executive leadership presentAnd I really appreciate that and look forward to those sessions as a way not only to raise concerns that I see about what’s going on, but also to hear directly about what the boards working on, what their priorities are in any given time.

Emily: I think there is probably no one here who doesn’t feel empowered to share their opinion, which can sometime lead to very impassioned meetings, but I think I’ve never once felt like I need to hold back what I think about something, what I feel is the right thing to do or how we should approach something and I’ve never been reprimanded or made to feel like I shouldn’t give lend my voice to a topic. I think that is a big part of Oxfam program, but it’s a really big part of our culture here that everyone feels empowered to use their voice, whether that be in your one on one with you manager, in you team meetings or in a lunch meeting with the board member. People feel that they can raise their hand and ask a question and question authority empower, and I think that’s really powerful in it, it has helped democratize the organization.

BridgetIt’s a strange thing, we love each other. I don’t know, it’s like the weirdest thing. We actually love each other, does not mean we don’t have conflict, it does not mean that we don’t sometimes have issues that break down and there are issues that come up. But honestly we love each other and that’s why we say we come back to the organization, but in fact we never leave.

Vinod: How that manifest itself on a concrete basis is when we do an inclusion and diversity group, there is staff that actually took the lead to organize a group to talk about spiritual and religious values that are attractive to Oxfam, and I participated in one of the incredible conversation about people’s personal journeys and why they come to work here. It is just mind boggling, the wealth of experience we have and what makes people work here. I don’t want to get into people’s personal stories, but you have very, very moving and inspirational stuff, and you don’t get that and nobody told them to do it

Andrea: I feel like I’ve always felt like it was a privilege to work at Oxfam, because we work on poverty, and poverty is a life long struggle, but people who come and go will work on here. But in this moment, I think people feel really privileged to come into this building and feel like they are doing something to make things better at a moment where a lot of people don’t know how to make things better. And I’m conscious of that and I think that that’s something that a lot of people feel right now in this moment.

Vinod: We have a mechanism called the spotlight of art word by anybody in the organization can say a public thank you to anybody else. So I have done it in the past, where I’ve asked people for favors or request and people have turned it around after office hours at the short deadline, because I needed to send something to the board, and I needed the backup information. So I will ride them, I will give them a spotlight of art and then that is publicly displayed in our lobby later, so that other people can come to know that people are going out of their way to help each other. And it doesn’t cause money, there is no money associated with it, but people do feel wonderful about the work they do, and it leaves you with a good feeling when you get a thanks back for saying “Hey! Thank you for that nice nod”

Denver: I want to thank both Sarah Mandel and Alissa Rooney who helped to organize my visit and to those who participated: Andrea Ferrera, Emily Bhatti, Bridget Snell, Oliver Gottfried, and Vinod Parmeshwar. If you’re interested in hearing this again, reading the transcript or for pictures of the participants in the Oxfam offices, just go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and it will all be waiting for you there.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Root Capital

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


IMG_1815Denver: And this evening, we’re going to go up to Cambridge, Massachusetts and to the offices of a truly exceptional organization called Root Capital. They are an agricultural impact investor that grows real prosperity in poor environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America. And for this segment, in addition to the staff in Cambridge, we will be joined on the phone by team members from Senegal and Costa Rica.

Will: So our staff try to live by five principles of leadership which are empowerment, equity, transparency, integrity and service. And every month, the person who carries the leadership torch – so the person who was selected as exemplifying one of those five values – will pass the torch on to one of their co-workers in another region, so if you’re in Latin America, you’d pass it to someone in the United States or Africa who’s exemplified a different value and someone in a different department. So, it kind of fosters this culture of recognizing your fellow colleagues for their accomplishments, it bridges gaps between different departments, and it bridges gaps between different regions as well.

Briana: And I think we especially see that and maybe more so in the small ways, because I have a more back office type of function, where I’m not always in the field, I’m not always on the frontlines with our clients. But my team definitely has a–I feel that we always have a hand in making improvements for the better of the whole organization.

Claire: So we’ve setup an open floor plan. We have one standing desk that is available for use, and more on the way. We’re about to start a nap pod from recent research that I’ve been looking at that shows that if you can find a quiet, secluded space where people can go and just take 10-, 15-, 20 minutes and shut their eyes, that you actually increase productivity, so that’s an exciting thing on the way. We have a lounge area with the puzzle table that’s been getting a lot of great use. We started a little kitchen garden where we just grow sprouts and can add them into snacks and things that we have when we have communal meetings.

IMG_1811Laura: Like in Root Capital you can go whatever, you can visit any of our offices, and people actually care about who you are, what are you doing, how are you doing. That’s what makes Root Capital so special. It’s like a really big family spread all around the world, but all of us somehow make it to always being in contact, always care about others. We are always sharing news, sharing our efforts, sharing our challenges, sharing everything one to another, one country to another and one team to another. So that’s something that makes me really feel committed and feel that Root Capital is the place, the place to work in, in fact.

Salif: The organizational culture is an open one where people discuss ongoing work so that they can have better suits that the work everyone does with the open communication between people from different departments. We have, in my office, someone that will be in credit admin next to someone that will be in lending, writing, and someone that would be business development. So we sort of communicate right one next to the other about what are the present issues, what can we do to better service our clients.

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Claire: And so we came together and just had about 10 minutes of singing songs of peace and freedom, and it made such a difference with how everybody felt. And I think really kind of showed that a lot of times when we sing together, it’s fun or even silly or just a nice icebreaker to having a serious meeting, but this was the time that just really pulled us all together and gave us a lot strength.

I think one thing about being an international organization that’s multilingual and there are some of us that can communicate very well in all the languages that we speak and others of us that are learning or maybe will never learn, but music is one thing that connects us all and I think that it’s a very powerful tool that has helped bring our Root Capital community together.

Will: And we’re multilingual. Multilingual in a sense that we’re operating in several different countries. Our staff speak probably a dozen languages between them, both here and the Cambridge headquarters, and in our regional offices in Latin America and Africa. But we’re also multilingual in the sense that we’re ideally just as comfortable communicating with our clients and the farmers we serve in whether it’s Nicaragua or Senegal or Kenya, as fluent communicating with them as we are in the boardrooms of a potential donor or investor’s office in New York or Washington D.C.

Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece Will McAneny who also organized my visit, Briana Woods, Claire Kozower, Laura Ramirez and Salif Diop. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for the podcast, the transcript and the pictures.

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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 www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving/.

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Smile Train

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

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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Smile Train Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of DoSomething

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

DoSomething CEO Aria Finger and Denver Frederick

DoSomething CEO Aria Finger and Denver Frederick

Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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