corporate culture

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of One Acre Fund

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

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Matt Forti and Denver Frederick

Denver: And this evening, we’re going over to Broad Street in Lower Manhattan to meet some of the staff at One Acre Fund. One Acre Fund serves smallholder farmers in Africa and works to help make them more productive and prosperous. We’ll begin the segment with Matt Forti, their Managing Director and a recent guest on The Business of Giving and then hear from members of the team.

Matt: I think some people equate nonprofits with just good-hearted people out there delivering services. But we really want to borrow from the best of the business world, which is really about good professional development and training. No matter what level you’re at at One Acre Fund, you’re probably going to be spending at our organization 30% of your time in some kind of a formal training program. It’s a leadership accelerant program…

Jillian:  What it means, first and foremost, and which we’ll see in every email signature and every document that comes across your desk, is “Farmers first.” That means, everything that we do, we’re always working toward this number one goal of putting farmers first. The values that go into that, like I said, they’re kind of everywhere in the organization.

Some of the main ones we talked about are humble service, so really making sure that we are meeting the farmers where they are. Most of our staff actually work in the field right alongside our farmers. Even our staff in the US office get out to the field at least once a year to make sure that they have a real connection with the farmers that we are serving.

Ross: One Acre Fund really stands out in terms of feedback comparing to other nonprofits I’ve ever worked with. It’s a pretty fundamental thing to know what’s expected of you and where you stand with your managers, and so One Acre Fund does a good job of creating a culture of feedback. The main mechanism for this is the check-ins we have either each week or every other week with our managers, and it’s a space where we check in on sustainability and workload, problems solved through our current projects, and also this key: Dedicate time to big picture thinking. That’s where a lot of the innovative ideas for our teams and for organizations come out of.

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Dave: I thought that broadly applies to our sort of GSD attitude, Get Stuff Done, and then specifically, how that GSD applies to input delivery.

Where the GSD comes in is we have truck breakdowns, we have farmers that live in areas that just don’t have access to the one, the services that we provide, but many, many other services as well. So when it comes to our input delivery, when we say we’re going to get inputs to a farmer on a certain day, it happens. We don’t call a farmer up or send a messenger to say, “Sorry, your inputs are going to come a week from now, a month from now.” They come the day that we say they’re going to come, and that’s how we build our trust.

Emily: The data that we get from this really allows us to tackle different areas that may contribute to an employee’s life cycle at One Acre Fund. We’re able to make better decisions regarding retention, better decisions regarding work-life balance and personal sustainability, and we’re able to implement new programs that really ensure that employees are going to stay with us for a long time and have a successful career at One Acre Fund.

I don’t know of any other nonprofit that uses that type of data to make those decisions. It really ensures that all of our people decisions are grounded in metrics and that we’re able to assess our projects going forward.

Briehan: Four times a year, people have career chats with their supervisors, either informal coffee chats, which you’re reminded and encouraged to do, or a 360 review that we do twice a year as part of our annual evaluation cycle.

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We also have a formal mentorship program to make sure that staff members have access to mentors that they can talk to about their career challenges and their paths that might be available to them.

We also have trainings around the kind of subjects that we feel like are really important to growth. Things like how to delegate efficiently, on how to hire effectively, and even trainings around how you can identify what it is that you want from your own career path, either within One Acre Fund or even if that path were to take you outside. That’s something that we really feel like as we face this incredible challenge of ending poverty, we are able to make sure that people are growing and taking on as much as they possibly can.

Dave: We have people in Kenya, New York, Seattle – we’re kind of all over the place, and we all come together on a big conference call around a different topic every month. And we really dive deep, and everybody prepares to learn about that topic in advance. On the call, it’s sort of like a pop quiz, you know, call out someone, “What would you say about X, Y, Z?” What that does is really kind of build the culture of, “You need to know what you’re supposed to know” sort of a thing. I think that’s a little bit unique. Can be, I guess, high pressure at times, but it really forces you to understand the nitty-gritty of what you’re supposed to communicate externally.

Ross: The model is very scalable as well. We’re able to move from districts and scale the same unit out within countries and to new countries. But having data around what works when we do technology trials and what our impact is, is also really important for getting donors and other supporters onboard. It really is this excitement from donors and other organizations that have enabled us to mobilize our efforts and serve so many farmers.

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Jillian: Our people teams in general were allowed to really dig in to certain specializations, so whether it was people support or people data or recruitment. And that allowed us to establish stronger relationships with people in different departments so that we could provide better support to them. That also allowed us to really kind of flex these team building muscles, provided me with an amazing management opportunity where I got to work with individuals on my team, with senior leaders in the organization, and really helped build up our team, and then in turn, I’ve been able to provide that opportunity to the people who have been working with me.

Thea: And one thing that I really love about our office space is that even though we are in New York City surrounded by concrete and brick and glass, when you’re in our office space, you really feel connected in many ways to the field and to the farmers that we’re serving. In every single room, there are photos of farmers who are clients of One Acre Fund working in the fields with the crops that they are producing.

Emily: I want to talk about one of my favorite rituals at One Acre Fund. Whenever I go to the field, I try to attend a farmer meeting or a field officer meeting, and one of my favorite aspects of attending these is that they always start out with a song. Often, a dance accompanies it too. But in every meeting I’ve been to, there’s a song about One Acre Fund in the local language or just a really joyful expression of working with One Acre Fund and working with farmers. So that’s one of my favorite things about attending meetings in the field.

Denver: In addition to Matt, I want to thank all the others who participated in this segment: Jillian Joseph, Ross Miranti, Dave Betts, Emily Laser, Briehan Lynch and Thea Aguiar. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we’ll have this podcast, a transcript and pictures of the participants in One Acre Fund offices and we’ll put up a link to my full interview with Matt Forti, the Managing Director of One Acre Fund.

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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 Bridgespan Group

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 very best nonprofit organizations in the world just so happens to have one of the very best corporate cultures. It is the Bridgespan Group which helps mission-driven organizations and philanthropists to advance their learning and accelerate their impact. Their Boston headquarters is in Copley Square and I visited there recently to hear from the staff about some of the unique and exceptional aspects of their work culture. 

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Derek: When we engage with our clients, we engage in what are called case teams. So there is typically a partner that will manage the main client, and then there’s a manager on the case, and then there are a number of consultants or associate consultants. And the case team will also be supported by operations teams and marketing and knowledge and different pieces as well. But in that core case team, really the essence is that you’re able to split up the work that you’re doing and give people ownership over different pieces of that work. And that case team will typically extend over the course of six or eight months of the engagement, and then you’ll go your separate ways and then maybe come back together when you’re on another case with another client.

Jen: I mean I really believe since day one that our leadership team walks the talk. You see it from the compassion and kindness and generosity even in terms of just giving people credit for the work that they do. So you’ll see at company meetings, Jeff or one of our leaders will stand up and talk about an important meeting that they were at and he’ll give credit to the junior person in the room if they’re there. Or when he comes back and he’s telling a story about the great work that someone perceived that Bridgespan did for them, he gives the credit to the team and he’ll name the people in the room. And I think that really sets a standard and I think people feel really good about that.

Mandy: I also have found it to be an incredible opportunity for personal growth. So I didn’t know much at all about the world of consulting before I entered it, and it just has turned out to be a great fit in terms of stretching me and pushing me to play different roles that I’ve played here at Bridgespan to interact with different organizations, different kinds of leaders; to be stretched but in a way that we’re being supported and coached, so I’m not being thrown out to dry by I am being pushed to see what I can do, to see what I can achieve.

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Sridhar: That change, that dynamism, I think, creates an organizational culture, where to some degree, there’s this sense of dissatisfaction with the way the world is and trying to do everything you can to change it. So the famous Robert Kennedy metaphor, “ripples of hope,” echoes around this place, that everyone sees their work as being those ripples of hope. And they want to see those ripples be bigger and bigger over time. And so there is this sense of dissatisfaction of continually pushing to the sense of how can we do this better, how can we make an even greater impact than what we did before? That is both challenging, that is dynamic, that is at times stressful, but also incredibly motivating, incredibly enabling and empowering, and ultimately is the reason why we do the work.

Rayshawn: I think another thing that really resonates for me is the mission of the work we do. I know that whether I am working however many hours in that week, it’s going to be for a client that I care about, it’s going to be with people that I care deeply about, and it’s going to be pushing towards a mission that I feel deeply aligns with my personal mission. As Mandy mentioned, being able to align with work that is really focused on breaking cycles of intergenerational poverty is really exciting and not something you get to do everywhere.

Mandy: One of the ways that we think about growth at Bridgespan is about the formal training we give. We also provide a lot of informal training on-the-job training in the context of our case teams, in the context of peer colleagues or mentors. But the formal training is something that is really unique in that we’ve been able to take, in my mind, the best of two worlds. So we are able to benefit from the excellent training that Bain & Company, which sort of incubated us in our early days and is still a very close partner. They enable us to send our staff to their trainings, their consultant trainings. So essentially, our staff are able to access sort of world-class training, very tailored to the consulting skill set and common challenges. And we have a complimentary suite of Bridgespan training, so the areas in which the tool kit is different or where we diverge from how Bain does their work, we’re able to provide that. But that combination is just an incredible value from my own personal experience, from seeing, at this point, hundreds of people over the years go through Bain training. It’s a real asset and one of the ways in which we help people grow.

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Rayshawn: We’ve also got a phenomenal annual review process where people are receiving input from their direct supervisors. People are also receiving input from their direct reports, and all of that comes together. I’m an associate consultant and what happens is all of the partners and managers actually get together in a big room, which is a fish bowl, so  you know when they’re all in there, and they talk about, “Here’s what this person is doing well. Here’s what this person needs to continue working on.” Then you’ve got a consensus reviewer who pulls all of that together and delivers the message to you. So, not only do you have a lot of people thinking about this really intently, but you’ve got somebody that’s able to say, “Here are the key messages you need to hear,” which makes it so much easier than focusing on “here’s what I need to do to improve.”

Jen: There’s a variety of ways of being involved at Bridgespan, and we have what we call Extra 10% Committees and you can join as many as you want. Generally, people join one or two. But it’s extra 10% because it’s really like you get your job done and then you come join this committee and pitch in to the culture. But I’m on one that’s called “The Way We Work,” and a lot of that has to do with how we work in this open design space and making sure that all seating is equally desirable and accessible, speaking into the whole non-hierarchical atmosphere we strive to have here.

Sridhar: And so I think we’ve made conscious organizational investments to increase the amount of communication, increase the amount of collaboration in part because our theory of the way the work happens is that it does not happen by an individual themselves. It happens with all of us as teams. It happens as an organization. And so that culturally is important to who we are. It’s culturally important. I think to folks who succeed here, succeed within that kind of construct. They’re able to be collaborative. They’re able to work well with their colleagues, to share, to learn. We’ve got about 30 whiteboards on wheels that get wheeled around left, right and center. Things get drawn and erased all the time. That sense of creating something through a collaborative environment is quite important.

Mandy: I’m proud of the way in which Bridgespan strives to be an inclusive organization. So over 50% of our partner group is women. That’s unusual to look at any senior partner group at a professional services entity and see that. We’ve scored 100 on the HRC corporate equality index since we’ve been participating, which is on the order of 10 years or so we’ve been doing that. We have well-established group has for folks who are part-time, who need to spend some time with family, need that flexibility at some point on an ongoing basis in their careers. And we’re deeply focused on building our diversity along racial and socio-economic lines, both in terms of certainly the demographics of our staff, bringing diversity of thought and experience, but also increasingly on how we think about that diversity in our work.

Rayshawn:  One of the things I’ve really appreciated about Bridgespan is that we have been completely transparent about the fact that we’re on a journey here. We don’t think that we are the best in the field when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But what we are willing to say is that we are working really hard at this and we’re willing to be uncomfortable with the fact that it’s going to be hard to get there. And being uncomfortable in that way is a hard thing to do and it takes not only folks raising their hand and saying, “I want to work on this,” but it also takes people in senior leadership actually modeling the way and being able to say, “This is something we care deeply about.

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to Liz London who has been a real good friend of the show for organizing my visit and to those who participated, Jen Driggs, Derek Brine, Mandy Taft-Pearman, Rayshawn Whitford and Sridhar Prasad. You can listen to the podcast, read a copy of the transcript, and see pictures of the participants on the Bridgespan offices simply 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 the Partnership for Public Service

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: There is a nonprofit organization based in Washington DC called the Partnership for Public Service whose mission is to see that the federal government works better for all of us. They’re also one of the very best places to work and we’ll find out why starting with their President and CEO, Max Stier and then hear from some of the members of the Partnership team.

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Max: I remember working for a prior boss myself at HUD and there was a conversation around public housing and concerns about how people believe that people in public housing were not taking care of it well. My boss then spoke up and said, “How many of you here has stayed in a hotel and left all the towels on the floor? How many of you have rented a car and treated it in a way that you would never treat your own car?” His basic point to all of us was when you own something, you treat it better. And that is true for organizations as well. And so I believe that one of the things I want to see fostered here is that sense of ownership. When people own the place, they will treat it better, they will enjoy it better and we will all win.

Georgia: For example, that’s things like a public speaking workshop where interns can volunteer to come and present to the rest of the group and then get really, really spot-on feedback from one of our most seasoned VPs who’s there leading the exercise, not only giving general pointers but really listening to people’s style and helping them understand what they can play up than what maybe they need to refine a little bit. And again as an intern, that’s something that’s so thrilling to get that kind of feedback from that level because if you get buy-in from somebody like that, you’re ready to take on the world.

B6076B91-9EBF-4795-A40C-E4081EEE7BB9Amiko: There are things like that that we certainly look for and it is going to be the right fit for somebody but I also want to highlight it from a cultural fit, there’s also this willingness and acknowledgement that we want people to enhance their culture. So it’s not just the people who fit in a particular mold but who will help us improve what we do and have this willingness to bring different ideas and help us grow and sometimes that’s asking tough questions and helping us to think about how we might do something differently or better.

Ella: This is the first place where my supervisor has ever asked me, “What can I be doing for you? What are you really interested in learning in? What do you really wanna be doing?” And also seeing those opportunities and also had my supervisor email me really excited saying, “Hey! There’s this great project I heard about, you are the first person that come to mind. Not just by me, but by several people at this organization. So let’s get started on it. I think it be a really great opportunity.” And knowing that both my direct supervisor here as well as just other folks at the organization having my best interest in mind –again, not just to succeed but to get different experiences that I want — really make an enjoyable place to work.

Brandon LardyWe get it from the values awards every month or every quarter now that we do them where we go through and we recognize people for the really good work that they’re doing and how they are embodying the values of the Partnership. So I really think that we get it constantly everyday we’re hearing about what matters to the organization. We’re hearing how we fit in the organization. And how the values really transcend through all of our work.

Laura: I think this is the only place where I’ve ever seen an intern giving a presentation at a big round table event that he sort of helped plan and also the CEO doing kitchen duty. I think that Partnership lets you actually have an influence in their reputation. So right off the bat, I was put in projects where I was interacting with some of our corporate partners or the transition teams. And I think it’s pretty surprising that someone in an entry-level job is given so much trust in the Partnership’s reputation. And I think the flatness of the organization really helps make it a very productive place to work. No one is saying what they think their superiors want to hear in a meeting. No one’s afraid to raise ideas; it’s really I think what allows for the most conducive work environment.

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BrittneyAnd on my very first day, our Vice President of Leadership and Evaluation sat me down and talked to me about our team and what my role would look like. And he said something that really struck with me and that I thought kind of embodies the Partnership culture and there was something really different than the experiences that I’d had at other organizations. He said that, “If there was ever a time and when there is the time, when you’re ready to do something different to take another step, whether that is something here at the Partnership or elsewhere, that I’m going to be here to support you.” For someone on my first day to be talking about what I might be doing later on or potentially leaving, I thought that that really showed that he was invested in me and my success beyond just what I was able to contribute to the team.

Andrew: I see leadership here having a very powerful cascading effect across the organization. A few examples, one; Max is always asking for feedback. Open book; he wants to know what he can do better, wants to know what’s going on, not trying to hide behind anything or pretend things are going well when maybe they could go better. And that happens across the organization. My boss, who’s one of the vice presidents here, he asked me for feedback personally. We’ll go out to lunch at quarterly reviews and yes, it’s about my experience and my review. It’s also how can he do better and he has very specific questions that he’ll ask me then I go ask my direct reports. And so we’re having these exchange rather than this kind of top-down we’ll-tell-you-what-to-do. It’s how can we all continue to make this place better. It’s sort of to the point of ownership too, I think.

Ella: We really talked about how the Partnership emphasizes bringing your authentic self to work. And not just who you are in a work environment but everything that makes you you and bringing that to the table. We are not an organization where to be successful, to do good work, to be able to interact with different customers or external stakeholders or internal stakeholders, you must meet this cookie cutter image that sometimes other organizations strive to get employees to fit in. We really value everyone bringing that authentic self to the table. And part of the way that I think our culture are really enables us to do that is by really having an emphasis that belonging matters; that making sure that every part of you, what is important to you

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Brandon: I remember at one point our VP turn to me and said, “What do you think about at the time we were talking about our cornerstone project: Best Places to Work.” I just looked at her like: You really care what I have to say? I’ve been here for probably two weeks at that point. I think it’s really refreshing. It really helps you feel like what you have to say matters and leadership really does want to hear what you have to say. And that does, at the end of the day, help you feel included, helps you feel like you’re actually contributing to the organization. It helps you feel like what you’re doing actually matters and it really makes it a joy to get up everyday and go in to work.

Max: The sense of culture to me is so important and baked into everybody here. So I’m learning from everybody. Everyone is adding to our culture and keeping track of our culture and helping that culture grow. Again, it’s sort of the shark that allegedly drowns if it doesn’t keep moving forward. We have to continue to get better. But I think, again, that sense of being proud of everything that is happening around us whether or not we directly contributed to it or not. In fact, when we haven’t, to be able to see something amazing occur is even better.

Laura: I’ll just talk about the one thing that I think makes the Partnership very unique and that’s the nature of our work relationships. I don’t think of my colleagues as colleagues. I think of them as friends that I happen to work with. And that just goes to say that my work friends are my best friends. A whole bunch of us started at Kickball League and hang out at that and I always see them outside of work maybe more than inside of work when I’m like focused in my cubicle working. I think that what that really does is energize you and that’s coming from someone who’s an introvert, it still very much energizes me and makes me want to come in to work, enjoy work and be my most productive self.

Denver: I want to thank all those who were good enough to participate in this segment: Max Stier, Andrew Marshall, Brittney Vevaina, Ella Holman, Brandon Lardy, Georgia Haddad, Laura Pietrantoni, and Amiko Matsumoto. The podcast of this piece along with the transcript as well as pictures of the participants and the offices of the Partnership for Public Service 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 The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP)

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: For this edition of Better Than Most, we’re going to head up to Cambridge, Massachusetts in the shadows of Harvard University and to the offices of The Center for Effective Philanthropy or CEP. We’ll start with their President and CEO, Phil Buchanan who will tell you about the organization and then hear from members of their staff. 

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Phil: We were created about 15 years ago and our focus is to help foundations get better. We do that through the purchase of data and insight, through research on issues like foundation strategy, foundation performance assessment and then through assessment including feedback loops. Because if you are a foundation, you live in a bubble of positivity. Everybody tells you what they think you want to hear and one of the roles that The Center for Effective Philanthropy plays is to help provide candid comparative feedback that will allow foundations to understand how they’re really being experienced by grantees and others with whom they work.

Grace: When I first joined CEP, one of the things that I noticed was this ritual that we have before staff meetings which is called Shout Outs and now we called it Thank Yous and it’s basically five minutes where it’s an open time and people can say, “You know I just want to shout out to my colleague, Ethan. Ethan I really needed help with something this week and you really stepped in and I couldn’t have done it without you. So, thank you!” And everybody kind of cheers and claps and you know there’s nothing cynical about it. It’s very genuine and just a super encouraging time and I love that about CEP. I’m so glad that that’s been a part of our culture and continues to be. Another thing that I really loved about CEP is we’re really thoughtful about a focus on the employee. I’ve felt this deep sense of being really cared for since joining.

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Charis: I really appreciate how CEP strives to glorify hard work but not overwork and I see work life balance being emphasized at all levels of the organization. About a year ago at staff retreat, so our President said, “You know, if one of your colleagues can leave the office at 5 PM, you should high-five them on the way out.” And that image stuck with me during my time here at CEP. So, whenever I feel that I finish my work and can leave early, I feel I’m contributing to CEP’s culture.

Alyse: We’ve also done a lot to make sure that we are not accidentally bringing extra bias into our process. So, things to remove implicit bias throughout the process include masking pieces of resumes, making sure that people are able to complete assessments before our folks meet them, so we can understand skill level without allowing bias of interview to creep in and things of that nature. So, I think that has helped us to be a stronger organization and make sure that we’re bringing on folks from a variety of backgrounds that would be good contributors to our organization.

Grace: The other piece that I think we don’t talk about a lot but I think is actually very unique to CEP’s that we each do have a professional development budget of $1,000 a year to use and I think that is a really special. I think that it really speaks volumes to how committed the organization is to each of our individual development and I’ve had many really helpful conversations with my supervisor about how I can grow both here at CEP and to reach my sort of broader career goal as well.

Ethan: So, you’re paired with someone who’s your mentor, who is on a different team from you, so it’s someone that you may not be interacting with in your work every single day and someone who has a different perspective on the work that CEP does perhaps than your colleagues directly on your team do and it’s a time where you can go out to get lunch or coffee twice a month for your first six months and it’s a time where you can really talk about anything.

Charis: I think what says a lot about an organization’s culture is what people do when things go awry and the senior management here at CEP are very transparent. They try to be as transparent as possible about the decisions that are made but they’re also transparent when there is a personal difficulty for example, about what they cannot be transparent about and I really appreciated being on the receiving end of that transparency because it removes any unnecessary fear that I have about my job and my role and expectations.

Chloe:  But, here at CEP we actually have a culture document that dictates how we think and talk culture both internally and externally including in our hiring process and the way that that was developed was not sort of unilateral from leadership saying here is the culture that we have but it was across organizational task course that defined all of the different sort of metrics by which we judged whether we have the culture that we want or the culture that we sort of aspired towards, so that includes everything from sort of how mission-driven are we to work life balance as others have mentioned to how transparent we are in our communications. So, we’re very clear about sort of what we’re hoping to get out of our culture, so we’re not just talking about sort of interpersonal relationships when they think about what makes CEP special.

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Ethan: Something, again I didn’t fully realize until I entered the working world is that you spent a lot of time with the people you work with, more so than your roommates, than your family. So, it’s really such an important thing that you enjoy each others company, you care for each other, you respect each other and you have fun together and I think that really comes through at CEP.

Charis: The first is the way that window cubes at CEP get allotted. There’s a row of cubes along that have the best window view and whenever one becomes vacant, we run something like a lottery for who gets to sit there and instead of defaulting to tenures saying the most senior person gets to have the cube, what we do instead balances both tenure and also allows a lucky newcomer to have a wonderful cube experience. We put one ballot for every year that you’ve worked at CEP, so the longer that you’ve worked at CEP, the higher chances you have of winning the lottery. It opens up the opportunity for someone who just joined to also have the experience. So, that’s one quirky story that gets add the balance that we strive to have at this organization.

Chloe: So, not only am I giving feedback on people I’ve managed on a project but there are allowed to get feedback on me and that’s actually encouraged and I found that having that sort of critical mass of feedback from people I’ve worked with in different capacities has been so valuable to my own personal growth because everyone has different perspectives on where I could improve, what my strengths are, what my opportunities for improvement are and I think that that’s been so crucial in something I didn’t realize was so important until I was sort of enmeshed in their culture.

Kris: I think what’s pretty rare in my work experience and it’s going to happen this week I think, so the President of the organization will ask us to actually watch him to give his presentation and provide feedback and critique and takes those things to heart and my change what the presentation entails and I just think that’s very rare to have that type of not only top to bottom but bottom to top feedback and I think that’s a great thing that we have here at CEP.

Alyse: For example, there was a staff meeting once where Phil, who’s our President and another employee came in to start the staff meeting by juggling and singing Oh Canada because they’re all from Canada which was an unusual way to start a meeting or when one point, we were doing a staff retreat and said, “Does anyone here have any special talents they can share?” And one of the staff people said, “I can read palms.” “Great! You can read palms.”, doing that to break time, so things like that. You’re just sort of free to be yourself and to be silly in the workplace at the same time that you’re not doing important work.

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Denver: I want to extend a special thanks to Alyse D’Amico who organized all of this and to the others who participated as well: Grace Nicolette, Ethan McCoy, Charis Loh, Chloe Wittenberg, and Kris Sanda. Now if you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we’ll have the podcast and transcript there, pictures of the participants and the CEP offices as well as my full interview with their President and CEO, Phil Buchanan.


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 City Year

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


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Michael Brown ©cityyear.org

Denver: Today’s visit will take you to Columbus Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts in the headquarters of City Year. In 28 communities across the country, City Year brings together diverse young leaders to service AmeriCorps members who work full time in high-need schools to help students succeed. You will first hear from their co-founder and CEO, Michael Brown, and then from members of the staff who, as you will soon learn, feel very passionate and emotionally-connected to the work that they do. 

Michael: When Robert Kennedy said at the height of apartheid in South Africa that “every time a man or woman stands up for an ideal or acts to improve a lot of others here, she sends out a tiny ripple of hope that can create a mighty current that can wipe away even the highest walls of oppression or resistance.” What we’ve done with that with our corporate culture is the very first agenda item of every meeting.

  1.  Ripples. No matter what’s going on, no matter how hard the work is we start with ripples. What’s out there that’s inspiring us, is there something that the corps members have done. What that does is that just puts you on the mood to tackle hard things. The core of our corporate culture is to be prepared from an idealistic spirit to do really hard things.

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Jennifer:  I feel like every single person I interact with here at City Year is laser beam-focused on delivery the best possible service we can to the highest need schools in this country to make sure that every kid we serve gets the supports they need to be successful. That is an incredibly unifying force even though, “Wow! We are so diverse at City Year.”

Charlie: A couple of things I would mention, our values drive everything we do, our values come to life in our work, in our schools, in our communities across the country, across the world. Erin mentioned belief in the power of young people. I’m also interested in the belief in the power of old people, given my age. But we have 10 values, two others I would mention. One our service to a cause greater than self and starting there, the other is students first, collaboration always. We feel like our values and the stories that represent our values really helped guide our daily actions and our work and motivate us, so I am really excited about that.

Jamaal: What I appreciated the most about my City Year experience is that it gave me a common language to connect with people who thought like I did and those who didn’t think like I did, but we’re all committed to making sure that the communities, the schools, and the students that we were working with were going to get everything that they needed to be successful.

When I think about the cultural pieces that stick out for me, especially from my lens, I think about level 5 leadership and I think about how we strive to build young adults who are socially conscious, who are aware of their skills and their areas of development and are courageous enough to step into positions that they made initially beyond comfortable with but will grow into them.

Erin:  We’ve committed to embodying a culture of idealism at the office space and I had the opportunity to give a tour to someone who just had a meeting later this afternoon at City Year and was visiting the offices and it’s always really great to see our office through the eyes of a new person. We have a lot of our logos, our values, our culture points, a lot of our founding stories which are parables and descriptive stories that have some moral or ethical implication that we can draw at time of need and at times of indecision. Right now I am staring at one about Stone Soup and it’s really moving for people who are used to various sterile office environments. It’s something that seems so simple to all of us here in the office because we’re around it everyday but the colors, the blues, the reds, the yellows are all really vibrant and really energizing because our work is hard and we need every little bit of energy that we can get and I draw a lot of it from our office space.

 

ChandI’m going to talk about something that people may not know unless they worked here and that’s the CY Mindful Community (CY standing for City Year), and that’s something that’s pretty unique about our culture. We focus on doing meditations Tuesdays and Thursdays or any sort of brain break related activities. I’m part of the leadership team group for it. We get together at the beginning of each month and plan what we want to do for the community. Anyone and everyone is welcome. 

Erin: We close those meetings with a spirit break,  which everyone gets up, you all put your hands in the middle and if you can’t reach the middle, you out your hand on the shoulder of your colleague to make sure everyone’s connected, and you think of a word that either symbolizes or inspires and sums up the meeting or sums up the work ahead, something like collaboration or students first is a good examples that you could use. For my team strategy and growth, it’s SNG and then you say the word and it’s a way to end the meetings in the same way every single time, but also to cap it off in a really symbolic way to have that inspiration to move forward.

Virginia: Another thing we share is joys and appreciations. We start our meetings that way, we start our days that way and we end our days that way. There’s a balanced when thinking about being in that challenging environment continually that you’re still focusing on the small wins, both with students in the schoolhouse but then also with each other and appreciating each other for the work that we do. I think that balance is really key for me and that’s something that’s is really important in our culture is that balance that reminds you no matter how challenging your day was, there’s still something to appreciate or to find joy in. That’s still a really big piece for me.

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Grace: I’ve had a one-on-one with my boss. Outside of any performance management meetings that we’ve had, I’ve been able to have those meetings with my boss to figure out what are your long term goals, what do you want to get out of this job, what elements of this job do you enjoy and want to do more of and how can we provide you additional leadership opportunities to build on what you’re doing here and why you want to be in this role or what role as you see yourself in in the future.

Jamaal: When you have leaders who are as accessible and open to answering your questions, to providing you with the perspective needed to sometimes say, “Okay, I understand why this decision was made and now I can see myself moving the work forward,” I think it’s another piece of our culture that’s really unique and special. I sometimes take for granted how other organizations don’t have leaders who are as approachable and accessible.

Grace: Our CEO, Michael Brown, this year did something different where he put together a campaign to fund raise and pack packages that will be sent to every single City Year team across the country. Michael led these efforts, helped to fund raise. Our senior leadership team donated half of the funds for this entire effort to put together care packages for all 314 schools that City year serves our across 28 cities across the entire country. It wasn’t just the funds, but it was also the amount of time it took to organize that, the amount of time it took to put that together,  and I think that is a perfect example of their leadership and leading by example when it comes to the work that we do.

Charlie: We do have a pledge that our corps members say on a regular basis, that maybe I can call on Jamaal to do it with me right now, the City Year pledge. I call on Jamaal because he was on the dean’s council, so I can do that–10 years ago. “I pledge to serve as a City Year member to the very best of my ability, to honor the rules and expectations of City Year, to respect my colleagues and the people and the communities we serve, to provide excellent service, to lead by example and be a role model to children, to celebrate the diversity of the people, ideas and cultures around me, to serve with an open heart and an open mind, to be quick to help and slow to judge, to do my best to make a difference in the lives of others and to build a stronger community, nation and world for all of us.”

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to City Year CEO, Michael Brown, for allowing us to visit their offices to Tina Chong and Jennifer Merrill for organizing all of these and to those who participated: Chand Jiwani, Erin McIntosh, Grace Boal, Charlie Rose, Virginia Bette, Jamaal Williams, and Jennifer Jordan. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for this podcast, transcript and pictures of the participants in the office City Year.



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 First Book

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: Today, we will be heading down to our nation’s capital and to the offices of First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books, learning materials and other essentials to children in need. We will begin with their President and CEO, Kyle Zimmer, and then hear from the other members of the staff about the secret sauce that makes First Book a special place to work.

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Kyle Zimmer and Denver Frederick

Kyle: Culture of the organization is paramount because it will affect everything you do… and a lot of things that you can’t do. It’s been important to us from the day we opened our doors. I believe strongly in team leadership. I don’t believe that having a single lone wolf at the helm of an organization is a healthy strategy; I don’t think it is a sustainable strategy. And so for starters, we have a team of four people at the top of the organization who are really co-equals in running it. In addition, we really work hard to elevate entrepreneurial thinking and to attract entrepreneurs into the organization

Jennifer:  I’ve been given opportunities to be challenged and to really manage up. So to do things that I’ve never had the opportunity to do before and really show and prove myself as a professional, and I think that’s really special and not every organization gives their employees an opportunity to do that.

Michael: The thing about First Book that always has me coming back for more is it’s kind of like coming to a playground of challenges every day and hanging out there with your friends. And so, under the big umbrella of getting more books out into the world, there are all of these smaller umbrella challenges, and smaller problems and issues and tasks to go through, whether it’s how do we get books to rural areas more effectively, whether it’s how do we let our network talk to each other so that they’re using our books more effectively or how do we make it easier for everybody in the US or people abroad to get books. There’s always this sense of there’s another great challenge, there’s another thing to work on, and you’ve got a lot of cool, interesting, smart people to roll up your sleeves with and try to figure them out.

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Dan: And after we hit a great milestone, we’ll pop some champagne, we’ll eat and we’ll laugh and have a good time, and then we clean up and we get right back to climbing that hill. So I think it’s critically important that you’re able to come to a job that challenges you, that has a great mission, but also allows you to have a good time.

Paula:  I’ve been at First Book for almost 10 years already, and one of my favorite things about the organization is how fearless we are and how we don’t settle for things that we have already achieved. We keep looking for more. We set challenges and goals, but once we have achieved those, we look for more.

Anna: But we really are trying to meet the goals of that corporate partner and the goals of First Book. So as we grow and change and the partner grows and change, we want to make sure that we’re fitting in and making the best out of all of the goals and the needs of both parties.

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Jennifer: So in every single performance evaluation that I’ve had at First Book, my manager has given me the opportunity to talk about my performance and how I feel about it, but also talk about their performance and how I feel about their management style, what’s working for me and what’s not working for me, and what they can do better to make sure that I feel supported, to make sure that I feel successful, and to make sure that I’m challenged and see a future for me here at First Book. So that, I think, is really important to me. It makes me feel valued in the same way that each one of our members feel valued.

Dan: I ask them questions like “What is your professional Shangri-La when it comes to work environment?” “Would you prefer to work in an office alone or with other folk?” “Can you make a joke or take a joke?” These are things that are important to the culture here, so these are questions that I’m constantly asking candidates when their potentially looking for jobs, including “Why First Book? Why would you want a job here?”

Roxana: I think that’s the kind of environment that we come to everyday that makes it really easy to come to work, and I think we get to celebrate it with traditions that we sort of look forward to. I’m going to say one that I enjoy a lot just because I think it defines, for me, First Book – it’s our Halloween celebration. Because we go all out, people get very creative and very competitive about “What are we going to do for Halloween? Because we have to come up top. We’re going to have to really rock it this year.” And people are so committed to the work that they find ways to put thematic/themes into their costumes and just really have a lot of fun, so that makes coming to work really, really special.

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Paula: We not only do that through our program such as the Stories For All program in which we try to bring to schools titles that speak to minorities and different groups of people, but we also do a lot of that within the organization. Wherever you look in the offices here in Washington, you’re going to see a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, and First Book does a great job of making them feel inclusive, included in every single thing that we do as an organization.

Chandler: I was going to talk about work life balance, which maybe I don’t achieve so well all the time, but, in a way , I kind of love that because work life balance sort of implies that the thing that you do during the day is somehow other than who you are at core. And I think for me and I think for a lot of us here, I get a lot of my identity out of this organization and who we are in terms of the work that we’re doing together.

 

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Chandler: I think one thing that I’m really proud of with regard to our culture is really trying to encourage a culture of innovation. I think that a lot of groups do that and they tend to focus on good innovative ideas that work, which is great, but we also really try to celebrate good innovative ideas that fail.

The way we do that is something called the First Book Brick Award and our Brick Wall Award, sort of illustrating the fact that we know that sometimes you have a great idea and for whatever reason, you hit a brick wall and it doesn’t work. But the thing that we want to celebrate is the people that have ideas that really are passionate about them. They think about ways to lay them out. They don’t let a fear of failure stop them from sort of pushing the boundaries of creativity, pushing the limits of what we usually do, challenging conventions that we might always have held in the past. So by purposefully calling out once a year the best ideas that failed, we really try to encourage everyone to not let the fear of failure prevent them from trying that thing that might really propel us forward.

Denver: I want to thank Joyce Johansson who helped organize my visit and to all those who participated, Anna Anderson, Chandler Arnold, Jennifer Cobb, Michael Jones, Dan Stokes, Roxana Barillas and Paula Neira. Podcast, transcript and pictures of the participants in the office of the First Book are all up on 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 Save the Children

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: Today, we’re going to drive up to Interstate 95 to Fairfield, Connecticut in the offices of Save The Children. It is often to difficult for legacy organization — and Save The Children will be 100 years in 2019 — to create modern and nimble work cultures to engage their employees. But as you’re about to hear, Save The Children had done just that. We’ll begin with their President and CEO, Carolyn Miles, and then hear from members of the staff. 

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Office of Save The ChildrenCarolyn: This is one of the things that I think makes me proudest of Save the Children. When people say to me: “ Which is one of your proudest things?” This is it. Because people are the things that Save the Children has. We don’t make widgets or pens.  We make change for children, and we do it through people. So, the only way we can be successful is by having great people

 

 

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Carolyn Miles and Denver Frederick

BradBut also we have a culture here that it’s ever-changing work. If you’re interested in something and doing something new, the opportunities are here. In the 11 years, I can’t think of one day I’ve been bored in my job

 

Michele: So, one of my favorite events that I think sets Save the Children apart from other organizations is Founder’s Day. Every year, we celebrate our founder Eglantyne Jebb by bringing staff all over the world together. We celebrate through our service award milestones. We celebrate our highest achieving award called the President’s Award, but more importantly, we bring staff together with their families, their children, our partners and donors, and we encourage everyone to join in that celebration. And that for me says it all.  We’re a true family that works together, that collaborates to serve the mission and set that example for all of the people around us.

Grace-Ann: Also, one thing that I really love about here is the “Carolyn Chats.” I love when she sits down in an informal setting and just talks to us. We are able to ask any question. You don’t feel like you’re left out, you have nothing to say. Whatever concerns you have, you’re able to bring it to the CEO of the company. This is something I have never seen, not in my experience. So this was a welcome experience, continues to be, and it’s something I look forward to. I make sure the minute it comes on my calendar, I accept. So it is really, really good, I think.

Brad: Carolyn decided to rename it after our founder, who is Eglantyne Jebb. So it’s the “Eggie” and it’s a peer-driven award, and it’s not about merit or how great they’ve done or what they’ve succeeded in. It’s someone chooses the next person based on our values of the organization – integrity, accountability, collaboration, creativity, innovation. So if you feel there’s a peer who embodies those values, you can pass it on. But what’s so nice about it is that people take it very seriously. People come out in tears and it gets passed and it doesn’t stay within small workgroups. It gets passed across the organization to people you will never remember

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Jordyn: The thing that I’ll share is we have something here called the “Charlie [Sam] Fund.” So that is a program that HR runs and it’s targeted to employees who may not get the opportunity to go out in the field. It’s a grant that allows employees around the agency, no matter what office you’re a part of, to go out and actually see our programs and potentially implement your expertise of what your role is. So if, say, you work in finance but you don’t necessarily see the programs that you help fund or if you’re only doing finance internally, you might actually go and be able to provide your finance expertise to a program in the field and how they operate and see the work that’s being done. And so that happens annually and I have colleagues who have taken advantage of it and it’s been incredibly impactful for them, and I think very unique to our organization.

Michele: So unlike many organizations at our level and the nonprofit sector, very rarely do you see a group like ours invest so many resources, time and energy into programs like this. So everybody talks about leadership development, but these programs are different. They’re not about “here are the five things you need to do to be an effective leader.” They’ve very introspective. They’re about who are you as a person, going deep into the core. We spend a week with senior leadership or leadership at all levels from all over the world, not just the US, and we talk about “Who are you? How do people perceive you? How do you want to be perceived? What is your brand?” and we go real deep.

Erin: Save the Children is going to launch Workplace by Facebook. It was formerly called Facebook At Work. But it’s really about having that same kind of accessible, easy to use, friendly way to see where your colleagues are around the country and around the world, and to interact with them almost seamlessly. We all get up in the morning and check Facebook without even thinking the idea of workplace is that you can similarly, in an environment that’s appropriate, connect and see where your colleagues are and exchange information or photos, potentially documents, but it’s really more about how we sort of interact with each other in a social, virtual workplace. Because we’re not going to see each other every day, and often, we go years on phone calls with people and never get to see them in person.

Brad: But we have coaches that come in and something must’ve happened. Someone must’ve really advocated and realized that if we don’t change our corporate culture, people aren’t going to stick around here. So it’s more than the red walls, and even these red walls you see are new. The colorful, the cheerfulness of our office, it’s very fun, but it used to not be like that either. But that’s also superficial in a way. I think things like the leadership development go a little deeper and take commitment and time and money. And so that has happened somehow.

 

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Offices of Save The Children

Erin: I really think that culture is driven by behavior. It’s not words. It’s not language, it’s not something on a page or a framework or a PowerPoint slide. It really is what you do every day all day long that everybody else sees.

And so even though we do find time to have a little fun and we do invest to go to our leadership development programs, it is a hard-charging environment and a place of great ambition, and so I don’t want to lose sight of that. That when you work at Save the Children, there are very high expectations and they’re set by people who are completely, a 110% dedicated to what they are doing every day, and you see them physically,  the manifestation of that effort. Whether it’s in a crisis or just every day, people who work at Save the Children are working extraordinarily hard and we’re trying to work smarter and smarter and more efficiently.

Michele: And again what helps Save the Children stand out from other organizations is that sometimes it’s taboo to have a conversation with your manager and talk about what your next move might be, if it’s outside of your current role. Here, it’s highly encouraged. We can’t always promise internal mobility in that same pipeline. It depends on the division, the department, what your role is, what kind of work you’re doing. But what we can promise is that there’s plenty of opportunity for that, and that discussion is what your crafts the staff that we have, the caliber of people. And it constantly keeps people motivated and inspired to keep doing great work for children.

Brad: And then we have some great online resources, how to give the negative feedback. And we get taught and trained how do you do that while still inspiring but still ensuring that people are accountable for their work.

Jordyn: We have something here called the “Innovation Pipeline,” and I think that as a nonprofit, what I’m seeing here is a real emphasis on growth and how to be the best in our sector and how to really push ourselves to deliver for children in need.

Grace-Ann: And I think one of the things that you would not know about Save the Children unless you were physically here or working here is just the amount of work we do. As Michele said, you can be here a year and still not get a grasp, a full grasp of all the work we do. They try to help with that by having lots of brown bags and I get to participate in so many of those so you get to see all the different programs and all that stuff that’s offered. But there is just so much that we do.

Jordyn: International Day of the Girl falls on October 11 and we’re so excited to work on that last year, and it was an integrated campaign across multiple divisions within the agency. So it was marketing working with media working with sponsorship working with corporate partnerships. So there was no possible way for us not to be communicating and sharing ideas. And that’s something that I really am looking forward to in the coming year. I think because we’re so vast, there are times where we have siloed information whether it be vertical or horizontal but these campaigns and moments in particular are opportunities for everyone to share their ideas and for their voices to be heard and to work together for that ambition and that accountability that we’re all talking about. It’s just so exciting to have people with different perspectives, different expertise sharing their ideas. And so that integration and that breakdown of silos when we work on these campaigns I think is really special.

Denver: I wanna thank Carolyn Miles for allowing The Business of Giving to come to their headquarters and to all those who participated in the segment: Jordyn Linsk, Grace-Ann Campbell, Brad Kerner, Michele Gruner and Erin Bradshaw. 

Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for the transcript of this podcast as well as my full interview with Carolyn Miles.

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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 Office of The Nature Conservancy

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


 

Transcript

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

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

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

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Denver Frederick and Mark Tercek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Generations United

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


Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Venture For America

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


Transcript

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

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

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Denver Frederick and Andrew Yang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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