corporate culture

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.

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Population Services International (PSI)

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


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Transcript

Denver: And this week’s Better Than Most takes us to Washington, D.C., at the offices of Population Services International or PSI, one the blue chip names in global health. 

We’re going to start with Kate Roberts who leads the Maverick Collective, one of the initiatives of PSI, and then hear from other members of the staff.

Kate: Well, first of all, I should say that PSI is one of the largest health organizations in the world that nobody has ever heard of. We have about 9,000 employees… big organization. We have about $600 million annual budget. PSI focuses on market solutions for health programs. So we’re obsessed with measurement, and really our goal is to provide universal health care to the poor.

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Kate Roberts and Denver Frederick

Maria: I really want to talk about Karl Hofmann, our CEO. I like to say he’s like the godfather I always wanted. I’ve been to meetings with him, conferences abroad with him, and he’s always been incredibly accessible, very easy to talk to. He’s been very high up in his diplomatic career. He has “ambassador” in front of his title if you want to get technical, but he’s so easy to talk to. He has brown bags every quarter with all 250 of us. I just love Karl. He’s my favorite.

Pierre: Let me speak from the heart to say that one of the reasons that I value working at PSI is around this corporate culture of honesty. And what does that mean in practice? One of the beautiful things– when I moved here in Washington about 2014– that I started seeing was people admitting when things were going wrong, people admitting when they made mistakes. And that goes from Karl Hoffman to anybody else in the organization. And it’s (a) a really refreshing thing because it allows people to make mistakes; (b) it’s really productive because it means that it lances the boil of tension that is caused when people are quickly trying to find blame, and allows people to just move on, find a solution, and as my colleagues have been saying, “get things done.” So, honesty.

Kristely: So I graduated from GW in MPH program about two years ago, and I remember being in school, and PSI always coming up as a golden star in global health. So when you see or hear about PSI, you think it’s like the “Ivy League” of global health. So coming here, I was really excited about it, but I was also scared because it’s the “Ivy League” of public health. But I was really surprised to see that work-life balance is really important here.

Yasmin: I think if somebody were to say what makes PSI different from any other organization in development, it’s the value we put on action, and that’s right from our country programs to everybody here. We deal with intractable problems in development. It can seem like it’ll take a lifetime to do things like find the fix for HIV or malaria, but what PSI has managed to do through numbers, through programs, is make that real. So every single employee in this building… or in any of our field programs—and we have 9,000 of those in about 50 countries—will be able to say what they did today that led to a better market, or a better program for somebody that they have identified as their consumer… right that day. I think very few organizations in development can give that link of my action to my impact… to what gets measured for the whole organization.

Taylor: Someone with a lot of energy is a PSIer, and I think another key factor of being a PSIer, which I didn’t know when I started but ended up working out nicely with my personality, is a high degree of irreverence. I don’t think many PSIers take themselves very seriously. I think there’s a lot of trying to keep things light. As Yasmin said, we deal with some really serious issues, and you could get kind of bogged down in that, and that’s not the vibe at PSI at all. Fun, like people just really bringing their full selves.

img_1440Sandy: And what I love about PSI is that we have this—it’s actually part of our character– we’re locally rooted, but globally connected. PSI and the nature of this organization is that many of what we call our affiliates or members are actually locally grown organizations. They have their own boards of directors. They have their own staff that come from the local population. So for me, it’s really good to see that ideas are coming from the countries themselves and not just being dictated from Washington.

Yasmin: I was going to say I love the question:  “How do you unite 9,000 people over 50 countries to make them feel part of an organization?” Internet and social media is one answer, and we do it the old-fashioned way. If you ask anybody anywhere in the world who works for PSI: “Why do you wake up in the morning?” They’re going to say, “Sara”.  And what we mean by that is our consumer. We don’t say the marginalized population. We don’t say beneficiaries. We don’t say people who need our assistance. We give them the dignity of being a consumer. We give her a name, and we really make an effort to study who she is, what motivates her, what is her life like beyond the health problem. You can show up anywhere in any language, and that’s what brings 9,000 employees together. We wake up for our consumer, to give her the choice of living the life she wants and having the family she desires. And that sounds like a mission statement and, honestly, it is.  But it’s a mission statement I think 9,000 people with or without social media relate to.

Taylor: It’s just very exciting. My former team had a stuntman on it. So he had worked in Los Angeles. He’s in the Screen Actors Guild. He was a stuntman in LA for a few years. Then he got into innovation and doing design thinking and brought that to PSI. We had another person on staff who worked for Sesame Street and worked in public television, brought playfulness and that childlike quality which we have in spades at PSI. Karl, the ambassador background is not necessarily public health focus. So, yes, I think there’s just a very diverse set of perspectives and hopefully, it’s not an echo chamber. You don’t put out an idea and everyone nods their head and says, “Yes. That’s exactly right.” You have people saying, “Well, what if we did it this way?” or “I disagree with that.” Just adds to the quality of the work we put out.

img_1459Denver: Special thanks to Maria Dieter for organizing my visit, and to the others who also participated in the segment: Taylor Schaffter, Sandy Garcon, Pierre Moon, Kristely Bastien and Yasmin Madan. Now, if you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we have this podcast with the transcript and pictures of the participants and the offices of Population Services International.


*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.

David Wippman, President of Hamilton College, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between David Wippman, President of Hamilton College, Aron Ain, Member of the Board of Trustees, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

151211_hml_wippman_015cropDenver: There hasn’t been a Broadway show that has captured the public’s imagination in quite the same way that “Hamilton”  has.  And, Oh, about 250 miles northwest of Broadway, in Clinton, New York, there’s another Hamilton.  And this one has captured the attention of scholars, parents and students. It’s Hamilton College, named after the subject of that Broadway musical. And it’s a pleasure for me to welcome to the show the President of Hamilton College, David Wippman, as well as a member of their Board of Trustees, Aron Ain. Good evening, gentlemen, and thanks for being with us this evening!

David: Thanks so much for having us.

Aron: Yes, thank you.

Denver: David, for those listeners who may not be familiar with Hamilton College, tell us about the school and its history.

David: So, we like to say that before there was the musical, there was the college, and I’d say it’s about 200 years before. The college actually started as a project of a man named Reverend Samuel Kirkland in 1793.  And he set up an academy that was intended to educate the children of white settlers in the area, and the children of Oneida Indians. He went to George Washington for support for his educational plan and got his support, and that of Alexander Hamilton, who eventually lent his name to the college. The three chartered it as a college in 1812, and not too many years ago, we celebrated the bicentennial. So it’s a residential liberal arts college of about 1,900 students located in Clinton, New York.

Denver: Which is where?

David: Clinton, New York is about four hours from New York City. It’s about an hour, a little less, east of Syracuse.

What need-blind does is make it possible for anyone to apply to the college, whether they have an ability to pay the full tuition–or any tuition, in fact, or any fees–to go to the college.

Denver: Aron, let me ask you about something that is quite unique to Hamilton. There are not many colleges and universities that are “need-blind” when it comes to admission… three, perhaps four dozen in the entire country. What exactly does it mean to be need-blind and how did the school ultimately come to this decision?

Aron: Sure. Hamilton has always been a college that really takes very seriously its role in making itself available to students of all backgrounds, all abilities.  And as you know, colleges today are quite expensive. And so the college– part of its ethos– is that it wants to be as open and available to as many people as possible. So, what need-blind does is make it possible for anyone to apply to the college, whether they have an ability to pay the full tuition– or any tuition, in fact, or any fees– to go to the college. So the admissions department does not take into account whether someone has the ability to pay to go to school when we’re making decisions about who can come to the school.

Now, this is not easy to do. It really took the deep support of lots of people who love Hamilton, including the trustees and parents and staff and faculty and a broad group of supporters– that raised over $40 million, starting in 2010– to go and create an endowment to be able to make it possible for Hamilton to be need-blind. And today, Hamilton is completely need-blind. Anyone who gets in and has a demonstrated need… that they need financial support… can come and be part of Hamilton College

Denver: That’s absolutely fantastic. And this all happened spontaneously at a meeting here in New York at the Yale Club?

Aron: That’s right. So it was a dream of the leadership. The staff, the executive leadership of the school, the professionals, as well as members of the board wanted to do it and came up with how much it was going to cost.  And it was determined that it was going to cost about $2 million a year to be need-blind– the additional financial aid that was required.  And if you think about an endowment, it meant to raise about $40 million of endowed funds.  We thought how long would that take. And at that meeting, members of the board of trustees, one by one, raised their hand and said, “Let’s not wait. I’ll pledge this; I’ll pledge that; I’ll pledge this!” And before the meeting was over, there was enough money raised to get the need-blind started immediately. Really a wonderful moment!  And really a reflection of what the values of the school are!

Hamilton is preparing students for a lifetime of not just economic success and career success,… but we’re preparing them for lives of meaning and purpose, and that’s something that you can’t really put a price tag on.

Denver: Absolutely. That is a great moment in Hamilton history. Well, let’s talk a little bit, David, about the cost of college. As you know, in recent years people have questioned the value of a college education, and specifically, a liberal arts education. Accenture did a college graduate survey, and 51% of college graduates consider themselves to be underemployed. A Gallup poll recently came out indicating that 42% of Americans  believe college is not necessary for success.  That is a 13% drop from 2009. So, what do you make of these findings?  And what’s the case you would make today for getting a liberal arts education?

David: So, it may be true that college isn’t necessary for success, but I can tell you it’s an enormous advantage. And if you look at the data, what I think you’ll find is that there is a huge wage premium for anyone with a four-year college degree.  And the better the institution you attend, the more likely you are to benefit from that premium. I also would say to people, it’s probably a mistake to focus only on dollars and cents when you’re looking at return on investment. We are preparing students for a lifetime of not just economic success and career success, although we do do that, but we’re preparing them for lives of meaning and purpose.  And that’s something that you can’t really put a price tag on.

So, what I would say to parents or to students who are concerned about reports that you can’t do well with a liberal arts degree: The statistics don’t bear that out. Our graduates are doing great, and so are graduates of peer institutions. You may have to be a little bit more creative sometimes in your career search, but you are given the tools you need to succeed.  And you’re given the tools you need to have a really rich and productive life.

Denver: Very well said. And I think you’re also looking at nations who are looking at GDP and wondered how we ever got to the point where we measure the success of the nation based on GDP, and GDP alone. It really seems to be quite limited. Is the concept of a liberal arts education changing in the 21st century, where you are embedding engineering and computer science and so on, or is it still pretty much the classical one we all think of? (more…)