nonprofit culture

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of One Acre Fund

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here:

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. 

IMG_2690 (1)



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.


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.

IMG_2708 (1)

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.

IMG_2701 (1)

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, 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.

IMG_2698 (1)

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of United Way Worldwide

We have found a new home! Kindly visit this link in our new website here:

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at