Nonprofit

Candice Schmitt, Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon,Talks About Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

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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Candice Schmitt © teamrubiconusa.org

Denver: It is no coincidence that the very best nonprofit organizations also happen to be the very best places to work. And that is certainly true in the case of Team Rubicon. And here to discuss it with us is Candice Schmitt, the Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon.

Good evening, Candice, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Candice: Thank you so much. Happy to be talking to you.

Our mission is really dual purpose. We provide the service to communities that have been affected by disasters, by helping residents begin the cleanup process and by continuing their service after taking off their uniform.

Denver: Before we look at your corporate culture and work environment, tell us about Team Rubicon and the mission and objectives of the organization.

Candice: Sure. Team Rubicon is a veteran-led disaster response organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans, the first responders, to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. So that is the boots on the ground just as soon as the disasters strike. They’re usually there within 24 hours doing recon work and finding out how we can help building relationships at the local agency and seeing how we can best support them. And our mission is really dual purpose. We provide the service to communities that have been affected by disasters, by helping residents begin the cleanup process and by continuing their service after taking off their uniform.

Team Rubicon helps the veterans rediscover a sense of purpose, community and identity which is often lost after separating from the military. We’re really motivated by both of those things and I think it makes us a really unique player in the space.

Denver: Great mission. Well, some organizations might say they have a feedback culture. I know others describe them and they’ll say this, “Hey, we have a coaching culture or a data-driven culture”. What word or phrase would you use to describe your culture?

Candice: I would say our culture is truly like a family. And I think some organization say that because their employees hangout outside of work or know a lot about each other’s personal lives. And here, when I say that, I mean we communicate with candor and there’s an unspoken bond that exists among us. So, it’s a raw and honest and sometimes dysfunctional culture or community of people. And I believe, it’s a version of the camaraderie that exists in the military because we are such a military-centric group. But as one of our kick-ass civilian team member who can’t speak to, at first hand, to what the culture is like in the military, I can say it reminds me a whole lot of growing up in a family of six. So much love, so much chaos and yet you’d have it no other way.

Denver: Well described. What are some of the things that leadership does to sort of influence and shape the culture there?

Candice: I think the biggest thing that they do is they’re really just part of it. They’re just one of us. We’re a very flat organization. They’re approachable, easy to talk to and similar to how parents would in a household, like when they sense tension or a little bit of angst among the group, we all get called together to clear the air. They pave the road but then get out of the way for us and I think that’s how they lead by example and reinforce our camaraderie or culture.

Denver: Well, in every household, sometimes there’s a way of getting things done. And looking at your family, how does work get done at Team Rubicon?

Candice: This actually hits on a couple of our cultural maxims. First is our attitude and approach. And so, to those two things, we have a couple of things we see around here. One is everyone has a role and we know it. We know we can’t all be good at everything so we rely pretty heavily on our expert in a variety of subject matters. And sometimes, those experts are interns and sometimes, the experts are our C-suite staff. So, we pull in the people who know the subject matter best on the team regardless of their level. And we have an attitude that we describe as just gets shit done, whatever you need to do to get it done. We’re highly collaborative via in-person meetings, video conference, and we’re pretty motivated by a challenge. So I think, the combination of those things is really nothing that we don’t get done and we get it done just working together and removing roadblocks from each other’s way.

 

 

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Team Rubicon’s Cultural Principles © glassdoor.com

 

Denver: Well, you know an organizational culture is built around values. And so many values of organizations kind of either sit on a piece of paper or on a website. How do your values get animated, communicated and then reinforced?

Candice: We do have the piece of paper as well. So we have them codified  And within that document, we have more than just a list of our culture or values and what they mean but we also have a quote and a story to help bring that value to life for our staff. Our cultural values are not defined as the things that people possess when we hire them into our team but more the guiding stars as we make decisions in a highly autonomous environment. So these are, absent policy and procedure, we want these seven principles to guide your way. And so, we do have them documented. We have them on the walls of our offices. We have them in all of our conference rooms. So, they’re highly visible.

When we have new hires come on, they spend 45 minutes to an hour with our CEO and COO going over each of these principles and what they mean, what they look like in real life. So, following on to largely military stories or different events from history that reinforce these values. We use examples within TR’s history on where we’ve seen these values applied. They’re also built into our employee recognition programs so that we are reinforcing the behavior that we feel is consistent with these guidelines, again just so all staff really understands what they look like in real life. So the new hire orientation, they’re weaved into our programs and we always find a way to get them into content that’s presented at our all staff meetings. So, whether it’s just using the language or referring back to them, recognizing again, employees who really standout as those living by these guiding stars, we try and just make sure that they’re very much alive, active and referenced in everything that we do.

It’s the passion. Hands down, it’s passion. Everyone coming in, everyone going through our interview process, the folks I talk to who are leaving all say the same thing, the Wow is the passion. Everyone is here for something bigger than themselves. And that creates a really unstoppable force and an incredible energy that’s hard to describe. Nobody is here for themselves or the paycheck. It’s for something bigger than any of us can achieve individually.

Denver: Great stuff. Well, if I was one of those new hires, and let’s say I had been working there three months, and somebody were to ask me, what is the Wow of Team Rubicon, what do you think I might say?

Candice: It’s the passion. Hands down, it’s passion. Everyone coming in, everyone going through our interview process, the folks I talk to who are leaving all say the same thing, the Wow is the passion. Everyone is here for something bigger than themselves. And that creates a really unstoppable force and an incredible energy that’s hard to describe. Nobody is here for themselves or the paycheck. It’s for something bigger than any of us can achieve individually.

Denver: A lot of people in non-profit organizations leave those organizations because there’s just no clear road to advancement. There’s no place where they can go. What kind of things do you do to help promote the personal and professional development of an employee?

Candice: There’s a ton that we do. The beauty of being a small organization is we really have the opportunity to understand each person’s individual ambitions, skills, weaknesses for that matter. We do skills assessments to find strengths and how we can leverage them in people’s existing roles. Then we also have the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations whether it’s between people ops and our employees or employees and their managers to really dive into where they want to go and what it’s going to take to get them there. I’m actually really excited to say, in preparation for this, I just checked because I felt like I’d really been seeing a lot of advancement this year, and we haven’t even entered the year-end review cycle and we’ve already seen 21 of our 74 staff receive formal recognition of increased responsibility, increased scope and that’s through title changes, compensation increases, and just being recognized for really taking their role to the next level. We’re just at a point right now where everybody here really writes their own future. And for some folks, they’re really content in the role that they’re in and they want to continue to contribute in that way but for a lot of our folks here, they are looking for that next step and we offer certifications. We offer advanced education. But you have to come to us and tell us this is where I want to go and here’s how I want to get there. What do you think and it’s a really collaborative effort but when we’re very supportive of keeping our rising stars. We’re really excited about where we’re seeing people go and our future leaders really taking shape.

Denver: You also sound like you’re a kind place where people get a lot of feedback on how they’re doing.

Candice: Absolutely. We have the performance review process which is our formal feedback system and that’s every six months. However, we are, like I said, just like a family and that candor comes back into play here, we give feedback often in real time and very directly. It’s an environment that’s incredibly open to it and we’re very receptive and everyone, again, being here for something bigger than yourself, it’s very easy to redirect and apply that feedback because you know the impact it’s going to have is greater than just making you a better professional. It’s the ability to execute our mission with more efficiency and to be able to help more communities, more people, more veteran. So generally, feedback is given in real time and it’s just formalized twice a year and solicited twice a year but we request feedback or solicit feedback at all levels and we also do it as an organization from our employees via an employee satisfaction survey.

Denver: What role does technology and social media play in sort of joining the group together and promoting the workplace culture?

Candice: I think, it’s the same as anywhere else on this one, and word of mouth is actually our biggest asset. People who have touched the organization in some capacity, as a volunteer through the recruitment process, whether they saw us on- we’ve gotten a lot of media around our efforts in Houston so that has been pretty powerful but I think people are really drawn in by the mission and the culture that we display via social media. I don’t know if you’ve had an opportunity to see some of our videos.

Denver: I have.

Candice: But if you check them out, I dare you not to be drawn in.

Denver: They’re fantastic. They really are.

Candice: So I think, it’s really just a way to highlight our mission and that organically just draws in all the people we need.

Denver: In addition to the surveys that you use, do you use any kind of data analytics to measure employee engagement?

Candice: We’re not really doing much on that now to be honest. We’ve looked at it but we have, again, the small group really lets you dive in. Once I do that broader survey, it’s a 12-question survey, I can kind of dig in. People always raise their hand. We offer it up to be anonymous. People are always disclosing information saying, “Hey, I’d love to talk more about this”. So, we haven’t really found a need to run any analytics. We still have a pretty good handle on it at this size.

Denver: Sounds like you do. So, diversity, inclusion and equity is on the top of everyone’s list. But the places I’ve been, it is so, so very difficult to actually put into place. What have you done around that?

Candice: One of our advisory board members does this for a living in DC so they’re really high level, and he actually brought that up to us in seeing some of our social media posts, more centered around our member-base. Do we have enough diversity and inclusion within our member-base? So we held a sensing session earlier, I believe in April of this year, to see if it’s something that we need to put broader initiative around and by and large, people felt like we were very inclusive and welcoming environment. Then we listened to several stories where folks had seen different minority groups or women in leadership roles and all these things and were very impressed with what we are doing. So, I think it something we’re going to continue to monitor and always have, like you said, top of our minds just like everybody else. But, we didn’t feel like there was a need to launch any major initiatives on that and certainly, from a full-time staff perspective, we have a very diverse group and as we open new positions, we always check the pulse and make sure, “Hey, where could we do a better job diversifying?” and we keep that always in mind and balance it with getting the very best people in every seat on the bus.

Denver: It’s a work that’s never done. It’s always in progress.

Candice: Yeah. Exactly.

It’s that flexibility and adults-only mentality that people enjoy most about Team Rubicon.

Denver: What are some of the best perks there that the team really seems to like?

Candice: It’s a little bit of a different approach when you are in the nonprofit space and people are motivated by the mission and the passion that they have for that mission. So, I think what people would describe as the best perk of Team Rubicon are going to be our adults-only environment. So, it’s another one of our cultural maxims I’m referencing there. We expect everybody to treat each other with trust and respect and as long as you’re doing that, you know you have a lot of freedom, you have a lot of flexibility and autonomy and decision making authority, and I think people really enjoy that because it gives them the opportunity to have maximum impact on our mission and really maximize their investment at Team Rubicon. I think that’s probably the number one perk.

In addition to that, we do, as I spoke to earlier, make significant investment in development opportunities. So, whether it’s conferences or certifications, we’re really committed to having folks leave here better than they came and they are committed to leaving TR better than it was when they came. And I think that dual commitment really is a perk and in addition to that, we have the work from home flexibility, really flexible work hours. We do catered lunches, happy hours. We have gyms in our offices. So, all of that but I really think it’s that flexibility and adults-only mentality that people enjoy most about Team Rubicon.

Denver: And just speak, in closing, people are more worried about that and that has to do with the work-life balance. Because I know in organizations where your people have tremendous passion, there is also the danger of burning out. So, what are the things that you do to maintain that work-life balance among the team?

Candice: Absolutely. It is really hard to get people to step away. That passion is a double edge sword and we’re very aware of that. Our CEO calls staff together regularly to ask them when their next PTO, “When are you unplugging next? You’re going to need to take a week off by the end of the quarter.” In the nature of our business, it’s very hard. There are only certain times that we can really force people to do that and still keep the trains on time.

The military believes “You take care of us by taking care of yourself” and we really enforce that idea so we will force days off. We force people to unplug. We give alternate days off for those who are hourly]. We don’t want to see you stressed out. We do have track-free PTO so that folks can step away when it allows but we really are one of those workplaces that practices the integration of work and life. So, people are pretty free to come and go to take care of their personal life and I think by not forcing those really strict office hours and giving that flexibility, we can help ease the stress for those who just really have a hard time stepping away.

Recently, we had an all staff meeting to kind of reflect on how Hurricane Harvey from both an operational response perspective and a fundraising perspective may have changed the course we see around the future of Team Rubicon because it certainly has. And in that, when we recognize those who are exemplifying our cultural standards, we talked about the difference between when we talk about our quote “Gets shit done” motto or value, we put up there what that did look like and what it didn’t look like. And under what it didn’t look like, it was not the person who lived at our ops center 24 hours. You have to take care of yourself to be able to be productive, to be highly effective. We need everybody at the top of their game and that means at some time, you have to give yourself that mental and physical break. And so, we don’t recognize or give praise to the person who’s working round the clock, 24/7. We give praise to the person who put in the long day but then knew it was time to step away and take a break and cover down for themselves. And I think, that’s kind of what we do to promote the work-life balance or work-life integration as we refer to it.

Denver: And as you said, adults-only. Well, Candice Schmitt, the Director of People Operations at Team Rubicon, thanks for joining us this evening. Where can people go to learn more about the organization and the work that you do?

Candice: Absolutely. www.teamrubiconusa.org.

Denver: Thanks, Candice. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Candice: Thank you so much. Appreciate it.


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

Jane Davis, CEO of Ability Beyond, Talks About Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

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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Jane Davis © abilitybeyond.org

Denver: One of the very best places to work in a non-profit sector is an organization called Ability Beyond, which is headquartered up in Connecticut. And here to tell us what makes it special is their president and CEO, Jane Davis.

Good evening, Jane, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Jane: Thank you so much, Thanks for having me.

Denver: First, tell us about Ability Beyond, the mission and goals of the organization.

Jane: Sure. Ability Beyond is a non-profit organization. We’re in Connecticut and New York. And we serve over [03:21] people a year. Our mission statement is to discover, build and celebrate ability in all people. We serve people with disabilities of all kinds but mostly, folks with developmental disabilities, people that are on the autism spectrum, people with mental illness, and traumatic brain injury survivors. And we do that through employment services and through transition of services helping young adults go from school to work. We serve people in our family home. We serve people in apartments that need help with daily living. Family operate a number of group homes in Connecticut and New York and have a bunch of other services from certified special Olympics program and a bocce ball team, and service coordination. We do a whole plethora of services.

We have five offices but our main headquarters is in Connecticut, in Bethel, and our New York office is in Chappaqua in Westchester. Then we also have two sort of unique thing about Ability Beyond, and maybe we can talk more about them.

We have a rose farm in Gilford, Connecticut on the shore where we operate a business called Roses for Autism. We grow Connecticut grown roses there and that entire business is supported and a training ground for people on the autism spectrum of developmental disability. And we also sort of offset our cost thereby selling the most beautiful roses you can get anywhere and we ship anywhere in the United States at rosesforautism.com.

We also have a consulting service called Disability Solutions. I’ll tell you more about that hopefully because part of our inclusion, in adversity, nationally where we help corporations welcome people’s disabilities into their workforce.

Denver: We’ll before we get into the culture piece of it, why don’t you give us a word about that.

Jane: Sure. I’d love to. We have been providing employment services for people with disabilities for decades. So, we started in 1953. We’ve been in this business a really long time. Most people understand the value of work in a person’s life and it gives you a sense of purpose and helps people be a valued member of the society. So, we are really into helping people find jobs and we’re very good at that. We’ve been good at that for decades and recently, there’s been incentivizations for corporations to hire people with disabilities as part of their diversity programs and we thought, “You know what? We really know how to do that well. We know how to help corporations do that.” And we’re Medicaid business here, so we’re always operating at a loss. And we thought, “Okay, that might be a win-win for us. It can help offset our losses by offering consulting services but also help people with disability to find jobs across the country”.

So, we launched Disability Solutions and we have some great clients like American Express and Pepsi and Synchrony Financial and many others where we’re helping them figure out employment gaps that they have as a corporation and helping them hire people with disabilities into their workforce. And the business case behind that is that it helps meet the job-gap needs that corporations have and it really empowers the diversion and equality in the workplace. It gives you a more robust and inclusive culture and we also talk about the retention rate being improved and the hire rates being faster when we’re involved and we are hiring people with disabilities. And the buying power of the disability community and the loyalty there is also a huge sell for corporations. So, it’s been win-win-win-win-win for the companies that we’ve been working with and we’ve done all kinds of great work all across the country and consultants working for us across the country. It actually just went international because we were not too long ago in India, working with Synchrony Financial, and helping them figure out how they can meet some job-gap needs in India for the first time.

Denver: Well, that is an extraordinary breadth of services, not to mention, enterprises which help support those services. In order to be able to do that all successfully, you have to have a really engaged and motivated workforce. So, let’s turn our attention to the corporate culture of Ability Beyond. Some people describe their cultures as a coaching culture, a data-driven culture, feedback culture. What word or phrase would you use to describe your culture?

Jane: I think that we’ve had, I think something like six names for our organization in the last six years. We’ve changed our name multiple times. And the name that we have now, Ability Beyond, has evolved from other names. But to me, our name Ability Beyond, and our mission statement: discover, building and celebrating the ability in all people really does capture our culture not just for how we approach the services that we provide to the people we serve. Our job is to help them move beyond disability and find what their abilities are so they can move forward and be always moving forward. And it really, kind of, how we approach our business. We always want to be doing better. We want to be moving forward. Do we want to be growing and figuring how can we do our job better? How can we move our workforce and empower them more? So, I really think our Ability Beyond kind of captures the work that we’re trying to do and thus that feeling of moving beyond today.

Denver: Right. Never happy with the status quo as what it sounds like. Always trying to get better every single day. Talk to me a little bit about your core values and how you communicate and then reinforce the core values of the organization.

Jane: It’s funny that you’re asking us that now because we have the pillars of our business.  We have our mission statement. We have our values written down. We’ve had them for decades and we actually have an organizational objective this year. So, we have strategic things that we’re always working on and every year, we have organizational goals that we’re measuring against. And this year, in particular, we wanted to redefine our culture and our values and make sure that we’re defining them a little more dynamically and correctly and constantly. The values that we have here, I think right now, we have something like 12 or 15 values. They’re all right. They’re all great. We’ve got transparency. We’ve got excellence. We have all those words I think most companies have. So, we’re actually trying to define them this year as a team working with everybody – the people we serve, our families, our direct support staff to redefine them in a more dynamic way, a way that’s a little more us.

So, you have to stay tuned for that. But exactly how we’re writing it. But I love that we’re ready to kind of rebrand who we are and keep it a little more synced and dynamic.

Denver: Yeah. I hear you. It sounds you want to keep the essence of all those values intact. But just crystalize them a little bit better and animate them some more and make them a bit more contemporary and a little bit more up-to-date where people can relate to them better than they have perhaps and as always, part of what you just said a moment ago, we’re never being happy with the status quo but take all what you have, as good as it is, and always trying to make it better.

What would you say with the “Wow” of working at Ability Beyond is? When somebody comes to work there, what is the thing that, when they’ve been there for a little bit, they just say: “Man, this is something special.”

Jane: I really think that the “Wow” and the “Wow’ that’s kept me here for 33 years is that it is fun! The work that we do is really fun and I think the fact that our leadership team, our board, our direct support staff are focused on the work that we do and that’s the direct service to a person with a disability and there’s really nothing better than helping someone achieve a goal. Whether it’s small like relearning how to brush their teeth, to getting their first job, to transitioning to their first department or even helping someone end of life. It’s really special, special work. And to me, that’s the “Wow” factor. And I think our feeling of support of the organization and the leadership team here to support that work is the other part of the “Wow”.

Denver: So many people who work in non-profit organizations complain that there is no road to advancement. There is no place to go. What do you do to sort of help promote the people’s possibilities and invest in their professional and personal development?

Jane: I think we’ve got a really good answer to that. Most people in our industry haven’t even heard of it. People have heard of being a CNA. They get that you’re going to work in a nursing home or a hospital. Other jobs are a little more well defined. Most people in our industry kind of stumble into it. I stumbled into it because I had a choice between writing a term paper or volunteering in a group home. I never would have thought about working in a group home. Never would have thought about it. And then I loved it once I’ve tried it. So, most people kind of stumble into the job. They like it and then it’s really hard to see what your career path is. If you’re a CNA you might realize that, that makes you feel a licensed nurse, a registered nurse and work your way up that way.

And the other thing to know about our industry for direct support staff is that the national turnover rate is about 50%. So, for most organizations, half the staff that you hire in the first year are gone. And nothing impacts quality more than the person serving a person with disability not really knowing them or understanding them.

So, we worked with the University of Minnesota years ago and developed what we call the Pathways Program which has actually won national awards. Our Pathways Program is where a direct support staff can apply and then go through additional training, 30-hours of training, and class-work time and mentoring time and online training time and develop their skills, learn more about the work that we do and more about the different disability types or better ways to approach the job and when they finish that, they graduate and get a bump in pay and a bonus.

We’ve started with Level 1 which is direct support professional. When you come here, you’re not a DSP yet but once you go to the program, if you go through the program, then you become a direct support professional that’s graduated through Pathways and you can go on to mentoring and supervision or behaviorals or aging. Specialty areas that you might want to pursue within the organization and we try to map out literally a ladder for people so they get it. But it also helps them be more prepared to do their job better. If you’re more prepared, you’re going to be happier at work and we’re going to have a better result that’s meeting our business needs and needs that people that we serve. And we found it to be really, really highly successful. It’s a worthy investment. It took time and resources to develop it. It takes time and resources to complete the class and to find money for that bump in pay. But it’s brought our turnover rate, we wanted to hit 21 last year and we hit 17.6.

Denver: Which is compared to 50% on the national average scale. That’s dramatic.

Jane: Absolutely. And for the DSPs, the retention rate, it’s in the 90s. Generally, people that have gone through the program are so much more likely to stay. So, the more people that we have go through the program, the more prepared they are, the better our quality is, the better results for the people we serve and the better our retention rates are. And that also helps us save money. And then we can reinvest that back into more Pathways classes. So, it’s been a win-win for us and the people we serve and project support staff.

Denver: Well, very forward thinking. People always look at this as a cost. It really isn’t a cost. It’s an investment and at the end of the day, it saves you money and improves the quality of care.

You mentioned a moment ago that you’ve been there for 33 years so you’ve seen a lot of changes. One of the changes I’m sure you’ve seen has been this influx of millennials into the workforce. How has that impacted your culture?

Jane: I think a couple of things. One is we want to be known for a few things here are Ability Beyond and one of those is technology. We put a lot of investments into doing what we do more efficiently because the Medicaid system is so challenged, and our state funding is also challenging in both of the states that we operate in. So, we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient.

The other challenge we have is we have a workforce of 1200 but they are spread out through about 120 different locations in both states. So, we have a lot, a ton of small teams. Sometimes one person, sometimes six, sometimes 12 in all these different locations so communication and staying connected is a challenge for us. The great thing about that work forces that they embrace technology too. So, it made it easier for us to roll things out that help us be more efficient in E-systems. And this year, we’re launching electronic learning management system so it’s easier for our staff to go to classes and gain knowledge. So, it’s made it easier for us to roll off those kinds of initiatives.

On the other hand, it’s challenged us to do a better job with transparency, with engagement, and with staying connected with our workforce and throughout all these different locations. And it’s also challenged us to really embrace how we help people connect with purpose-driven work. This year, in particular, we’re looking at different tools for that in how to attract people that are purpose-driven and then retain people that are purpose-driven because they’re more likely to stay. They’re more likely to connect with the work that we do and the Millenials are into that.

TIP Squad

TIP Squad © @AbilityBeyond

Denver: That’s true. What are some of the technology tools that you’re looking at?

Jane: Well, some of it is kind of boring. Some of it is around how we – our electronic record for the work that we do and to help us get through Medicaid audit, so things like that. Our human resources information system may be a little boring to people but to help our workforce of 1200 get information they need at their fingertips has been great.

A lot of it is around, we call it TIPS. So, Technology Innovations for People. We coined that phrase here and that’s about direct service to the people that we serve. So, helping them be more independent through technology, it gives them a great sense of empowerment, help them be more independent. They’re less reliant on paid staff and when they’re less reliant on paid staff, it saves Medicaid system money. And we’ve been getting a lot of grants for the last couple of years to help people be independent and save through remote supervision and different tools to help them, prompt them to take their medication. We’ve been rolling out medication dispensers. All kinds of things like that that help people communicate, to help them be more independent, save the Medicaid system money and help us be more efficient and it’s really cool. We have what we call a TIP Squad which is the Technology Innovations for People Squad which is actually is run by our technology person, Laurie Dale, here. And it’s made up of people with different disabilities and people that we also serve who are testing technology for us and helping to roll it out for other people that we serve.

We’ve been Beta testing products in our industry like a product from a company called Nix Health which is an independent transfer system. Most of our workman’s comp injuries here are from helping people transfer into a wheelchair from bed. And their system, the bed actually transfers you from the bed to the wheelchair and back without touching the person. It’s an amazing piece of technology. Huge implications in our industry. So, we’ve been helping them test that specific to people with different types of disability for us. And, we’re working with MIT right now on an alternate use of a product. They’re testing a seizure watch and we are alternate use testing it for people with – we serve young adults with mental illness and most of them have post-traumatic stress disorders from, at least, in trauma histories. And the watch also helps measure biometric indicators that someone with PTSD will just say “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine” and then all of a sudden just…

And we’re alternate testing the watch to see if we can predict when someone is saying they’re fine and they’re really not and intervening before they get past the point of no return. So, we can intervene and pre-empt it. Really super fun stuff. We really want to be– with one of the things we want to be known for and in fact, people that we served have been speaking across the country and are working on a technology space and people can check out our website because we have a whole page on our technology innovations on our abilitybeyond.org website.

Denver: Well, you do very difficult and challenging work. How do you try to maintain work-life balance and what do you do to help people to avoid burning out?

Jane: It’s funny. I just learned this. I didn’t know this but I actually was just doing a podcast for someone else, Christopher Kukk from Western Connecticut State University here and he sort of has a theme around –– I’ll say it incorrectly but it is around kindness and compassion. He was talking about how empathy uses the same brain triggers, I guess, as stress. And he’s actually going to be coming and talking to our direct support staff about the difference between compassion and empathy and how to try and make sure you’re being completely compassionate with the people we serve without sacrificing too much of your own brain power and life force. So, we’re looking at ways to offset that. We’re always looking for ways to be supportive as we can to our direct support staff and really trying to find a balance of work-life balance with flexibility and support for that.

As our organization has evolved over time, at this point, our leadership team, almost three-quarters of us started as direct support staff… including me. So, that shift in our leadership team over time has helped really have a greater understanding of what our direct support staff who are doing the real hard work are going through. So anything we can do to support them, we’re going to try it.

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National Ugly Sweater Day 2016 © @AbilityBeyond

Denver: I bet. Let me close with this. Is there anything at Ability Beyond that nobody would know unless they work there? Something unique or quirky or some ritual that you have that really just distinguishes your place of work from any other?

Jane: We have a ton of rituals here. We have ugly sweater contest, and our annual barbeque, and our golf event, and our gala. We have a lot of ritual events and celebrations here. I will go back to what I said at the very beginning, I really think that what is unique about us is if you’re going to work here, we’ll want to support you. We want you to see your career path here. But you really need to embrace change because we are constantly sort of moving forward and looking for better ways to do that. And part of that is accepting change and that’s not always easy for everyone. But if you’re someone that embraces that and enjoys that, I think that’s really part of our “Okay, this is unique to us.” We’re always trying to move ahead in the work that we do and most of the time, it’s amazing and fun.  And it makes you really proud to work here and I know that’s what it is for me when we hear that a lot from our team and our staff that say they’re proud to work here.

Denver: Well, I can hear it in your voice and that’s a very nice sentiment indeed. Tell us about your website, the kind of information people will find there and what they can do to help support the work if they should be so inclined.

Jane: Well, yes. First, they should buy any floral needs, should be met through rosesforautism.com for sure. Go to that website in our link from abilitybeyond.org as well. We ship anywhere and we hope you enjoy our locally grown roses. They open all the way and they’re really fragrant and beautiful because they help support people with disabilities learn all aspects of the business and supports awareness of autism.

For corporations listening out there, disabiltysolutionsarwork.com is our consulting and you can learn more about that. Also, there’s a link from our website. And at abilitybeyond.org you can see what’s new. You can learn about all the services that we provide, more about our technology, our employment services and apply for a job there too. We’d love to have you. It’s fun to work here. You can work here.

Denver: It sounds that way. Well, Jane Davis, the President and CEO of Ability Beyond. I want to thank you so much for being on the program this evening. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Jane: Thank you so much.


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

Jim Bildner, President and CEO of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jim Bildner, the President and CEO of Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, and Denver Frederick Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


 

 

Denver: We see all the time the extraordinary impact that startup companies have had on our lives. Uber and Airbnb, to take just two. The same is true in the nonprofit sector. Imagine the social entrepreneurs with fantastic ideas and plans to make our communities and world a better place, but their ability to access capital is often not as clear-cut as it is for their counterparts in the private sector.  And that it why it is fortunate that we have Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation to help address this urgent need. And with us this evening is their President and CEO, Jim Bildner.

Good evening, Jim, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Jim: Thanks, Denver.

 Denver: Tell us about Draper Richards Kaplan, how the foundation got started, and what your mission is.

Jim: Absolutely. So, we were started in 2002 by Bill Draper and Robin Richards, now Robin Richards-Donohoe; later joined by Rob Kaplan. In 2002, Bill and Robin had had a successful venture capital career. Bill is an amazing human being. He’s 90 years old. Still comes to the office every day. Still the toughest questioner of our social enterprises, and he followed again this very successful career in venture capital, but even more importantly, had served as the head of the UNDP for seven years.  He comes with a long-term commitment to public service as well as to venture capital. In fact, his father, General Draper was one of the first venture capitalists. Also, the person who operationalized the Marshall Plan.

They came to this with a realization that, in 2002, they had a very successful return on their India Fund and realized that they really didn’t need to do more venture capital.  But the same principles that they had applied so carefully in the venture capital investment community could be applied to the social sector, and that was really the insight, that intentionality, and I’ll talk more about that later.  In terms of what you invest in, who you invest in, and understanding at the beginning, what the ultimate end game is, is actually more important in the social sector than it is in the private sector.

In 2002, they formed their own fund; basically, it was Draper Richards. Roughly, $13 million to $14 million of their own funds then went into 26 to 28 social enterprises, many of which are legendary. And their model was exquisitely simple, which is investing for a three-year duration, then stops. So, beginning and then ending in three years. Again, the innovation here was not just the capital, but like venture capitalists in the private sector, a board seat, and an aggressive and constructive board seat. And that really, from the beginning to where we are today; and I’ll talk about how Rob joined us in 2009 and 2010, became the essence of what Draper Richards Kaplan is, and I’ll tell what we invested in later.

Rob Kaplan in 2010 joined Bill and Robin, and Rob had a successful career at Goldman Sachs and was a professor at Harvard Business School.  And now he’s the president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. So, for sure I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have those three as my senior partners. Rob brought the same discipline that we had had all along. When Rob joined us, we raised our second fund, about $33.8 million that funded about 56 new enterprises. Again, same model, three years, board service, and a lot of intentionalities, and we are just now closing our third fund. It’ll be about $65 million to fund another 100 new social enterprises.

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Dave Newell, President and CEO of Nebraska Families Collaborative, Talks about Corporate Culture with Denver Frederick

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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NFC Logo © Heartland Family Service

 

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Dave Newell © Omaha World Herald

Denver: And in our continuing series, Better Than Most, today we are going to feature the Nebraska Families Collaborative based in Omaha. And here to join us is their President and CEO, Dave Newell.

Thanks for joining us, Dave, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Dave: Thanks for having me.

Denver: Why don’t we begin by having you tell us about the history of The Nebraska Family Collaborative and the goals and missions of the organization?

Dave: Sure. We’re a member-based nonprofit that was created back in 2009 in response to an initiative that the state of Nebraska was launching and we provide the ongoing child welfare, child protection services for the State of Nebraska for about 5,000 kids annually. We serve the greater Omaha area which is about two counties of the state and it’s about half of the child welfare population for our state. The greater Omaha area is really the only urban part of the state and that’s the part that we’re responsible for. And we’re nationally accredited as a network provider and we have about 50 agencies that are in our network and we provide the full continuum of care for the kids and families from home-based services to out of home services for all of those kids.

Denver: Fantastic. Well, you’re also considered to be one of the very best nonprofit organization to work for and I want to examine as to what makes NFC such a special place. Some organizations, they have a feedback culture. Others may say they have a coaching or data-driven culture. What word or phrase, Dave, would you use to describe your culture?

Dave: I would say it’s both data-driven and the feedback culture both internally as in regards to feedback and also externally would be how I would describe us.

It’s probably the most important thing because if the culture isn’t healthy, and in child protection, it’s very challenging to create a healthy environment because our employees experience a lot of secondary trauma. All the kids and families we serve have had very difficult experiences in their life and so as a result of that, even just sitting down and hearing their stories is a painful experience often times. And so, if we don’t take care of the staff, then they are not in a position to be caring and nurturing to the kids and the families that they’re working with.

Denver: In light of all your other responsibilities, I know you have a lot, Dave, how important is creating and nurturing the corporate culture for you?

Dave: It’s probably the most important thing because if the culture isn’t healthy, and in child protection, it’s very challenging to create a healthy environment because our employees experience a lot of secondary trauma. All the kids and families we serve have had very difficult experiences in their life and so as a result of that, even just sitting down and hearing their stories is a painful experience often times. And so, if we don’t take care of the staff, then they are not in a position to be caring and nurturing to the kids and the families that they’re working with.

Denver: It makes an awful lot of sense. What are some of the things that you do to influence and shape the culture? Do you try to model certain behaviors through your actions?

Dave: In some respects, I try to be a servant leader and so one thing that I hear from our staff is I don’t have a designated parking spot which is actually not a big deal to me. But actually, parking at our location is at a premium. So, just even little things where I don’t consider myself any more important than the rest of the staff and so I don’t have a designated parking spot, I think most of our staff feel that I’m approachable and they can give me feedback on anything and that I’ll listen to it and if it’s something that we can act on, then we’ll do it.

One of the things that my COO and I do is, out of 6 mark with our new staff, we sit down with them and do a check-in and we ask them what’s working at the agency for them and what’s not working. And we’ve made a variety of changes over the years based on the feedback that we did at those six-month check-ins.

Denver: What are some of those changes been?

Dave: Sometimes it’s like a really simple thing. For example, all of our staff have smartphones but when individuals were in training, we were giving them smartphones late in the training process. And what we were finding is a lot of the critical communication that they would have received through their smartphones, our new employees weren’t getting because we haven’t given them the phones yet. This is an example and so, we said, “Oh, we need to change that.” So, we implemented giving them phones very early in the process so that the communication wouldn’t break down.

We, for a lot of our staff too as a result of feedback, we have changed training several times and we’ve now developed a mentoring program for the staff. We’ve changed our on-call system which especially for new employees who is kind of daunting and now the way we’ve restructured our on-call system, I think it’s much more supportive to the bulk of employees. And so, a lot of changes did happen as a result of feedback that we received.

I’d say the biggest one for me and for us is that we always want to put the kids and the families first in everything that we do.

Denver: Yeah. It really does pay to have your ear to the ground. Tell us a little bit about your core values and how you try to communicate and reinforce those values across the organization?

Dave: So, I’d say the biggest one for me and for us is that we always want to put the kids and the families first in everything that we do. And so, we reinforce that a lot of different ways. We have quarterly meetings that are for all of our employees but also open up to the community and we start each one of those meetings with what we call a mission moment where staff will share a story, a success story around a child or a youth or someway that we’re trying to improve the system for kids. And so, we start each meeting with that. Our board meetings are also started with mission moment where we’ll have different staff from the agency come and present to the Board of Directors and give a story about a child or family or system improvement that we did that’s resulted in better outcomes for kids and families. And then also at these quarterly meetings, I was talking about earlier, we do community recognition where we have partners in the community who help us achieve our mission and so any staff can nominate those people and tell their story about how they helped us support a child or family or improve the system. So, we try to build that in especially any of our meetings.

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Family Picnic 2016 © Glassdoor NFC page

Denver: Yeah, that’s great because I do know how sometimes people in organizations can get disconnected from the mission particularly people in the administrative roles and we certainly have done some significant things to make sure that doesn’t happen and everybody has that present in front of them at all times. You mentioned a moment ago that you are a data-driven culture. It’s one of the phrases that you chose. How does your organization use technology to improve the way you go about doing your work and what influence do you think it has on the workplace culture?

Dave: I think it has, here again, has a significant impact. So, I mentioned earlier that our staff all have smartphones and when they started, they didn’t. And so we have found that deploying smartphones to our staff, that has been a major improvement both for internal communication and external communication because a lot of the kids and families we serve, they often times communicate through text. And before, we just had kind of antiquated cellphones that were difficult to text on and not easy to work with. And so, we saw a major improvement with that. We are now in the process of rolling out tablets for our staff and a lot of the paperwork that they have to do, we’re going to be migrating to that being electronic where individuals and families can complete paperwork via tablet rather than paper. So, we’re excited about that, too.

Then as far as the data goes, there’s a ton of performance measures associated with our contract with the state. We have steadily made progress on all those. So for those, we gather up that data at whatever frequency we need to gather and some of it is weekly, some of it is monthly, some of it is quarterly and so forth, and we’re always communicating that back to the staff so that they can see, “Okay. Here are performance measures where we’re improving on and here are some that we’re struggling with”, and then having a CQI process around the ones that we need to improve.

Denver: So you have that dashboard in front of people at all times.

Dave: Yes.

Denver: What have been some of your efforts around diversity, inclusion and equity?

Dave: Starting at the board level is- when I started our board of directors was all Caucasian. And now as our board has evolved over time, we now have about of a third of our quarter, individuals of color. We are line workforce. We’ve done really well of nearing the local population as far as demographics are aligned. Workforce is very reflective of the local community where we need to continue to develop is in our middle management and upper management that we haven’t made as much progress. And so, we actively recruit people of color and we’re also looking internally of how do we develop our existing workforce so that they can move up the leadership chain of command and have opportunities at all level of the organization. So, we’ve made a lot of progress but we’re not where we want to be yet.

Denver: Right. And it sounds like just listening to you, you are never going to be happy with whatever the status quo is going to be.

Dave: No. It’s always going to continue to move forward.

Denver: It never ends in improving.

Dave: That right. Absolutely.

Denver: I speak to CEOs all the time who want to change the culture but they really just don’t know how to go about it or where to begin. What advice would you give to them?

Dave: I think the big thing is you just have to start and it is incremental and now I look back. I’ve been here seven years and we’ve made tremendous progress when I look back over a seven-year period. But especially during the early years, it went quite slow. And I think as we have gotten more solid and since we are a young organization, we have a much healthier culture today than we did seven years ago. But we had to start and we just had to pick something to work on and once we made sufficient progress on that, then you have to move on to the next thing. And I would say that the majority of our staff has been here all that time. I would say that the organization is much healthier than we were seven, eight years ago.

Denver: It sounds like from what you just said, don’t try to do it all at once. Just pick something that is important and focus on that and get it right and then just move on from there.

Dave: And then communicate it back to the staff.

Denver: Absolutely. Well, Dave Newell, the President and CEO of the Nebraska Families Collaborative, I want to thank you so much for being with us today. It was a real pleasure to have you on the program.

Dave: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure being on.


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 Sesame Workshop

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 this evening, you’ll be heading up just north of Columbus Circle in New York into the happy and oh-so-joyful offices of Sesame Workshop. We will begin the segment with their CEO Jeff Dunn and then hear from other members of the Sesame Workshop team.

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Jeff: I think it’s the CEO’s number one job. I’ve often said to people – if you know well the CEO of the company, know who that person is, you can predict the corporate culture. Conversely, if you don’t know the CEO at all but you know the corporate culture, you can predict pretty clearly what the attributes and values of the CEO are because, over time, the CEO and culture get very closely aligned. Whatever attributes and values the CEO has and expresses and brings, and says “this is what’s important to me,” that’s what the company begins to absorb and take on and deliver on. So the CEO owns the positive and the CEO owns the not so positive. So I think a lot about it. I think about: what do we do to have the right culture here? How do we make sure that we articulate what we want our culture to be? And then, what are the things that we can do to try and deliver on having that culture?

Phil: I think one of the biggest surprises that a new employee will experience about the workshop culture is that we don’t consider our Muppets to be children’s characters; we actually consider them to be colleagues. Elmo is as real to me as Louis is sitting across this table. And I think it’s because when you work at Sesame Workshop, you can be walking by a conference room and the performer for Elmo will be in there perhaps reading a script or reading a storyline, and you’re just walking to the water fountain and you hear Elmo coming from across the hall, and you think, “That’s Elmo.”

Diana: I was given the opportunity outside of my regular responsibilities to head a communications group, which was a cross-functional group of people – different levels and different departments represented. The sole goal of the group was to help foster communications, both sort of vertically up to senior management as well as across departments. For me, personally, it was a great opportunity to take on a role outside of my regular responsibilities and get to work with different people, but most importantly, we, as a group really have the ear of senior management. I was very impressed by the fact that they really wanted to hear what people had to say. They wanted feedback about what’s working well for the organization, what’s not. They took it very seriously. I was often the representative, kind of sharing the feedback from the group to management, which wasn’t always an easy role to be in, but they would hear it and they would think about how they wanted to act on it and they’ve taken tremendous steps to really act on that. So I think that has helped foster a real sense of openness and transparency for the organization.

Estee: Because it’s exactly the same process. We get our work done the same way in every single territory, in every single co-production. We sit down as a team and we discuss: What are those features that we want in this new Muppet? Or what are the goals that we want to achieve in the creation of a new format? It was really incredible. The team around the table was so enthused by this because they were like, “You’ve been doing it for 40 years and yet you still ask the same question as you’re asking us where we are creating this for the first time in Afghanistan with our Muppets.”

Bridget: One of the things that I find so unique to Sesame Street is you’re going to have the world’s worst commute here in New York City and you can expect the subway to treat you horribly on a daily basis. You could come in and you could have had such a tough day already at 9:30 in the morning, and you walk in and you see a mural of Sesame Street in black and white with all the Muppets in color, smiling and having a great time. You look at that and you’re like, “How could anything in my life ever be bad?” It is just such a welcoming environment to step into the office every single day. And then when you go to your desk – everybody’s desks are covered in Sesame paraphernalia.

 

Jeff: Some of the things that I brought here was what we call “Ask Jeff anything” which is people get to submit anonymous questions before a staff meeting. The reason we make it anonymous is because people won’t ask you the things that they really want to know, particularly if it’s unpopular, if they have to stand up and put a face and a name to it. But if you allow people to submit them anonymously, then you really get to know what’s on people’s mind. If you answer them, and you answer them honestly and you make all that available to people on a regular basis, then they get to know what’s going on.

The death of any culture is the grapevine, and what you want to do is you want to prevent the grapevine from going off in a lot of different directions because information abhors a vacuum, right? So by allowing employees to ask whatever questions they want, and promising them an answer and giving them an answer…and we post all the answers, make it all public. It’s all public. Well, public, I say, within our company. People get to know what’s really going on here.

Cheroc: I was instrumental in naming the conference rooms after characters and naming the printers after characters, so we try and keep it fun here at the office. I’ve worked in a few other places, but Sesame has the perks pretty much nailed down. Not many of them have changed. They’ve gotten better. I don’t feel that any of the perks have been taken away, but we’ve got amazing benefits here – from the 401(k) to having off the between Christmas and New Year’s and the amount of PTO days you get and just understanding when there’s family emergencies or bereavement to the maternity leave.

I’ve had the opportunity of being out on two very generous maternity leaves while here at Sesame and all of my friends and family are just like, “How does your company allow you to be out for so long?” But I think it speaks to the mission and how important family and children are to Sesame Workshop.

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Janelle: One of the questions that came to mind for me was how are decisions made, and I’ll say that for me, that has been one of the biggest surprises and delighters for me joining the workshop pretty recently. If I had to boil it down to one word on how decisions are made, I would say collaboratively or inclusively would be the words I would choose. There have been huge initiatives that have been put out company-wide based on upward feedback, and Jeff, our CEO, implemented some of these initiatives.

Philip: “Here I am just a few years into my career and I’ve booked a meeting with the United States Ambassador to Bangladesh.” I think it’s important for any employee to feel like your employer trusts you to go out and do the business for the organization and the brand. I have seen that with a lot of my colleagues and I think a lot of people at Sesame Workshop appreciate that type of trust and respect.

Louis: I was asked to be part of the Principal for the Day program, and again, I didnt even realize that we participated in that, but one of the chief executives actually asked me if I would do it. I said, “Well, sure, I’ll do it.” They said, “You could pick whatever school you want.” 

So I went to my elementary school and actually brought with me Elmo and Ernie. Im not allowed to do the voice or anything like that, but I snuck a little bit of Ernie only because of this little boy–Ive met a lot of children on the spectrum of autism and this little boy was brought from another school by his mother. He loved Ernie but she didnt know he was going to be there, so she went and got him and brought him to the school. And I said I have to do a little bit for him because this is his favorite character, so I did Rubber Duckie and things like that. The kid looked frozen. He didnt respond. He was a non-verbal child on the spectrum. Later on, I got a letter from that woman. Im trying to find that letter. She told me that for the first time, her child started to speak. He didnt put sentences together, but he started to talk about Ernie — “Ernie talked to me!” — and he just kept on. She didnt know what do herself because it was a miraculous moment. So talk about a wow factor.

These characters have impact on so many people, from children to adults. I know its going to be a long story, but it gives me chills every time I say this. One of the most amazing moments in my life in general, but it happened through Sesame Workshop.

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Denver: I want to thank Elizabeth Fishman for helping to organize my visit and to all those who participated in this piece –  Jeff Dunn, Bridget Miles, Louis Henry Mitchell, Estee Bardanashvili, Cheroc Slater, Philip Toscano, Diana Polvere, and Janelle Petrovich. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, you can hear this again, read the transcript, and see pictures of the participants and the offices of Sesame Workshop. 


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 Kessler Foundation

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 this evening, we’re going to go across the Hudson River and over to West Orange, New Jersey to an organization that is on everybody’s best places to work with year in and year out. It is the Kessler Foundation. We will begin the segment with their President and CEO Rodger DeRose, and then hear from the other members of the Kessler Foundation team.

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Rodger: I think the other area that is so important is if you manage your organization with a real human element– where you are human first and manager second, it really shows in the culture of the organization… and how you address personnel issues, for example, that are going to live with the organization for a long period of time. Every organization has to release somebody at some point for not meeting the performance metrics. How you release that person, for example, says a lot about the organization. If you do it in a very dignified way, in a way that allows an individual to leave with grace and dignity, it says something about the organization. And that as that person leaves, that you continue to have a very meaningful discussion or relationship with the person, so that it’s a positive relationship as opposed to a negative one. That translates to how people view you in the marketplace.

Sharon: My review is coming up next month but Anne sits down with me on a bi-weekly basis and provides me an hour of her time and we normally sit there for two hours. And she provides that time for me to talk to her about anything that I want to talk about, whether it be how do I figure out something? What’s going on with the organization? Where does she think we should be going? She’s invested her time in my development and my understanding the organization and she tells me every two weeks, “You’re doing a great job!” which really helps me as a person to know that I am making a difference, at least she thinks I am making a difference, and it’s a good quality to have in a boss because they are invested in you. But it’s not just her and time that she is investing. She is investing her time in me allowing to grow with the organization and to think of ways to help the organization grow.

Raza: And I think what’s been most significant for me and kind of has provided the base wild factor is the tangible impact and the hands-on role that the senior leadership plays in making sure they stay involved, making sure they stay aware with what’s going on within the organization, and the fact that they try to be personally invested in the work and the mission of each individual employee. So, I was pretty impressed that some of the senior administration, they actually know exactly what I am doing, when I am doing it and they take a vested interest in what we do.

Nancy: So, the mud run, this was our third year doing the mud run together and the team has gotten bigger every year and everybody, it seems to be more fun every single year. And that’s not the only event that we do. We do other fundraising walks. We have parties. We do a lot of things offsite just because we enjoy being together. And I think that that really makes a tremendous difference in how we work together during the work time.

Laura: One of the activities that I wanted to mention that demonstrates the transparency here at the foundation is the employee focus groups that Roger holds. So, basically, he takes an employee from different departments. I guess he has some type of formula for choosing who comes and then he sits down with them for about an hour, an hour and a half, and we’re able to openly discuss our experiences at the foundation, any issues that are evolving if any and he wants to actually hear from the employee. So, it doesn’t matter what level they’re at. They can be at a lower level or upper management level and we’re all sitting together at a roundtable discussing the issues. He also allows us to propose resolutions. So, we’re learning where each department is, what the activities are that they are doing, and he’s really taking into consideration everybody’s opinion and experience and I think that’s as transparent as you can get.

Chris: At Kessler Foundation, a lot of the supervisory staff and a lot of the bosses, they really encourage their employees in my position, in particular, to forward their career and to forward their knowledge. They want them to go on to get some kind of education. That’s why one of the plans that we offer at Kessler is a tuition reimbursement plan for a lot of the people who might be interested in going back to school. So, I have the good fortune of taking advantage of that this Fall. I talked to my supervisors at Kessler and I said to them, “Look, I am interested in applying for school but I still want to continue to work here while I go to school.” And they worked with me and we discussed what research studies I could still continue to be on and what research studies I’d be able to stop being on and how I’d work my hours throughout the week.

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Ameen: I think what makes Kessler Foundation the best place to work, just bottom line, coming here, you’re going to be a better person. You’re working with some of the leaders of the field — leaders in stroke research, neuroscience, you name it. You’re with the cream of the crop when it comes to education-wise. Then you meet some of the people, the people themselves are so like a wealth of knowledge themselves. A lot of participants I talked to, they really leave an impression on me, makes me appreciate things even more. So, being here, you’re going to be a better person regardless whether it’s scholastically, whether it’s intellectually, or whether it’s on a humanitarian level or – you’re just going to be a better person.

Trevor: In turn, I’m going to address the question of how decisions are made. So, I think, Roger is open to, I guess, all the time, he comes across as a very easy laid back guy, but he’s tough. But he is open and receptive and at first, he may say no but if over a series of time, if you make your point, he is willing to change his mind. He also, with different things, I don’t want to give specific examples but he handles everything by a case-by-case basis. There are many organizations that will handle things just as one blanket way and he’s open-minded enough to realize that each situation is different for individuals and what may be appropriate for one individual or really is best for one individual and go with that, and then have to deal with any ramifications as in other instances. So, he’s easy going yet tough but also very open-minded.

Sharon: The other thing I wanted to talk about was the communications. When grants are awarded, Roger personally puts out an email to congratulate the scientist who has achieved that award because it’s not an easy process that they go through, which Nancy can easily talk about. And it helps everyone in the organization know what’s going on. And all that flooding of emails that come back from people congratulating them on receiving that award because each of those scientists knows how hard it is. It makes us, as the rest of the individuals who aren’t necessarily involved in that process, feel as though we’ve helped in some way.

Samantha: One of the things I love about working here is that I feel like my hard work is really noticed and my research manager will tell me when she sees me doing something she likes or if my recruitment numbers are high, they let me know. I’ve actually had Roger tell me, “Thank you. Thank you so much for all your hard work,” and that’s pretty amazing. Most of my friends don’t know the CEOs of their company. They’ve never met them. They might not even know their names. But Roger really takes the time to get to know us and he appreciates our hard work and he tells us. And sometimes they’ll give out a little Visa gift card, a little bonus, which is a small gesture but it really goes a long way in making me feel appreciated and I really love that.

Nancy: And I generally know what to expect but he always surprises me and there’s always something that I didn’t think of or I didn’t notice, some place where I can improve, and I find as an employee that, that review is extremely beneficial. I also enjoy it as the supervisor because I think it gives me an opportunity to provide the feedback in a constructive way but also hear what the scientists that worked with me, how they feel they’re doing and where they want to go in the future. So an important part of our employee reviews is goal setting, and it’s not only goal setting in terms of what the lab goals are or what the grant goals are, but it’s also goal setting in terms of what the employee’s goals are. So, yes you want to accomplish this in terms of your line of work or in terms of your position in the lab but what about your professional development? What else do you want to learn? What else do you want to do? And let’s set that as a goal and make sure that in the next year you do that. So, I think the employee reviews are fantastic.

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Denver: I want to thank Susana Santos for helping to organize my visit and to all those who participated – Ameen DeGraffenreid, Raza Husein, Trevor Dyson-Hudson, Laura Viglione, Christopher Bober, Sharon Cross, Samantha Schmidt, and Nancy Chiaravalloti. You can listen to this again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and facilities simply by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, and waiting for you there will be a link to my full interview with Rodger DeRose, the President and CEO of the Kessler Foundation.


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 Feedback Labs

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Meals on Wheels America

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jay Komarneni, Founder and Chair of Human Diagnosis Project Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jay Komarneni, Founder and Chair of the Human Diagnosis Project and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

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Jay Komarneni

Denver: And this evening’s semi-finalist is the Human Diagnosis Project, also referred to as Human Dx. And here to tell us about it is their President and CEO, Jay Komarneni. Good evening, Jay, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Jay: Denver, thanks so much for having me!

Denver: Congratulations on being named as one of the semi-finalists of the 100&Change competition. Give us an overview of the Human Diagnosis Project and what you hope to achieve.

Jay: Absolutely! Thanks. Denver, I think what the Human Diagnosis Project exists to do is to answer the essential question of human health and well-being which is: When you or someone you love isn’t well, what should be done? This is a question that every single person on the planet struggles with many times during their lifetime, and our goal is really to help answer this question for all and forever.

Denver: What was the impetus for you to start this, Jay?  And were there any platforms that inspired your model?

Jay: The story of the Human Diagnosis Project actually starts with the day I was born. I actually was born with a congenital heart defect and was able to get access to the best care and the best specialists when I was a teenager and had to have my heart defect corrected with open heart surgery. If I didn’t grow up in a family of physicians in one of the richest countries on earth, I wouldn’t have had access to that insight. We really believe as a team that everyone in the world should have access to the world’s collective medical insight in order to get better answers to those questions.

Denver: And this is not really just a  “safety net”  for those people who need to go to an emergency room. A lot of this is focused around specialty care. Would that be correct?

Jay: The proposal that we had put together for MacArthur in conjunction with the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Board of Medical Specialties, and the American Board of Internal Medicine is specifically to use the Human Diagnosis Project to improve specialty care for the nation’s underserved. That being said, the system that we’re building ultimately can help every single person on the planet with both primary care and specialty care. As you may know, a billion people on earth lack access to even basic health care, and a hundred million people are put into poverty as a function of their health care cost. So this is a much bigger problem than just the problem we seek to serve here in the US, but we think that this is a tremendous opportunity to help begin building the system, and using it to help the people who need it the most.

If you can actually provide them insight through a system like Human Dx, you can actually ensure that only the people who really need care are the ones that are getting care. So that when they’re paying for it, they really need it. And then you’re actually freeing up specialty capacity to help the patients who really need help.

Denver: Let me see how this might work. Let’s say I’m an attending physician, and I come across a challenging case, and I’m not exactly sure what it is or what I’m looking at, but I’m a bit concerned. What would I do?

Jay: The way that this works typically is one of three things happens when you’re a primary care physician and you’re trying to get a better answer to your case: (1) you actually do what’s called a curbside consult, so you ask other physicians what they think– who you know and are done in person; (2) is you do something called an electronic consult where you actually ask someone through your existing electronic health record or system; or (3) you do a referral. So the issue becomes that when you’re uninsured, you’re really making a choice between two tough places;  you’re deciding whether or not to delay necessary care… and potentially get sicker, or potentially pay for care that may not be needed and go into poverty as a function of your costs. There are 10 million people in this country who are in poverty because of their medical costs.

So, imagine that you’re making that decision. Well, as a primary care physician who’s helping people in the Safety Net, 90% of those Safety Net centers cannot get access to specialists. If you can actually provide them insight through a system like Human Dx, you can actually ensure that only the people who really need care are the ones that are getting care.  So that when they’re paying for it, they really need it.  And then you’re actually freeing up specialty capacity to help the patients who really need help. So the opportunity here– and the way that Human Dx works to solve this problem– is when a primary care physician goes to the system, they basically can encode and organize the major details of the case, post it to the system, and then have other specialists pontificate on that case. Then they can get insight much faster than they otherwise would’ve been able to by doing a traditional referral or e-consult.

Denver: How many of these cases can be addressed through electronic consults?

Jay: Well, I think what’s exciting is that the literature shows anywhere from 30% to 50%. (more…)