office culture

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.

IMG_2974

 

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.

IMG_2964

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.

IMG_2979

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.

Kessler Foundation 3

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Kessler Foundation 4

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 ANDE

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: Tonight we’re going to go down to One DuPont Circle in Washington DC to the offices of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs. Their global membership network of organizations that propel entrepreneurship in emerging markets. We’ll start with their Executive Director, Randall Kempner, and then hear from some other members of the team.

IMG_2573.JPG

Susannah: I think that one of the ways that we build culture here is a little unusual. We have a Whatsapp group — where it’s a kind of an international texting app — where all the staff were on it all around the world. And because we do have staff in seven different countries around the world, sometimes timezones and things we’re working on can mean we’re not always talking to each other everyday. And so, by using this Whatsapp group, we’re kind of in constant communication.

Stephanie: I think the fact that we send professional shout-outs as well as share photos from vacations shows that we genuinely like each other and care about each other as well. I think that that represents our value; one of our values of working hard and having fun. We worked with a consultant to define some of our values and not just the ones that go on the website. What does the staff think of? What matters to us working here? And so that was actually one that came up sort of across the board because of the idea of working hard but having fun and also valuing diverse opinions.

IMG_2571Stephanie: I think that in terms of what our meetings say about us, I think we try to be really conscious of other people’s time. We’re really good about not having meetings just to have a meeting. It’s fine. It’s a kind of if someone sends you a meeting request to just feel like: Hey, is this something that maybe we can do quickly over email? Just not forcing to be there who don’t necessarily needs to be there. So I think that always an open discussion and dialogue and I appreciate that.

Brianna: What I would say is really the wow factor about ANDE is how much we do with so little. The organization isn’t even ten years old; it was founded in 2009. And it’s just been amazing to me to see the network that they’ve been able to build. The sort of tools that they’ve been able to put in place for members. It’s funny because we do have this goal of elevating countries out of poverty. It’s not just something we write. It’s something you can feel in the organization. There’s really a sense of urgency about it, but we don’t necessarily take ourselves very seriously. We have a lot of fun while we’re doing it. We take the work that we’re doing very seriously and you can really feel that. I think that’s one of the things that initially really surprised me coming on board, but it’s just how much we get done in so little time with so few resources. That’s something that continues to impress me that I’m really proud to be a part of.

IMG_2570Susanna: Speaking of silos, our physical office is moving and we are one of over 40 different programs at the Aspen Institute. It is kind of an umbrella organization but we’re a part of that culture in a sense that the Aspen Institute has many programs have different issue areas that they’re working on. But ultimately, often the goal is around bringing people together who should be talking to each other but aren’t and kind of providing these forums where people can have these non-partisan discussions where there is an equal playing field for everyone. ANDE does that in the context of small and growing businesses in developing countries. So our offices themselves are moving and in that move, we had the opportunity to kind of create a new space. And so, they engage everyone within the organization within the Aspen Institute to understand: Where are the silos? How can we help break them down? How a space plays a part in that? How does technology play a part in that?

IMG_2566Brianna: We also have weekly check-ins in which it’s basically like: Here’s what I’m working on. Here’s how it’s going. Here’s where I could use your feedback. I found this to be extremely helpful. But one thing that I love about Genevieve, my supervisor, is that she’s able to be very honest and say, “How was your workload?” And I feel like I can very honestly be like, “It’s not good right now” or “I’m actually feeling okay” That’s been one of my favorite thing — to feel that not only management cares about my work-life balance but be able to honestly talk about it. I think we are all very ambitious and try and do a lot with a little but not being burned out is in everyone’s best interest and I loved that. ANDE really tries to recognize that.

Randall: One is our sort of external focus, and that is very much of a kind of a customer service mentality. And the kinds of people that thrive in ANDE are people that recognize that we are in a member service organization and you got to like to ask the question: What can I do for you? People who like to ask that question and get a thrill out of actually accomplishing that are going to be a good fit here.

People make a company. People make an organization. And what makes people tick and creates an environment in which people can thrive or not is the culture in which they’re working.

IMG_2562Randall: Here’s a term which I like, which may be different. It didn’t make it to our official list of values, but it was close, and it’s “celebrate irreverence.” That is very much my perspective. I would like people to not necessarily take the status quo. I want people to challenge. But irreverence kind of in a soft way, right? It’s not disrespectful. It’s saying, “Well, you know what, we’re going to do things in a different way. Like we’re going to be informal, we’re going to try it. We’re not going to do it. We’re not going to wear tie because people have to wear tie.” I really want that to be the vibe. Again, it’s not about whatever every other NGO is doing. It’s not about the traditions of Washington DC and the formalities supposed to exist. It’s about being creative and celebrating that and not having to agree all the time.

Randall: The second thing I would say is that we have become a place where we recognize that if you want to treat people the same, then you treat them differently. What I mean by that is that the way I want to treat someone the same is to recognize that every individual is different and is going to have a different need. If we can let the person that wants to work from home more, work from home more, great. The person that wants to work in the morning instead of the night, great. The person that wants to have their vacation as three consecutive weeks versus a bunch of different weekends, great. The person that they want to move and work in a different community. We want to try to find those things that reflect the particular needs of people so that everyone feels like they’re getting a special deal, and the special deal becomes the quality across the numbers, or across the staff. We’re not perfect. The way I want to treat someone the same is to recognize that every individual is different and is going to have a different need.

IMG_2574.JPG

Denver: I would like to thank those who participated: Randall Kempner, Stephanie Buck, Brianna Losoya-Evora and Susannah Eastham. You can listen to this again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and the offices of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs just by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of HarvestPlus

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

Denver: One of the 8 semi-finalists in the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition is HarvestPlus and as you might suspect an exceptional organization like HarvestPlus also has an exceptional corporate culture. So I made my way down to Washington DC to check it out. We’ll start the segment with their CEO, Bev Postma, and then hear from some of the other members of the team. 

IMG_2583

Beverley: Well, first of all, people have a work ethic off the scale. My challenge is telling people to go home in the evening because they’re so passionate about what they do. But we have a very good work-life balance. We celebrate—just yesterday, we had our regular “Celebrate the new babies day.” We’ve got five new arrivals in the last few months. What we do is we celebrate family. We celebrate our extended families. We know that our families are our support system in HarvestPlus, so we make sure that they’re welcomed into the organization. Whenever we have events, we invite extended members of our staffs’ families and we consider ourselves all really working towards the same goals.

Adewale: At HarvestPlus, as you can see, diversity is its key strength of HarvestPlus and biofortification is our language. Biofortification itself is diversity. [Begin] different crops to work together, to bring more nutrient and a diverse of nutrient, and that what’s you can see in the strength of talent at HarvestPlus as well. And I can remember the first time I was interviewed for this job. What I like the most is that everybody was involved in my interviewing process, so people ask me different questions. Everybody raised their concerns and I was able to openly address them. I could see that I am coming into a family and that’s what you can see at HarvestPlus. We have a lot of groups of small teams, so you can feel like you belong to a family or a group of friends. And that’s exactly how we work at HarvestPlus.

Jose: What I love in HarvestPlus is the fact that they provide you all the resources to tackle the specific problem. And you connect with your staff based in Colombia, based in Uganda through Whatsapp. We have Whatsapp groups. We post questions and people are over-passionate about the questions we pass. I feel like I have so many degrees of freedom when I come everyday to HarvestPlus to answer these specific questions.

Peg: Said to me that our founder and at the time CEO, she had never in her six years at HarvestPlus once heard him raise his voice. And I thought that that can’t be true; that’s superhuman. But it was true. His personality has really permeated our culture. He was someone who had an idea that people said was too good to be true and would never work. They said it wouldn’t be possible to include extra vitamins on plants. They said, “Even if you can do that, no farmer will grow them. Even if that happens, nobody will eat them because Vitamin A can turn the crops orange. Who’s going to eat orange food? Well yes, you can do that, but it won’t be cost effective.” It turns out, it is. He spent years and years just persisting in his humble way and now 26 million people are growing and eating the stuff. And last year, he won something called “The World Food Prize”. He inspired us. He talked about how it was we who had done it not him. His first reaction when he won was to say, “Oh gosh, they really should have also given it to the person who’s the head of our crop reading.” That was his first reaction. So that was something that is really unusual and has truly affected our corporate culture.

img_2591.jpg

Brittany: Nearly every single one ask me: What are my opportunities for growth here? It’s generally for administration job, so people want their foot in the door at an organization that’s doing international development. I love when I get that question because I love being able to answer it by telling them that the great thing about HarvestPlus is how accessible everyone is and how multi-disciplinary we are. If you want to know more about agricultural economics, if you want to know more about advocacy, if you want to learn more about the gender work that we do, there’s opportunity to engage with and speak conversationally with someone about that.

Jamie: To speak a little bit about the hiring process, I initially thought: Wow, this is kind of intense! I went through several rounds of interviews with the team and with HR and various people I would be working with. But I think it actually really speaks to the level of dedication that the organization has for– a fit not just technically but also culturally, also personality wise. I see a lot of dedication to building that kind of family environment. Because we’re such a culturally and professionally diverse organization, there is the potential for that to be a great asset, but also an insurmountable hurdle. I think the hiring process and that level of dedication given to making sure the fit is there is really important to building that bridge and steering the diversity that we have in the right direction.

Benjamin: And one thing that has helped me track my progress and development as an employee throughout that process has been the review and feedback mechanisms that we have within this organization. There are standard protocols and processes for evaluations of employee work, setting of goals, and also staff development is a part of your annual work plan. Also in addition to these more standardized feedback mechanisms, I have found a lot of value in the fact that managers from all the way in the top of organization across a number of different countries and all the way to even our consultants who assists us on things we don’t know are always willing to provide candid honest feedback on an ad-hoc basis or in the moment. I found great value in people’s willingness to help me to grow as an employee as I have transitioned from an entry level employee throughout my career with this organization. It has really helped me both learned and also set a trajectory for my future in terms of how I envisioned myself developing with this organization in the future.

Adewale: Outside HarvestPlus, people think HarvestPlus is an organization with like 1000 employees. We do so much but we are very few. But one thing that is so unique about HarvestPlus in terms of our culture, is the fact that when there’s a task on the table, everybody come and put the hand on the deck and the job gets done. And that’s exactly what’s going on now with some of the high-priority level task that are ongoing on the organization. Everybody’s hands are on the deck right from those in the field and to those on the headquarters. And this is what you see in a confident leadership.

img_2589.jpg

Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece: Peg Willingham, Brittany Leoboldt, Benjamin Uchitelle-Pierce, Adewale Oparinde, Jose Funes and Jamie Leidelmeyer. If you want to hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants in the HarvestPlus offices, you can find them all at denverfrederick.wordpress.com and while you’re there, check my full interview with Bev Postma, the CEO of HarvestPlus.  


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 Mental Health America

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: This evening, we’re going to take a trip down to 500 Montgomery Street in Alexandria, Virginia, and to the headquarters of Mental Health America. We’ll begin with their President and CEO, Paul Gionfriddo, followed by some of the members of the MHA staff.

20939A91-94BE-48ED-88B8-D6979C622080

Paul: Mental Health America’s more than 100 years old but we’ve been functioning for the last several years like a start-up. We value highly our employees. I believe that some of the most creative enterprise, they can emerge from nonprofit, emerge from the brains of young and interested individuals who are working toward the betterment of society. For us, that’s people with mental health concerns and as a result to the work we’re doing, we think we’ve changed the way people think about mental health. From a public safety issue to a public health issue where we need to engage not at times of crisis but far before stage 4 to promote prevention, early identification and intervention, integrated health behavioral help and other services with recovery as the goal.

Valerie Sterns: What is the “wow” at MHA for me is flexibility: work-life balance. MHA affords you growth opportunities, support, even support when the outcome is not the desired outcome. MHA cares about not only my talent, but me as a whole person. We have a flexible work schedule. We can work two days from home. And that was incentive for me because I have a husband and two sons and it’s really hard for me to get time for myself. Across from the office is a wellness room, so if I need to take a nap and relax, take some time out for myself, I am afforded that opportunity. So certainly flexibility is certainly a great incentive to work at MHA.

B94DE93F-8C8F-45CD-9670-88771094EECCKelly Davis: One of my favorite parts about working at MHA is really the open style of communication and lack of really enforced kind of power roles that exist. I think especially, traditionally in the nonprofit sector and in kind of government work. Because here, we are always making jokes with each other. We share a lot of memes online. We have a lot of inside jokes. Our CEO made his own meme. And we can shoot jokes back and forth. I mean when you work in nonprofit especially, a lot of the problems you’re working on are really serious and it can be hard to keep up with that stamina of working in such intense work. But when you have an environment that’s so open and can keep the playfulness, it’s easier for passion to stay alive. I would also say that the openness and the lack of intense structure mean that everybody’s ideas are important. So I’ve been here for two years and I can just walk into our CEO’s office and say, “Hey, this is a thing I think it’s important. And this is why I think it’s important. Can I do something like this?” And he gives me feedback. I’m 24 and when I talk to other people my age, that’s really, really rare. So I love MHA.

Siobhan Carpenter: I went in there the week before the conference and said, “You know, Paul, I think my service dog could use some extra trainings and things I’d like to work on with him to help him support me better. Can I use my personal development budget for that?” He said, “Make sense to me.” And we started training so we are now in our fourth week and he’s being promoted to level 2 this week. So just really, really great things that I’m really, really grateful for.

B4133A33-18BB-495D-A540-4AAE57233378Michael: Everyone that comes to our office is always wowed to its appearance and its openness. We have windows. We’re on the 8th floor and we can even see the Washington Monument and the dome on the Jackson Memorial. We see the airplanes flying in over the Potomac River. On the other side, we can look over one of our four balconies that are wi-fi capable and fully-furnished. We can look over and see United Way building and the MGM Casino and Hotel. It’s just a fabulous place. I think Sacha mentioned that it’s like being at home. And when we moved in, a lot of staff took the liberty to stay after hours and enjoy the snacks that we provide. It is always well-stocked. One of my responsibilities is to make sure that all staff had everything that they need to do their job effectively and efficiently.

Jennifer: So coming in, I get really wound up and worked up about things that… most of them are out of my control. And I think one of the most important things that a lot of the people who have been here for a while have told me is “It can wait.” That was a huge thing that really changed a lot of the ways that I worked around here.

We have an instant messaging system in the office called Slack, so there’s general threads where the entire staff is in or just individual threads and in the general threads, we also recognize people for the things that they’ve done well. So I think that’s been a really great way to keep people positive because when you’re facing such a colossal issue especially in the nonprofit world, it can get really tiring and very hard really fast. I think it’s called burnout. Well, a lot of people talk about burnout professionally where they just work 60 hours or 80 hours a week and you just get tired, but I think in the nonprofit world a lot of that burnout comes from being frustrated with things that you feel like you can’t fix and things that you care so much about. And that just little positive things bring you back up.

CE7E7BEA-AF65-4863-81CB-E75F3127C7F7

Sachin: One of the things I like about the way that we communicate now is that when we moved over to Slack, we were able to start looking at some of the statistics around how many fewer e-mail we ended up sending between each other and the office. I get a weekly rundown of how much we’re using Slack and it is frankly a little absurd how easy it’s made communication. Between the 24 of us, we send something around 3000 messages over Slack to each other every week. And on the other hand, our inter-office communication over e-mail has gone down by about 40% but what I really like about this is there are things that you just frankly send over a platform like that that you wouldn’t bother sending an email over.

Siobhan: There’s something about the culture of MHA and I’ve had a friend and we were doing lunch and she came by and I said, “Hold on, I need to finish up an email. You can just come walk around the office with me real quick. I’ll give you a quick tour before we go out to lunch.” She just walked around and she just was so amazed at how everything was just neat and organized, but open, inviting and modern. And the bell! She loved the bell — our Mental Health Bell — cast from the shackles of those who were in institutions, in psychiatric facilities years ago. And it just captures the essence I think of MHA and what we’re about. And the liberties that we have here.

Denver: I want to extend my thanks to those who participated in the segment – Valerie Sterns, Kelly Davis, Michael King, Jennifer Cheang, Sachin Doshi, and Siobhan Carpenter. If you want to hear this again, read the transcript, or see pictures of the participants and the offices of Mental Health America, all you need to do is go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com.

A5A3B947-438D-43FA-821F-2224F6314201

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 GiveDirectly

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: This evening, we’re headed over to Irving Place of Manhattan to visit the New York offices of GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly aims to reshape international giving by sending money directly to people living in extreme poverty. And when Fast Company recently named their 10 most innovative nonprofits, GiveDirectly popped up as number two on that list. So, I thought we would go over there to find out what makes them tick.

image

Piali: At GiveDirectly, we are pretty ruthlessly focused on the execution and high-quality execution at that, and really creating clear accountability around the metrics that we think are going to shift the needle in terms of the changes that we want to affect in the sector. And so a lot of the times, what that really comes down to is  actual dollars put in the hands of poor households that we’re enrolling in our program and not KPIs that are incidental to that but really that core metric of getting money to very poor people.  We’re looking at ways to embed that more explicitly in terms of how we think about compensation and performance and bonuses for people so that we can really get everybody marching to that tune. I think that’s really a core part of how we think about success and good culture at GiveDirectly.

Max: Like in our world that prioritizes data, we have, for instance, internal dashboards via Segovia and Tableau and other software that basically shows how well we’re doing against various specific metrics and they’re like coded different colors and you can very clearly see how the team is performing against certain metrics. We also have this dashboard in our office, for instance, that shows how many recipients, how much money we’ve raised, what that converts to in terms of how many recipients we’ve served, and so these constant reminders of both performing against metrics and then also using data to determine whether or not we’re succeeding.

Matt: It’s been really interesting for me and my time here at GiveDirectly to employ a different set of values to my work and to think about a hypersensitivity to transparency and to complete respect for our recipients, so that really what I need to do here is just tell it like it is, tell the truth in as direct and simple of a way as possible at all times. There’s no spin, there’s no hyperbole, there’s no exaggeration of how exciting our programs are. We really have a deep cultural value of honesty and transparency and just telling people what the real story on the ground is.

9AEAC87B-1D62-45DC-981B-7B9C39D3C257

Caroline: Working at GiveDirectly basically over the last nine months have been quite an experience for me. This is something that has been quite uplifting for me because when you come into an organization as a staff, one thing that you look for is not too [keen], but a challenge that is worth your time, something that challenges your brain, something that challenges your career path and pushes you to work harder each day. It is exactly what I’ve got here at GiveDirectly.

Piali: We’ve made it kind of an explicit value and principle to not be the kind of culture that gets bogged down in excessive e-mails and meetings. I think we view those as purely instrumental tools to getting to good decisions and moving things forward. So we’re pretty strict and default to asking the question of “Do we need to gather these five people together or can we throw something in the Google Doc or exchange an email in way that can get through a decision much more quickly?” I think folks that have joined the team from bigger companies or from different environments are often kind of heartened initially to see that because of that, decisions get made quite quickly and I think that’s been critical to our ability to grow fast and iterate on the product in a way that we have.

Matt: For me, the biggest driver of our culture is actually our hiring strategy and it’s something that we spend a lot of time thinking about and iterating on. We have a general policy here to kind of skew more towards people with more of a generalist background, people who are highly intelligent, have proven that they can produce really strong work in a variety of different context throughout their career but don’t necessarily come from the nonprofit sector and don’t necessarily have a 10- or 20- or 30 years of deep domain expertise in the specific functional realm that we’re looking to hire for. We tend to hire people who are a little more generalist, who we then trust that they kind of figure it out.

Joe: It’s a sort of technical, analytical process of taking in all the data we take on recipients and saying “who should we follow up with again to make sure we got it right?” This was a real PowerPoint deck we’ve seen in a call recently and I just started sending it to candidates and saying “I want to talk about this when we have a chance to talk.” We’d go there and I’d of give a little bit of an explanation and we talk through does it make sense, how would you approach this problem, where do you think Well (the person who made the presentation) is making a mistake or not. And I found both of those to give you a good sense of how they approach problems and how they think.

Max: I think the culture is intellectual and casual and very open. In the way that Matt was describing like here are the types of people that generally GiveDirectly hires and that stay at GiveDirectly, that naturally produces this sort of generalist…everyone is interested in what other people are doing in like a probing, sort of curious way. I think that’s really cool. I think it’s very friendly. People are very supportive of other people.

EF9F228C-06DB-4370-80FF-475A5ACF6792 (1)

Joe: The other thing I’d add on culture is there’s a sort of intensity to it. We care a lot about quality in basically every facet of what we’re doing and the bar for a good email to donors or a good interaction with recipients or even a sort of a good decision on just about anything I think is really high that we value a certain level of strong reasoning, a certain level of quality in how we write about GiveDirectly or quality in what our finances look like, and I think that pervades every different part of the organization.

Denver: I want to thank Paul Niehaus, the President of GiveDirectly, for allowing us to visit their offices, and to those who participated – Max Chapnick, Matt Johnson, Caroline Teti, Piali Mukhopadhyay, and Joe Houston. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com to hear this again, and while you’re there, we’ll have a link to my full interview with the President of GiveDirectly, Paul Niehaus.

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 Devex

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: It was only a couple of months ago that Raj Kumar, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Devex, came to the AM 970 Studios, so I thought I will return the favor and visit the offices of Devex, which I did on my last trip to Washington. We’ll start the segment with Raj telling us about Devex, and then we will hear from some of the members of the staff of what it is like to work there.

IMG_1958

Raj: We’re a lot like the Bloomberg of the global development field… meaning we’re this media platform; we’ve got all different ways that journalists and analysts around the world could get information about what’s going on in global development to the people who are actually doing that work. So our audience are people who work at the World Bank or the Gates Foundation or the UN System or lots of NGOs, charities– small and big– all over the world.

devex logo

Carine: The staff is really young in comparison to other development organizations, or other media companies even, and I think this is a place where ideas are really valued both by the staff and also by the senior management. So if you have an idea for something, whether it’s like totally bananas and crazy or actually just something to improve the way that we’re doing things, you can take that idea to anyone in the team and people are willing to help even make that come to life.

Margaret: And so what we did was we implemented this thing called “Small Improvements,” and we do reviews every two months and it makes it a lot easier. And instead of calling them reviews and thinking of them as these big reviews, we talk about it as coaching. And I think that’s really integral to Devex’s culture. It’s this idea that we’re all coaching each other, and the teams are coaching their team leads and the team leads are coaching their teams. Everyone is allowed to give feedback to whomever they want and the teams are specifically guided to give feedback to each other in a coaching way. And I think a really good way to think about our culture and one thing that makes us unique is that we’re a high-performing team.

IMG_1978Colleen: One of the “Wow” moments for me working at Devex–and a lot of us here have come from other companies–is related to these reviews. And even at the time when we were doing them semi-annually, one of the questions that always gets asked is “What do you want to do within your profile that’s outside of what your job description is?” And I think that it’s a unique and special thing to be asked what more do you want to do, maybe not necessarily specifically within your role, but what are you interested in.

 

Nina: We don’t make a practice of extending office to people we’re not 100% confident in. So in summation, it is definitely at the core of our hiring process to consider if someone is going to add to the Devex culture, especially as we’re growing.

Carine: Every Friday at Devex, you will find “Frine,” which is Friday plus wine put together. We created our own word called Frine. And I think that’s one of the pillars of Devex culture and being able to every Friday afternoon–for some of the different offices, it’s a little bit later–but we take time to  just kind of put our computers away.

IMG_1971

Allison: Another way we use Slack is by posting on our new business channel, so anytime someone has a new business win, you can share it with everyone and everyone reacts with emojis and it’s really exciting to sort of get that praise. And it also helps just with other teams so other teams can know what new business is going on across team. So I think that that’s another thing that I find really valuable because I’m a words-of-affirmation person. I need a lot of praise. It’s my love language. And so I think that I absolutely feel supported because I have that from my colleagues and I really value their opinion.

IMG_1975

Colleen: Another perk that I think is pretty unique to Devex, and it’s relatively new, but it’s something called the YAY! days. So twice a year–and you’re meant to use them in the first half of the year, and then your second one in the second half–you have a day where it’s not a sick day, it’s not a vacation day, it’s just a day where you take off and you do something really fun, and the only requirement is that you take a picture of yourself doing it and you post to everybody in Slack.

Nina: So that’s a big part of it, the Devexplain. I explain how we operate as a flat organization, what that means, how that will kind of come to bear in their time at Devex and how they can navigate certain situations. A lot of people are coming from organizations that are more bureaucratic, so telling them, “This how it’s different. These are the words we use.” We don’t use the word manager, we use team lead. We sway away from even the word company because we serve a sector that is about social impact, so we like to think of ourselves more of an organization or a social enterprise. So really imparting to them the language that we use, our values, our culture, and really spelling it out so that there’s just no ambiguity. They understand that this is the culture, and we’re really setting them up to succeed here and what that looks like.

IMG_1979Margaret: I will say that all the things that we’ve mentioned are because our leadership across the board thinks that it’s important to be constantly changing and evolving. And while the focus is always helping the people who are doing good work do it even better, we are constantly looking at ourselves and evaluating the data that we’re—we collect data on ourselves, on how people connect to the mission, on how people are feeling. We’re data driven. We really are. And so, when leadership looks at the data, when anyone looks at the data and says, “What about this idea? What if we add wellness walks because people are feeling like they don’t have enough—they’re not pushing themselves to work out? So what if we just all get out of the office?” or “What if we really try to focus on getting diversity in this area?” Anytime that people look at the data and have ideas, they’re taken seriously.

Denver: I want to thank Margaret Richardson for organizing this and to all those who participated: Margaret Richardson, Allison Punch, Colleen Casey, Nina Takahashi, and Carine Umuhumuza. Podcast, transcript, and pictures of the participants and the Devex offices can all be found at denverfrederick.wordpress.com.

IMG_1964

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Bridgespan Group

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

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

IMG_1738

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

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

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

73AE056B-74D0-415C-A9A0-4CB6DA16E7AF

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

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

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

80C9EEFE-0AFA-4FD5-87E8-D7DDCD871C89

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

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

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

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

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

2355C02E-2996-4B5D-AA7B-54F81F155080

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


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Echoing Green

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: One of my favorite guests on the Business of Giving is Cheryl Dorsey, the President of Echoing Green. So I was excited when she said, “Come on over and give us a look.” So I took off for 7th Avenue and 35th Street to speak to some of the members of the Echoing Green Team. We’ll start with Cheryl telling us about the organization.1FCFD89A-8C11-4944-BE5D-42618961EF11

Cheryl: We were founded in1987 by the senior leadership of a private equity firm called General Atlantic, who were true pioneers in the space of social entrepreneurship. And the mission of Echoing Green is simple and wonderful: It is to unleash next generation talent to solve the world’s greatest problems.

Stacy: Talking about the culture at Echoing Green — I am one of the newer members of the Echoing Green family — one of the things that stood out for me is the layout of our office. It was designed to resemble a beehive. And that was an amazing thing for me to think about and that bees, they come and they go and they interact with each other… And they’re all working towards a common goal and that’s very similar to what happens here. Even though we have our designated pods and sections in our office, it’s designed in such a way that we flow in and out of our conversations.

74B3D715-2E42-4C51-AF44-9A9109AFF986

We flow in and out of our daily work lives, so we learn about not only the work and things that we’re doing from day to day, but we learn about our personal lives: our families, situations that we may be going through and how we can support and help each other. And that’s one of the things that is very endearing to me in working at Echoing Green.

Lindsay: One of the things that I have kind of always been in pursuit of is the opportunity to be around people I can learn from and who are kind of eager to exchange ideas, exchange good places to go for lunch, a hug, what have you but kind of all in service of us working again towards… We have something in common. We are really excited about helping to support energetic talent who’s really committed for the long haul to achieving long-term social change. So, I think that’s like waking up everyday and working with people who are constantly thinking about how to do that better is really exciting.

D32FA7B4-CFFB-41FB-A67F-15573A991D67

Corie: One of the things that jumps out for me about working at Echoing Green is this ritual or custom that we have called the Be Bold Award. And on a bi-weekly basis, the whole staff gets together in one of our conference rooms here for a staff meeting where we’re all reporting out on our work and discussing big topics for the organization and then at the end of each of those meetings, someone receives the Be Bold Award. Whoever receives it, passes it onto someone else at the next meeting and that award is really all about recognizing five core values that we’ve identified among our staff at the organization which are: Thinking Big, Community, Always Learning, Resourcefulness and Being Present. I just think that award is such a nice reminder every two weeks of sort of how we want to show up in the workplace and a great way to kind of recognize our co-workers whether we work closely with them or not for something that we’ve noticed.

41ECF0E9-4BAF-46CA-9C15-C4B5DCB07537

Cheryl:  And it was interesting to me probably always wearing my fellow hat first as a staff person trying to think about how do you think about the programming and the community that’s required to build this world class, this best in class fellowship program and what happens when you pay attention to that at the expense of your corporate culture and that I would say, that got us to be sort of leaders in the field but as an institution having to take pause and say, we’re not going to be around to serve anybody unless we really figure out who we are, the values we stand for and how do we invest in our people and our talent first. The women sitting around this table and the rest of my colleagues had really been instrumental in saying “If we’re going to move forward, we’ve got to think about that.” So I think the lesson to learn from people out there trying to build their own institution is really how valuable culture building is and it’s not a static activity

6F951139-D019-49E4-9972-33C25E300A1BLindsay: People start task forces that are meant to address a specific programmatic initiative and they have recognized that they need input from a variety of teams and rather than kind of do that in an ad hoc way kind of trying to formalize it either for a discrete period of time maybe it turns into kind of an ongoing effort. One of those is the Search and Selection Task Force of which I think for probably the last three years or so that has met formally and that is a way for people on the communications team and the fellowship team and the knowledge team to really get together with some regularity and think about not just the specifics of the process for this go-around, but even like what kinds of system changes we might wanna make for the future that can make all of our lives better.

Corie: We are seated one block away from Penn Station and because we’re often kind of the first funders of these fellows, they’re really early stage. Some of them don’t even have their own office space and if they do, are often looking for meeting rooms and things like that. So really any day of the week here, you might see an Echoing Green fellow walking in and out, getting a chance to catch up with them on what’s new on their work. And that’s really just kind of a constant source of inspiration and a constant sort of visual reminder of why we’re doing the work that we’re doing which is really fun.

25776ED3-174B-406C-BDD6-2995AB93D770

Stacy: Echoing Green not only encourages its fellows and its employees but we have an expansive community of both former employees and alumni fellows who are engaged with us. There are employees that have left Echoing Green but they still remain in contact not only with people that are still here but they still follow our community and participate very deeply in our community. And that is something that I think is very important and I think is also an acknowledgment of the work that Cheryl has done in keeping us all engaged, in keeping us all feeling like we’re part of the family like even if you leave, you can always come home. There’s always a cube for you. There’s always a seat for you here. And that’s something that really just speaks to who we are at Echoing Green.

Denver: I want to extend my thanks to those who participated in this piece. In addition to Cheryl, there was Stacy Lewis, Lindsay Booker, and Corie Lieberman. You can listen to this again, read the transcript, and see pictures of their beehive office and the participants by going to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and we’ll have a link there to my full interview with Cheryl Dorsey.

9AD1BCDC-37E6-4C5E-897B-9588A5468D67

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 United Nations Foundation

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: I was recently down in Washington, D.C. and had the opportunity to visit the offices of the United Nations Foundation over at 1750 Pennsylvania Avenue. We’ll start with their President and CEO, Kathy Calvin, who will tell us about their work. And then you will hear from members of their engaged and motivated staff on why they find the UN Foundation to be a very special place indeed.

afcc7d37-e05f-4f81-8bbd-c1c7d29b0476.jpg

Kathy: The UN Foundation was founded by entrepreneur and businessman, Ted Turner, nearly 20 years ago because he felt he should put his money where his mouth was. And that was in supporting the UN and the work it does around the world to handle, challenge and fix some of the biggest problems. And in the 20 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve seen enormous progress in global poverty going down, hunger going down, children staying in school, but there’s lots more to do so we look forward to the next 20 years.

Annie: Kathy mentioned the quote that Ted Turner who founded our organization said which is “Everyone can walk down the street and pick up a piece of paper.” And I think that idea of each employee and each person that we work with as being capable of doing smaller and large actions that are going to change the world is really emblematic both of the work that we do and of the work culture.

Emily: One of the previous deputy secretary generals at the UN said “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.” And I think that is something that I take really true to my job day to day. And I think that the foundation feels like it’s a part of more broadly in supporting the UN.

A7F92624-687E-4546-A904-B8D31890E2BCSeema: And really at UNF, the support I got is you can be successful at home and be successful at work, which I’m really grateful for. It set the path for the rest of my work here and it’s why people stay here. And they continue to grow their families if they wish. It’s why they continue to stay for almost a decade like Emily has or why people start as interns and continue to come back because it’s just that kind of place. And as somebody who works professionally on gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights, being able to work at an organization that really goes above and beyond to live those values is not an easy task. We know that. We know the US is not like in the front runner of supporting these things and so, it just makes our work so much more clear in terms of why it is so important to make sure that everybody has that.

Emily:  I’ve really appreciated the opportunity that that’s provided for a completely flat structure and opportunity for anyone to speak up and ask any questions, raise any issues, and feel like they won’t be judged for it. I think that’s important. And then also I’ve really appreciated that Kathy Calvin, our president CEO, has done office hours sometimes where anyone — doesn’t matter what you’re job — can sit down with her for 15 minutes and talk about anything. Again it’s a safe space and I think some of those mechanisms the foundation has put in place have been helpful.

Wes: I think that there’s open floorplan that we’re really blessed with here in the DC office that really encourages us to not only work within our teams, but expand outside of it whether that’s working with additional campaigns like Shot at Life, Girl Up, Nothing But Nets, which our grassroots networks really appreciate because they want to diversify their own interest… Or mentoring our own interns and teaching them the ins and outs and how far they can really go to network and get to know different perspectives at the foundation; that’s really cool. But on top of that, I think that it gives us a chance to really coordinate with people who have such different perspectives and experience, whether that’s people who formerly work on campaigns and have a lot of a direct advocacy on the ground experience… Or whether that’s people who work on different forms of recruitment whether that’s donors or otherwise.

5035CC70-8847-4D90-8535-A61CC42CC099Annie: Sometimes I would do social media, so sometimes it’s just like: Okay, [this just feels] that I’ve been tweeting and Instagram posting a lot… like what does that do? And then all of the sudden the numbers start rolling in and 2000 journalists who’d been trained all over the world who now know how to talk about sustainable development goals. It’s 200 kids in Uganda who got to meet with a soccer star to learn about the sustainable goals and engage in sports and education.

It’s people around the world who are given these tools able to transform their communities and who come to our events leaving inspired and say, “Oh I’m going to reforest Ireland.” And are now working to teach kids about ecology and plant trees. It’s just incredible and sometimes it does get kind of — we all work very hard day to day and whenever I have that moment to take a step back and be like “Wow!” There is definitely a huge wow factor here.

KennyAlso, just going back to culture and the way we’re set up organizationally, one of the wow factors is that you’re encouraged to talk to people like the CEO and the COO. I remember within the first week of me being here, I was in the meeting with my boss and our COO and the CEO of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, they looked to me, and I wasn’t expecting to speak in this meeting… But they looked to me after being here for a week or so and we’re sitting there talking numbers and budgets and plans for the next year. At UNF, it is really encouraged. Our COO stops by my desk where he encourages everybody to just walk into the office and ask him a question if you want. It is not something you always see in other organizations. So I think that speaks volumes for the way our culture is set up at  UNF.D0AA89EF-6A2A-4E77-8574-649A315F8EFF

Tisha: There is such incredible talent here in this organization. But when we do pause and we are mindful of the impact that we’re making, I think it just actually recharges us to go out there and work even harder and stronger and be even more excited and more passionate. I look at all of us kind of like global ambassadors. It’s not just the pins that we wear. It really is the way that we talk about our work. There are many of us that go home saying, “Ugh, that place.” The only time I feel challenged or discouraged is when I haven’t figured out the solution. But actually what that motivates me to do is work with others to figure out the solution. Because at the end of the day, we get to get people like Steph Curry and Bill Gates talking about mosquitoes. I mean, if that’s not an example of being a global influencer, I don’t know what could be

Kathy: But we want talent, we want energy, we want enthusiasm but we also like nice people. It’s not worth working with jerks and so we prioritize people who are good team workers, able to take initiative, care about the value proposition that we stand for in our mission and also are willing to stretch and grow because almost nobody comes here knowing a lot about the UN. And they will leave here knowing a lot about the UN but even more about the world.6158442D-A1D8-4621-BC76-66D070FD9A06

SeemaOn a totally separate note, when I was thinking about what’s kind of really unique about UNF too on a day to day basis is when we moved from our old building to this building, one of the changes was that there were no microwaves on each floor, which I was very resistant to.

And the reason is they wanted to put all the microwaves and all the refrigerators on our top 12th floor so that it would force us all to go up there at the lunch hour to get our lunches, to warm it up or whatever. Again, I resisted and ate warm tuna sandwiches for quite some time but now that I do wanna bring my lunch and it’s a gift. It’s a gift that they made us go up to the 12th floor, enjoy the view… They’ve set it up so it’s very welcoming and that there’s not this expectation which being of a certain age too. There’s others’ expectation that you’re just at your desk all day which is sort of this old school expectation of corporate culture. You can work from anywhere as long as you’re getting your work done and that allows you to deal with everything you have to deal with in your life and still be productive at UNF. So, I now go to the 12th floor for my lunch.

Rocio: And if anything I was really surprised because I was expecting to go in there and them tell me like how I’ve been doing but in reality they wanted me to tell them how they can do a better job so I can improve on my job. So it was that critical feedback that I was like: I’ve never in that position where I’m telling you… Like this is how you can help me do my job. So I thought in those terms, it’s really awesome because it gives you agency of your job and it gives you that power to really do more than what you’re expected to do.

Denver: I want to thank Kathy Calvin for opening up the offices of the UN Foundation for all of us to visit and to the others who participated in this segment; Annie Rosenthal, Wes Rogerson, Kenny Pankey, Tisha Hyter, Emily Ross, Seema Jalan, and Rocio Ortega. Now, just go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com where you can hear this podcast again, read the transcript, and see pictures of the participants and the offices of the UN Foundation.

E4A7777A-8F06-4B88-907F-C3C832661D23

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