office culture

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Bridgespan Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of the 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.

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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.

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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 Communities in Schools

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: And this evening, we’re going to take a trip down to Crystal Drive in Arlington, Virginia and visit the offices of Communities in Schools. We’ll begin with their President and CEO, Dale Erquiaga, and then we’ll get some wonderful insights from members of the CIS team.

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Dale: Communities in Schools is the nation’s largest and most effective dropout prevention program. We keep kids in school and on track to graduate by surrounding them with support. So for me, it’s a natural extension of that work that our own corporate culture reflects that same sense of support. People here genuinely love their work. They’re mission-driven and they reflect that same sense of mission in each other. These are folks who get along and they get to work every single day on a cause that matters most to our country and I think you see that in the people who work here. As the leader of this organization, I’m new to the organization so I inherited the culture. And I can tell you it’s the greatest inheritance that any CEO could ask for.

Kamila: And that is the fact that overworking is not celebrated. I think that we live in a culture where people want to be like the first person in and the last person out. And in the times where I have done that, I literally get called out by my manager, Steve, like, “What are you still doing here? What were you working on? It can wait! Why are you still here?” And so I think efficiency is celebrated here. I think finding simpler ways of doing things that don’t take as much time… There’s a culture of excellence where the product, I think, people put a lot of work into it to make sure that what they’re doing is a good representation of Communities in Schools. But just being here all the time and overworking and over-exceeding yourself is not celebrated. I think that’s what really encourages a good work-life balance because it’s not seen as a good thing if you’re always here.

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Alice: And in our last space, all of the senior offices were around the outside walls, so all the windows were blocked. It just happened to be the way that office was configured and so when we moved here, the senior management team said, “Let’s make all of the offices internal and have them be glassed, so everybody can enjoy all of the windows… And the best view in the whole place is our employee break room and our kitchen so that everybody can sit and see the river and just have as much as natural light as possible.” 

Tiffany: I can’t help but remember within the first few months that I started about four or five months into starting with Communities in Schools, my father passed away which is incredibly a trying time for anyone, but especially if you’re starting a new job and have an incredible amount of responsibility. And when I talk about how much Communities in Schools values their employees, I think about the support that I got from my boss and my colleagues when we had an incredible amount of work going on preparing for conferences and [hill days]. There were other folks in the office who weren’t at all responsible for leading this work who just automatically took over and helped produce everything so that by the time I came back, a lot of things were already in place. And I think that says a lot about the organizational culture.1D158BE3-55C7-4446-AFCF-49F0FD40D46D

Dawn: What I’ve been struck with in my time here is the significant degree of authenticity and transparency that exists particularly within our CEO and senior leadership team. Everything from being very open in the direction of where the organization is headed in the future to sharing personal stories and experiences with staff members demonstrating. There’s a real sense of vulnerability that the leadership team are willing to share and staff has responded very, very positively to that. You don’t see that with a lot of leaders. What struck me as a new employee here is that there is no ego that exists within this organization and having worked in HR for a long time, that’s very, very rare. We spend a lot of time identifying, thinking through our values and competencies as an organization and then providing ongoing training and development to ensure that everyone is on the same page and shares the same values. And I think that degree of transparency is really what has helped this organization get to where it is and will help it continue to be successful.

Crystal: Being able to have individuals work on what they enjoy most. Some people may be creative as far as planning events or maybe in the policy world, we allow different no matter the department we allow them to do that type of work. So when I’m recruiting and hiring, those are the types of perks and things that I explain to my candidates; that we offer an environment where it’s collaborative but in the same sense we allow you to do more of what you like and so that you’re not sticking to that one thing.01F1AEB6-75B8-4678-A552-7222873FF8A4

Meghan: When I first started, I came on as the Executive Assistant to our former CEO. And he announced that he was leaving about a month or two after I started, so it was kind of a weird introduction to CIS. And it made me really nervous because I wasn’t sure what would happen to me as he left. And I remember our Chief Strategy Officer sat down with me and had a conversation and she really took the time to make sure that I felt supported, and that I knew that I was going to have a home at CIS no matter what happened. And she really talked to me and found out what my interests were and that’s how I landed in Government Relations because she really identified where I would be a good fit and helped me [land]. So I think that that story just kind of really underscores exactly how much this effort to have a culture of supporting and empowering employees really comes from the people at the top.

[Tahir]: So the organizational took the effort itself to see that diversity, equity, and inclusion as the topic of our times and we were like, “Okay, we need to also look at this and how we’re related to this larger national conversation.” And we took the effort to look in within our network on how we serve our students, how our affiliates run themselves, and how also the national office run themselves, and I think what’s really interesting about it that the whole initiative is employee-led so people volunteer for this committees and they have genuine serious conversation about what are these issues that exist and how do we best approach them and solve them in a way that includes everyone in the conversation.

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Patti: Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this segment; Dale Erquiagua, Meghan Lustig, Kamila Thigpen, Alice Butler, Tiffany Miller, [Tahir Ahmad], Dawn Godaire, and Crystal Gonzalez. If you should want to hear this again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and the offices of Communities in Schools. They’re all there waiting for you at denverfrederick.wordpress.com.

Dawn: I would say the bottom line is what really makes the CIS culture so unique is its people. It’s what everybody said here. I mean it’s the fact that the people are friendly and smart and committed to the work that we do. And as an organization, we will continue to be strong if we remain very diligent and understanding what our culture is and making sure we bring in the right talents that embodies those values, and I think so far that we have done that well, but I think it’s really important for other non-profits to understand. It is the people that will make you successful, the rest of it you can teach or develop.

Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this segment; Dale Erquiaga, Meghan Lustig, Kamila Thigpen, Alice Butler, Tiffany Miller, [Tahir Ahmad], Dawn Godaire, and Crystal Gonzalez. If you should want to hear this again, read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and the offices of Communities in Schools. They’re all there waiting for you at denverfrederick.wordpress.com.

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of the Partnership for Public Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Share Our Strength

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: Share Our Strength is one of the most highly regarded nonprofit organizations in the country. Their No Kid Hungry Campaign is ending child hunger in America by assuring that all children get the healthy food they need everyday. I was recently down to their offices in Washington DC and had the opportunity to sit down with the members of the staff and ask them what it was like to work at Share Our Strength.

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AllisonFor me, one of the best things about working here has to do with this culture of hospitality and especially a charitable assumption. And to me what that means is that when someone misses a deadline or hasn’t done something that was up to your standards, whether it’s said explicitly or not, that people are constantly saying, “You have no idea what else is going on in their life. You have no idea what else is on their plate, what other responsibilities they have…” and it just really fosters this spirit of camaraderie and helpfulness and kindness. And it really, I think, only helps our work product and I think really diminishes any sort of office tension in comparison to other places that I’ve worked. It’s really special and really nice here.

ClayOne is that our president holds regular brownbag lunches with a cross-section of employees to give them a venue to talk about any topics that they want to bring up. It also gives him an opportunity to pose different questions to them that the leadership team here is thinking about or issues that we’re wrestling with through engaging what employees think. Those conversations are translated for the larger leadership team so that they know about we came up and the things that we should consider taking action on or be thinking about how we’re addressing them especially when there’s a misconception about something that’s been communicated or anything like that.

KhiaSpecifically going back to onboarding, I think when it comes to the company culture, we do stress that. For me, I tell my friends, like “If you aren’t open to being creative and doing something new, then this might not be a place for you,” because we definitely do a lot of things new all the time, which is great.  It keeps things fresh, keep things new. And then once they’re onboarded, I do a specific orientation on learning and development, just making sure that people understand that that’s important to us in developing our employees while you’re here and as well as going forward if you do leave the organization.

MorganBut my favorite thing, and I was so, so happy to hear about this when I first joined the team, is that they have this awards called the “Golden Apple Awards.” There are four given out twice a year. It’s based on leadership, fun, team work, and you’re nominated by your colleagues and you actually get this amazing, very high-quality trophy that is of course shaped like an apple. And you’re recognized in front of all staff at the all staff meeting and your supervisor or usually an executive on your team gives an overview of the work that you’ve done. And I can’t say that I’ve ever seen that anywhere.

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AmandaBut one of the things I really liked was it wasn’t an initiative that just came out from the HR team saying, “We are going to become more diverse, and these are the five ways we’re going to do it.” I really liked that the organization opened up the call to anyone and everyone that wanted to join and really take the initiative on. They’re being very fluid and open about what diversity means, whether it’s with the people that we work with, the work that we’re doing, the people we’re working for, partnerships. It’s really kind of across all boards what does diversity and inclusion look like as we implement our work

Allison:  One is about the salary conversations. Increases annually are always very separate from your performance review. That’s set out really intentionally so that the focus is separate on your performance and how you can improve and making sure that you’re growing and concentrating on your skill set and your performance

But it used to be associated with the point system and they stripped the point system from it, too. And I love that because now it allows you to just stick to really what skills and cater that to the individual employee versus being so stuck on this number and making the number fit across your team and making it make sense across peers and different job descriptions. So that’s been really helpful and I think really encouraged honest conversations about people’s performance and how they can grow.

DonnaSo we were all given an opportunity to either be a mentor or be a mentee, and I offered to be a mentor. We had speed-dating round where we all went around to see how we all got along and then we got to vote on the three people we’d want to mentor or who we wanted to be our mentor. I was paired up with somebody from a different department. It’s been really nice and HR gave me some training about how to be a mentor, and I just really liked that opportunity. I’m not a manager but it’s developing a nice, interpersonal, some skills and a relationship with somebody I wouldn’t normally interact with and I just think that’s a very caring and supportive thing to do here and I appreciate that.

Denver: I want to thank Billy Shore, their founder and CEO, for opening up their offices to all of us and to those who participated: Clay Dunn, Khia Carter, Morgan Hultquist, Amanda Villacorta, Donna Batcho, and Allison Shuffield. The audio and transcript as well as pictures of the participants in the Share Our Strength offices can be found at denverfrederick.wordpress.com

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