work culture

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of City Year

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


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Michael Brown ©cityyear.org

Denver: Today’s visit will take you to Columbus Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts in the headquarters of City Year. In 28 communities across the country, City Year brings together diverse young leaders to service AmeriCorps members who work full time in high-need schools to help students succeed. You will first hear from their co-founder and CEO, Michael Brown, and then from members of the staff who, as you will soon learn, feel very passionate and emotionally-connected to the work that they do. 

Michael: When Robert Kennedy said at the height of apartheid in South Africa that “every time a man or woman stands up for an ideal or acts to improve a lot of others here, she sends out a tiny ripple of hope that can create a mighty current that can wipe away even the highest walls of oppression or resistance.” What we’ve done with that with our corporate culture is the very first agenda item of every meeting.

  1.  Ripples. No matter what’s going on, no matter how hard the work is we start with ripples. What’s out there that’s inspiring us, is there something that the corps members have done. What that does is that just puts you on the mood to tackle hard things. The core of our corporate culture is to be prepared from an idealistic spirit to do really hard things.

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Jennifer:  I feel like every single person I interact with here at City Year is laser beam-focused on delivery the best possible service we can to the highest need schools in this country to make sure that every kid we serve gets the supports they need to be successful. That is an incredibly unifying force even though, “Wow! We are so diverse at City Year.”

Charlie: A couple of things I would mention, our values drive everything we do, our values come to life in our work, in our schools, in our communities across the country, across the world. Erin mentioned belief in the power of young people. I’m also interested in the belief in the power of old people, given my age. But we have 10 values, two others I would mention. One our service to a cause greater than self and starting there, the other is students first, collaboration always. We feel like our values and the stories that represent our values really helped guide our daily actions and our work and motivate us, so I am really excited about that.

Jamaal: What I appreciated the most about my City Year experience is that it gave me a common language to connect with people who thought like I did and those who didn’t think like I did, but we’re all committed to making sure that the communities, the schools, and the students that we were working with were going to get everything that they needed to be successful.

When I think about the cultural pieces that stick out for me, especially from my lens, I think about level 5 leadership and I think about how we strive to build young adults who are socially conscious, who are aware of their skills and their areas of development and are courageous enough to step into positions that they made initially beyond comfortable with but will grow into them.

Erin:  We’ve committed to embodying a culture of idealism at the office space and I had the opportunity to give a tour to someone who just had a meeting later this afternoon at City Year and was visiting the offices and it’s always really great to see our office through the eyes of a new person. We have a lot of our logos, our values, our culture points, a lot of our founding stories which are parables and descriptive stories that have some moral or ethical implication that we can draw at time of need and at times of indecision. Right now I am staring at one about Stone Soup and it’s really moving for people who are used to various sterile office environments. It’s something that seems so simple to all of us here in the office because we’re around it everyday but the colors, the blues, the reds, the yellows are all really vibrant and really energizing because our work is hard and we need every little bit of energy that we can get and I draw a lot of it from our office space.

 

ChandI’m going to talk about something that people may not know unless they worked here and that’s the CY Mindful Community (CY standing for City Year), and that’s something that’s pretty unique about our culture. We focus on doing meditations Tuesdays and Thursdays or any sort of brain break related activities. I’m part of the leadership team group for it. We get together at the beginning of each month and plan what we want to do for the community. Anyone and everyone is welcome. 

Erin: We close those meetings with a spirit break,  which everyone gets up, you all put your hands in the middle and if you can’t reach the middle, you out your hand on the shoulder of your colleague to make sure everyone’s connected, and you think of a word that either symbolizes or inspires and sums up the meeting or sums up the work ahead, something like collaboration or students first is a good examples that you could use. For my team strategy and growth, it’s SNG and then you say the word and it’s a way to end the meetings in the same way every single time, but also to cap it off in a really symbolic way to have that inspiration to move forward.

Virginia: Another thing we share is joys and appreciations. We start our meetings that way, we start our days that way and we end our days that way. There’s a balanced when thinking about being in that challenging environment continually that you’re still focusing on the small wins, both with students in the schoolhouse but then also with each other and appreciating each other for the work that we do. I think that balance is really key for me and that’s something that’s is really important in our culture is that balance that reminds you no matter how challenging your day was, there’s still something to appreciate or to find joy in. That’s still a really big piece for me.

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Grace: I’ve had a one-on-one with my boss. Outside of any performance management meetings that we’ve had, I’ve been able to have those meetings with my boss to figure out what are your long term goals, what do you want to get out of this job, what elements of this job do you enjoy and want to do more of and how can we provide you additional leadership opportunities to build on what you’re doing here and why you want to be in this role or what role as you see yourself in in the future.

Jamaal: When you have leaders who are as accessible and open to answering your questions, to providing you with the perspective needed to sometimes say, “Okay, I understand why this decision was made and now I can see myself moving the work forward,” I think it’s another piece of our culture that’s really unique and special. I sometimes take for granted how other organizations don’t have leaders who are as approachable and accessible.

Grace: Our CEO, Michael Brown, this year did something different where he put together a campaign to fund raise and pack packages that will be sent to every single City Year team across the country. Michael led these efforts, helped to fund raise. Our senior leadership team donated half of the funds for this entire effort to put together care packages for all 314 schools that City year serves our across 28 cities across the entire country. It wasn’t just the funds, but it was also the amount of time it took to organize that, the amount of time it took to put that together,  and I think that is a perfect example of their leadership and leading by example when it comes to the work that we do.

Charlie: We do have a pledge that our corps members say on a regular basis, that maybe I can call on Jamaal to do it with me right now, the City Year pledge. I call on Jamaal because he was on the dean’s council, so I can do that–10 years ago. “I pledge to serve as a City Year member to the very best of my ability, to honor the rules and expectations of City Year, to respect my colleagues and the people and the communities we serve, to provide excellent service, to lead by example and be a role model to children, to celebrate the diversity of the people, ideas and cultures around me, to serve with an open heart and an open mind, to be quick to help and slow to judge, to do my best to make a difference in the lives of others and to build a stronger community, nation and world for all of us.”

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to City Year CEO, Michael Brown, for allowing us to visit their offices to Tina Chong and Jennifer Merrill for organizing all of these and to those who participated: Chand Jiwani, Erin McIntosh, Grace Boal, Charlie Rose, Virginia Bette, Jamaal Williams, and Jennifer Jordan. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for this podcast, transcript and pictures of the participants in the office City Year.



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 First Book

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: Today, we will be heading down to our nation’s capital and to the offices of First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise that provides new books, learning materials and other essentials to children in need. We will begin with their President and CEO, Kyle Zimmer, and then hear from the other members of the staff about the secret sauce that makes First Book a special place to work.

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Kyle Zimmer and Denver Frederick

Kyle: Culture of the organization is paramount because it will affect everything you do… and a lot of things that you can’t do. It’s been important to us from the day we opened our doors. I believe strongly in team leadership. I don’t believe that having a single lone wolf at the helm of an organization is a healthy strategy; I don’t think it is a sustainable strategy. And so for starters, we have a team of four people at the top of the organization who are really co-equals in running it. In addition, we really work hard to elevate entrepreneurial thinking and to attract entrepreneurs into the organization

Jennifer:  I’ve been given opportunities to be challenged and to really manage up. So to do things that I’ve never had the opportunity to do before and really show and prove myself as a professional, and I think that’s really special and not every organization gives their employees an opportunity to do that.

Michael: The thing about First Book that always has me coming back for more is it’s kind of like coming to a playground of challenges every day and hanging out there with your friends. And so, under the big umbrella of getting more books out into the world, there are all of these smaller umbrella challenges, and smaller problems and issues and tasks to go through, whether it’s how do we get books to rural areas more effectively, whether it’s how do we let our network talk to each other so that they’re using our books more effectively or how do we make it easier for everybody in the US or people abroad to get books. There’s always this sense of there’s another great challenge, there’s another thing to work on, and you’ve got a lot of cool, interesting, smart people to roll up your sleeves with and try to figure them out.

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Dan: And after we hit a great milestone, we’ll pop some champagne, we’ll eat and we’ll laugh and have a good time, and then we clean up and we get right back to climbing that hill. So I think it’s critically important that you’re able to come to a job that challenges you, that has a great mission, but also allows you to have a good time.

Paula:  I’ve been at First Book for almost 10 years already, and one of my favorite things about the organization is how fearless we are and how we don’t settle for things that we have already achieved. We keep looking for more. We set challenges and goals, but once we have achieved those, we look for more.

Anna: But we really are trying to meet the goals of that corporate partner and the goals of First Book. So as we grow and change and the partner grows and change, we want to make sure that we’re fitting in and making the best out of all of the goals and the needs of both parties.

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Jennifer: So in every single performance evaluation that I’ve had at First Book, my manager has given me the opportunity to talk about my performance and how I feel about it, but also talk about their performance and how I feel about their management style, what’s working for me and what’s not working for me, and what they can do better to make sure that I feel supported, to make sure that I feel successful, and to make sure that I’m challenged and see a future for me here at First Book. So that, I think, is really important to me. It makes me feel valued in the same way that each one of our members feel valued.

Dan: I ask them questions like “What is your professional Shangri-La when it comes to work environment?” “Would you prefer to work in an office alone or with other folk?” “Can you make a joke or take a joke?” These are things that are important to the culture here, so these are questions that I’m constantly asking candidates when their potentially looking for jobs, including “Why First Book? Why would you want a job here?”

Roxana: I think that’s the kind of environment that we come to everyday that makes it really easy to come to work, and I think we get to celebrate it with traditions that we sort of look forward to. I’m going to say one that I enjoy a lot just because I think it defines, for me, First Book – it’s our Halloween celebration. Because we go all out, people get very creative and very competitive about “What are we going to do for Halloween? Because we have to come up top. We’re going to have to really rock it this year.” And people are so committed to the work that they find ways to put thematic/themes into their costumes and just really have a lot of fun, so that makes coming to work really, really special.

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Paula: We not only do that through our program such as the Stories For All program in which we try to bring to schools titles that speak to minorities and different groups of people, but we also do a lot of that within the organization. Wherever you look in the offices here in Washington, you’re going to see a diverse group of people from different backgrounds, and First Book does a great job of making them feel inclusive, included in every single thing that we do as an organization.

Chandler: I was going to talk about work life balance, which maybe I don’t achieve so well all the time, but, in a way , I kind of love that because work life balance sort of implies that the thing that you do during the day is somehow other than who you are at core. And I think for me and I think for a lot of us here, I get a lot of my identity out of this organization and who we are in terms of the work that we’re doing together.

 

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Chandler: I think one thing that I’m really proud of with regard to our culture is really trying to encourage a culture of innovation. I think that a lot of groups do that and they tend to focus on good innovative ideas that work, which is great, but we also really try to celebrate good innovative ideas that fail.

The way we do that is something called the First Book Brick Award and our Brick Wall Award, sort of illustrating the fact that we know that sometimes you have a great idea and for whatever reason, you hit a brick wall and it doesn’t work. But the thing that we want to celebrate is the people that have ideas that really are passionate about them. They think about ways to lay them out. They don’t let a fear of failure stop them from sort of pushing the boundaries of creativity, pushing the limits of what we usually do, challenging conventions that we might always have held in the past. So by purposefully calling out once a year the best ideas that failed, we really try to encourage everyone to not let the fear of failure prevent them from trying that thing that might really propel us forward.

Denver: I want to thank Joyce Johansson who helped organize my visit and to all those who participated, Anna Anderson, Chandler Arnold, Jennifer Cobb, Michael Jones, Dan Stokes, Roxana Barillas and Paula Neira. Podcast, transcript and pictures of the participants in the office of the First Book are all up on 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 FSG

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: Much of the breakthrough thinking has occurred in addressing the most vexing social issues that challenge global society has come from an organization by the name of FSG. And that is where we will be going to this evening! To 1020 19th Street North West in their Washington DC offices. I asked members of the FSG team about working there and this is what they had to say.

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Hayling: So what I love about FSG is that there’s one part of my brain that views a lot of these, frankly, social justice issues as market failures, so I’m able to layer on my grad school rigor lens on issues that I care about from an ethical and moral perspective. But then also engage with those who are hopefully beneficiaries of the work and create a vision that makes sense for their work.

Rahfin:  When I think about what stands out for me at FSG, it’s that every piece of work, every project we’re on has a clear line of sight to the world and the impact that it can generate

Ursula: I will also say in that same vein of having no hierarchy… instead of having traditional sort of bosses, if you will, managers, FSG does not take that approach. People have what we call PDLs — professional development leaders. And because we are, by and large, generalists working on different projects across different geographies, people have that constant PDL who help to coach their professional development, help them understand how they can sort of engage in projects that would satiate them in the most satisfying of ways. But it’s not a traditional boss, and the absence of that boss I think again, contributes to a spirit of camaraderie and co-creation that you really don’t find in any other places.

Neeraja: I’ve really seen the magic and the power of the work that we do through this particular work that we’ve been doing over the past few years. We’ve had people who are so steeped in the technical expertise say to us, “We’ve never thought about this this way. You’ve helped us tremendously. You kind of helped us figure out how to move forward.” You’re actually facilitating progress in ways that they wouldn’t have been able to do. And when that happens it is both humbling, exciting, and a little bit surprising because you’re sitting there with people who’ve had expertise in these areas for so long. But it’s having someone to be able to bring the strategic lens, helping bring the facilitation skills to actually help people pull up from all of the expertise that they have and make sense of everything that they’re working on.

And this has really kind of have come to life for me on some work that I’m doing right now on helping to support accelerating the market introduction of new HIV prevention products in South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe. And that work has really had us entering rooms full of people with MDs, PhDs, longtime experts on HIV prevention, longtime advocates on HIV and I have to admit there’s a lot of trepidation when you walk into those rooms wondering if you almost have a right to be there, if you can really help push this issue forward with people who have been working on it for decades and to have all the technical expertise that comes with these topics in global health.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Feedback Labs

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Oxfam

 

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 we’re off to visit the offices of Oxfam which are located right next door to the TD Garden in Boston where both the Celtics and Bruins play their games. For those not familiar with Oxfam, it was founded in 1942 and it’s a global movement of people working together to end injustice and poverty. And as you’re about to hear, the people who work there find it to be a very special place indeed. 

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AndreaIf you’re creative and ambitious, you can do whatever you want here and try all kinds of different things here and still feel like you have a culture that supports youI’ve had many managers over the years and the culture of Oxfam has been the same that you work hard, you do your job, you support your colleagues and you go home to your life. And at the same time, what we’re doing here is contributing, you feel everyday like you’re doing something that’s helping people

EmilyI’m a boomerang Oxfam, Oxfam where I left and I came back, because it really is a unique place to work and it has a really welcoming environment that people here we work really closely together and because of that passion I think we feel really united and that there is a family aspect to it, we joke about calling at the Ox family. And there is that sense of unity here that I think doesn’t exist in other workplaces that we’re in it together, we’re fighting, sometimes really terrible issues, humanitarian crises, people who were literally on the edge of life and death and we’re in it together. And I think that is what’s really big about this workplace.

Oliver: One of the things that’s been consistent about my relationship with my managers is the freedom and the autonomy that they’ve given me to do my job and at the same time the support that they’ve given me. When I need help, when I need support, when I need assistance, struggling through a difficult problem or a difficult situation, they’re always there. But if that isn’t the situation, they back off and give me the freedom to go out and do my job and trust. They trust that I will go out and get my job done when it needs to be done and in the way that they expect it to be done. I’ve worked in a lot of organizations that have managers that tend to micromanage and I would be constantly reporting back about every single thing that I did, and that is not the case here

Bridget: I never worked for an organization where I felt like all of me, my whole person was able to be expressed in the organization and I think that’s what’s unique about working in a social justice organization, I think it’s what’s unique about working in a human rights organization that is working in so many diverse places in the world is that I was able to come in to the organization with all the skills that I’d build in the private sector, all of my education. But actually I was able to bring into Oxfam my activism, which I’d never was able to express publicly in the private sector. I wasn’t able to even express really effectively publicly in some of the other nonprofits that I was involved in starting. And that is actually I think what makes from many of us, what makes it unique to work in a place like Oxfam is that I’m able to be–I’d like to say, I’m a Lesbian woman, I’m a Mother, I’m an Activist, I’m a Manager, I’m a person who’s deeply, deeply interested in culture and people all over the world and all of those things come together for me at Oxfam

VinodSo one of the things that I’m extremely grateful for in terms of Oxfam is that Oxfam–and this is something that I always reiterate to newcomers, you will always be given an opportunity. So for me Oxfam is always the land of opportunity, if you have enough agency, if you have an idea, if you seek to desire change and you are resilient, you will be given the chance

IMG_1767Oliver: One of the things that I really appreciate about Oxfam is the accessibility and transparency of our Board of Directors. I’ve worked for another organization that had a board that felt very remote and little bit scary to staff and really was disconnected from staff and that’s not the case here. It starts with the fact that there is a staff-elected member of the board which is rotated on a brand new basis every few years. So the voice of staff is brought into discussions among the board of directors and each time the board meets, our board chair comes in along with that staff member to talk to staff in a wide ranging and open conversation on any topic that anyone wants to raise for an hour or hour and a half without management and executive leadership presentAnd I really appreciate that and look forward to those sessions as a way not only to raise concerns that I see about what’s going on, but also to hear directly about what the boards working on, what their priorities are in any given time.

Emily: I think there is probably no one here who doesn’t feel empowered to share their opinion, which can sometime lead to very impassioned meetings, but I think I’ve never once felt like I need to hold back what I think about something, what I feel is the right thing to do or how we should approach something and I’ve never been reprimanded or made to feel like I shouldn’t give lend my voice to a topic. I think that is a big part of Oxfam program, but it’s a really big part of our culture here that everyone feels empowered to use their voice, whether that be in your one on one with you manager, in you team meetings or in a lunch meeting with the board member. People feel that they can raise their hand and ask a question and question authority empower, and I think that’s really powerful in it, it has helped democratize the organization.

BridgetIt’s a strange thing, we love each other. I don’t know, it’s like the weirdest thing. We actually love each other, does not mean we don’t have conflict, it does not mean that we don’t sometimes have issues that break down and there are issues that come up. But honestly we love each other and that’s why we say we come back to the organization, but in fact we never leave.

Vinod: How that manifest itself on a concrete basis is when we do an inclusion and diversity group, there is staff that actually took the lead to organize a group to talk about spiritual and religious values that are attractive to Oxfam, and I participated in one of the incredible conversation about people’s personal journeys and why they come to work here. It is just mind boggling, the wealth of experience we have and what makes people work here. I don’t want to get into people’s personal stories, but you have very, very moving and inspirational stuff, and you don’t get that and nobody told them to do it

Andrea: I feel like I’ve always felt like it was a privilege to work at Oxfam, because we work on poverty, and poverty is a life long struggle, but people who come and go will work on here. But in this moment, I think people feel really privileged to come into this building and feel like they are doing something to make things better at a moment where a lot of people don’t know how to make things better. And I’m conscious of that and I think that that’s something that a lot of people feel right now in this moment.

Vinod: We have a mechanism called the spotlight of art word by anybody in the organization can say a public thank you to anybody else. So I have done it in the past, where I’ve asked people for favors or request and people have turned it around after office hours at the short deadline, because I needed to send something to the board, and I needed the backup information. So I will ride them, I will give them a spotlight of art and then that is publicly displayed in our lobby later, so that other people can come to know that people are going out of their way to help each other. And it doesn’t cause money, there is no money associated with it, but people do feel wonderful about the work they do, and it leaves you with a good feeling when you get a thanks back for saying “Hey! Thank you for that nice nod”

Denver: I want to thank both Sarah Mandel and Alissa Rooney who helped to organize my visit and to those who participated: Andrea Ferrera, Emily Bhatti, Bridget Snell, Oliver Gottfried, and Vinod Parmeshwar. If you’re interested in hearing this again, reading the transcript or for pictures of the participants in the Oxfam offices, just go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and it will all be waiting for you there.

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The Business of Giving Visits the Offices of Root Capital

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


IMG_1815Denver: And this evening, we’re going to go up to Cambridge, Massachusetts and to the offices of a truly exceptional organization called Root Capital. They are an agricultural impact investor that grows real prosperity in poor environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America. And for this segment, in addition to the staff in Cambridge, we will be joined on the phone by team members from Senegal and Costa Rica.

Will: So our staff try to live by five principles of leadership which are empowerment, equity, transparency, integrity and service. And every month, the person who carries the leadership torch – so the person who was selected as exemplifying one of those five values – will pass the torch on to one of their co-workers in another region, so if you’re in Latin America, you’d pass it to someone in the United States or Africa who’s exemplified a different value and someone in a different department. So, it kind of fosters this culture of recognizing your fellow colleagues for their accomplishments, it bridges gaps between different departments, and it bridges gaps between different regions as well.

Briana: And I think we especially see that and maybe more so in the small ways, because I have a more back office type of function, where I’m not always in the field, I’m not always on the frontlines with our clients. But my team definitely has a–I feel that we always have a hand in making improvements for the better of the whole organization.

Claire: So we’ve setup an open floor plan. We have one standing desk that is available for use, and more on the way. We’re about to start a nap pod from recent research that I’ve been looking at that shows that if you can find a quiet, secluded space where people can go and just take 10-, 15-, 20 minutes and shut their eyes, that you actually increase productivity, so that’s an exciting thing on the way. We have a lounge area with the puzzle table that’s been getting a lot of great use. We started a little kitchen garden where we just grow sprouts and can add them into snacks and things that we have when we have communal meetings.

IMG_1811Laura: Like in Root Capital you can go whatever, you can visit any of our offices, and people actually care about who you are, what are you doing, how are you doing. That’s what makes Root Capital so special. It’s like a really big family spread all around the world, but all of us somehow make it to always being in contact, always care about others. We are always sharing news, sharing our efforts, sharing our challenges, sharing everything one to another, one country to another and one team to another. So that’s something that makes me really feel committed and feel that Root Capital is the place, the place to work in, in fact.

Salif: The organizational culture is an open one where people discuss ongoing work so that they can have better suits that the work everyone does with the open communication between people from different departments. We have, in my office, someone that will be in credit admin next to someone that will be in lending, writing, and someone that would be business development. So we sort of communicate right one next to the other about what are the present issues, what can we do to better service our clients.

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Claire: And so we came together and just had about 10 minutes of singing songs of peace and freedom, and it made such a difference with how everybody felt. And I think really kind of showed that a lot of times when we sing together, it’s fun or even silly or just a nice icebreaker to having a serious meeting, but this was the time that just really pulled us all together and gave us a lot strength.

I think one thing about being an international organization that’s multilingual and there are some of us that can communicate very well in all the languages that we speak and others of us that are learning or maybe will never learn, but music is one thing that connects us all and I think that it’s a very powerful tool that has helped bring our Root Capital community together.

Will: And we’re multilingual. Multilingual in a sense that we’re operating in several different countries. Our staff speak probably a dozen languages between them, both here and the Cambridge headquarters, and in our regional offices in Latin America and Africa. But we’re also multilingual in the sense that we’re ideally just as comfortable communicating with our clients and the farmers we serve in whether it’s Nicaragua or Senegal or Kenya, as fluent communicating with them as we are in the boardrooms of a potential donor or investor’s office in New York or Washington D.C.

Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece Will McAneny who also organized my visit, Briana Woods, Claire Kozower, Laura Ramirez and Salif Diop. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for the podcast, the transcript and the pictures.

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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 Office of The Nature Conservancy

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


 

Transcript

Denver: And for this edition of Better Than Most, you’ll be traveling to Arlington, Virginia and the corporate headquarters of The Nature Conservancy, the largest nonprofit environmental group in the world.

We will begin with their President and CEO, Mark Tercek, and then hear from several of the dedicated members of the TNC team.

Mark: So we have 4,000 people on our team. We have 1,500 or so volunteer leaders we call trustees. Everywhere we work, we’ve got boots on the ground. In other words, therefore, we’re not just telling other people what to do. We’re trying to do it ourselves. Now, whenever we do these things on the ground, we’re doing it in partnership with others too, often local organizations, local people, but it kind of keeps you humble, keeps you focused. We don’t get carried away with crazy ideas. I think it’s a very good formula for us.

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Denver Frederick and Mark Tercek

Rosita: Another thing I love about this organization especially as a woman of color who works here is that the organization is constantly self-critical and trying to be better, and part of the team of that I work on is actually focused exclusively on how can we make this organization better in terms of a place where all employees feel valued and can actually thrive. And it’s a testament to that self-criticism that as an organization we don’t rest on our laurels and it’s always “how can we be better and smarter and more impactful?”

Gondan: I started off as a conservation staff and then after five years, I moved to development, and then went back to conservation and now, here, I’m in development, in changing countries at the world office. So at TNC, as long as you know what to do and you proved that you can do the work and that you can do it while you’re having fun, really lets you do whatever you want to do that fits with our mission and our core work.

John Bender: It is that ability to reinvent yourself that has been one of the greatest strengths I think of the organization. And part of that reinvention has been our recognition over many years of the desire and the need for a more diverse workforce. And we have a more inclusive workforce and we’ve taken a number of runs at it over my career here at the organization, but we finally, I think, have a lot of heft from the whole organization behind it, and that has made a big difference. I think that going forward, you’ll see many more different faces siting in the cubes, both here at WO and then around the offices, the business units outside of the US.

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Jon Fisher: And if you’re in a conservation organization, you kind of know the outcome before you do the science. So talking to colleagues at other organizations—I won’t name any—but the scientists’ job is to prove what you want the message to be. At the Conservancy, of course, we’re doing science to meet the mission, but when we have an inconvenient result, we still publish it. And so as somebody who has honest – one of our core values is integrity beyond reproach – and that’s something that I just really think is so important, especially at a time when trust in scientists is declining.

Johnny: I work in the legal department for The Nature Conservancy, and I tap dance to work. I tap dance to work because I love the people.

Professional development is really important to me and my supervisor has been really helpful. He empowers me to be the best person I can be, not only for myself but for the Conservancy, because a better me is a better conservancy. A great example, I support folks in Brazil. I told my boss, “I speak Portuguese but I think I could be better at it.” So he said, “You need a strength in that skill set, let’s send you to Brazil.” So I spent a month in the Rio de Janeiro office, both working and in a language immersion program. And it was an incredible experience because I got to work in a different culture, see the mission from a different perspective, learn Portuguese, and also work from the beach on occasion, which is a part of the mission.

Tom: Because the mission is what brings people here, but the people are what make you stay. I think I had more folks walk in to my office in the first week I was here at the Conservancy than in the first year I was at my last private sector job. And all of them were coming in largely with the message that said, “Hey. Welcome to the team. Welcome to the party. How can we help you be more successful? How can we help you help the mission and help us all be the kind of organization we want to be.” I’ve been around the block a few times like a couple of other folks in this room, and that really is something rare and it’s something that’s very special about this place.

John Bender: We have some guidance, we’re getting tons of input, but we’ve got leadership who are actually making what I think are some really interesting decisions and are really putting us on a path to some pretty heavy goals but also some really exciting work, and that is one of the things that I find so rejuvenating.

Jon Fisher: And I’ve come to realize that a lot of people don’t eat lunch together. I think it’s partly, aside from being introverts, a lot of people, we just have this almost panicked devotion to the mission. And so I think a lot of times, people are like, “I can’t take time for lunch. I can’t take time for coffee. I got to get back to saving the planet.” And so like I said, it took me a while to kind of get through that but it’s also kind of endearing in a way that it’s not that people don’t want to hang out with you. It’s that they’re all really caring about the same thing you’re caring about.

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Denver: I want to extend my thanks to Tom Casey and Geraldine Henrich-Koenis for setting up my visit and to those who participated in addition to Tom: Gondan Renosari, Johnny Cabrera, Rosita Scarborough, John Bender, and John Fisher. If you’d like to listen to this again, read the transcript, or see pictures of the participants and the offices of TNC, go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com and while you’re there, you can hear my full interview with Mark Tercek, the President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Generations United

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


Transcript

Denver: This week, I traveled to our nation’s capital to visit the offices of Generations United and to see how a smaller nonprofit organization went about creating a healthy work culture.

We’ll start with their Executive Director, Donna Butts, who will tell you about the goals of the organization, and then hear from some of the people who work there.

Donna: Well, Generations United has been around for 30 years now. We were founded by the leading children, youth and aging organizations at a time when people were really trying to pit the generations against each other. Our mission is really to develop solutions that involve the strengths of each generation and connect the generations, so we promote intergenerational practices, programs, and public policies.

img_0341Adam: One thing that I really like about working for a smaller organization is that it gives the staff here an opportunity to kind of be a jack of all trades. I think everybody here feels empowered to say that, “Oh, I’m really interested in doing this” or “this thing interests me,” whether it’s web design for social media or just things that maybe wouldn’t traditionally fall under their job titles. Everybody here, I think, feels empowered to step up and say that, and to kind of pursue maybe other avenues outside of just what their normal job title wouldn’t tell.

Alan: And it’s pretty much like wherever your interests are and if the interest align with GU’s mission, stuff like that, there’s really no problem in pursuing that. Generations United has made it easy to do that. You just have to speak what you’re interested in and the folks who are here who are either connected in some way or another with the opportunities that you want to take advantage of, they’ll help make that possible for you.

Jaia: I think we like to think of ourselves as fast, friendly, flexible, and fun. And I think a lot of that has to do with our size, but when we have an idea or we want to take action on something, there’s not a large bureaucratic process that you need to go through.

Emily: I also want to speak to how much I appreciate the balance between being in a really hardworking office. I think here, being on a small team, there’s this expectation that you are pulling your weight. And there’s not really room to not hold yourself accountable let alone one another accountable for doing your part to contribute to all the things that need to get done, but on top of that or I guess on the reverse of that, we’re a fun office, too. So we’re a hardworking office that also has just a general sense of humor and lightheartedness.

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Jaia: So if we have a young worker that we think is doing too much multi-tasking and on their phone while they’re doing this other thing, but what about that is a strength and how can we tap into that strength? Or we have this older worker—I’m totally playing into the stereotype here—who is struggling to pick up on the technology but is so skilled at telling a story, how do we tap into that strength and help connect the younger and old to maybe be mentoring each other in some way? But not focusing on how we have to change this young worker, change this older worker to fit a particular mold, so really focusing in on the strength. But we have to keep ourselves in check. I’ve found myself and other staff playing into this young worker-old worker kind of conversations, so you have to be real about it, I think, and be honest.

Alan: So we were doing our strategic meeting and the whole time the staff was doing this, they were planning a baby shower for my wife and I in the backroom. And to this day—my wife, I’m surprised she doesn’t get tired of me talking about it—but that was like “wow.” They went all out, like they have all these signs and stuff up.

Emily: I just want to give Donna credit as a leader. She really models the way and I think she sets the tone for the office. She models that balance of hard work and commitment to also being a fun workplace. She goes out of her way to get to know each of us individually and makes sure that in our own roles, that we’re fulfilled and know that we’re a valuable part of the organization and play to our strengths. So I just want to give her credit because I think she’s a huge part about the strength of our organization and how much we’re able to do.

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Denver: I want to thank Alan King who organized my visit and the others who participated as well: Adam Hlava, Jaia Lent, and Emily Patrick. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for a transcript of this podcast, pictures of the staff, and the offices of Generations United.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.

The Business of Giving Visits the Office of Venture For America

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


Transcript

Denver: One of the hot young nonprofit organizations that people have been buzzing about is Venture for America. So I made my way up to their offices at West 29th street to check it out for myself and to hear from some of the staff on what makes it so exceptional. 

We’ll start with their CEO, Andrew Yang, and then we’ll hear form some of the other folks who work there. 

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Denver Frederick and Andrew Yang

Andrew: Venture for America is a nonprofit that recruits and trains top college graduates who want to learn how to build businesses. We train them for a summer, and then we send them to work at early-stage growth companies in Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and other cities around the country that could use an economic boost. Our goals are to help create American jobs through helping early-stage companies grow, and also to train the next generation of entrepreneur.

Natalee: Working here for the past seven months, I wake up every single day excited to come to work. I woke up late this morning and was wondering, “Should I just work from home?” And then I was like, “No. I want to be in the office. I really want to be with everyone because I just love doing what I do.”

Isa: The biggest event we do every year is our Summer Training Camp. So we bring all of the new fellows in our program together for five weeks to learn all the skills they need to do a great job as early stage employees at a start-up company, but we do that off-site. So every year, we’ve done it on campus at Brown University in Providence and that means that our team has to travel for five weeks up to Providence. And for the past couple of years, we’ve lived just off campus in a big house together. So we spend five weeks all in the house, working crazy hours but then coming home every night and just chatting with one another and hanging out.  I think the fact that we think that’s fun, I think is a testament to how great our team is.

Jason: In a lot of places, we have team members that are younger for their role and the leadership role they’re in is a stretch for them, so you have a lot of young, ambitious, energetic people at different stages in their career that are stretching to grow. I think as a whole, that type of organizational dynamic creates really exciting and challenging environment where I feel like I’m surrounded by people that are super ambitious, but also because of the nature of our work, super thoughtful and in line about much more than simply making a profit or serving shareholders but bringing impact to our communities, our broader country. And so I think a big part to me is that people are really strivers and ambitious and stretching themselves in their day-to-day.

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Natalee: We all get to share our perspective and basically build something beautiful together versus something happening on the top and then coming down to us. We all get to be a part of every part of the process.

Isa: We do regular “work-from-home Fridays,” so everyone on the team can work from home one day a week. We also do “gym mornings,” so every week, you can come in late one morning a week so that you can go to the gym and exercise.

Helen: And then someone else said, “Let’s bring in Andrew so he can approve it,” and he just popped over. And we had this thing approved all within about 20 minutes; whereas in a really large institutional organization, it would’ve taken a week or two because approvals just take such a long time. It makes collaboration incredibly easy. I can just lean over and ask someone a question rather than having to email or walk over or spend time or think about it. But it also is very distracting, which is why we have to work from home on Fridays so we can actually write our proposals and get the work done that we need to do.

Jason: Slack is something we’ve been using for about a year now. It’s been helpful to move information that was previously communicated in team emails and certain conversations into Slack, and it’s a great way to get information out to a team quickly and it’s great to distinguish between things like all-team announcements or fun announcements. Some of the great Slack announcements are the “3:30, there’s sushi at the kitchen table so grab it before it’s gone” pretty quick deal. So a lot of our business can happen on Slack channels when we just need quick tips from one another.

Helen: I also would brag about to my family that I work with really, really incredibly high-character people. My dad actually once asked me, before he understood what I was doing, he said, “Helen, do you ever have any concerns with the ethics or morals of your company?” And I said, “Well, no, Daddy. I work for a nonprofit for one thing, but we screen not only our fellows but all of our team members for character and integrity. I work with the most high-integrity people I’ve probably ever worked with in my life.”

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Denver: I want to thank Leandra Elberger and Antonia Dean for organizing my visit and to those who participated: Natalee Facey, Isa Ballard, Jason Tarre, and Helen Lynch Laurie. Come to denverfrederick.wordpress.com for a transcript of this podcast as well as pictures of the participants and the offices of Venture for America.


*The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @BizofGive on Twitter and at Facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving.