Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: And for this edition of Better Than Most, we’re going to visit The American Heart Association and when they put together those list of Best Places to Work, the American Heart Association is often one of the few nonprofit organizations that is included. We will start with their CEO, Nancy Brown, and t then hear from members of the AHA team from around country.
Nancy: I believe that culture is job number one. We’re so fortunate in the not-for-profit sector, and we certainly feel this way at the American Heart Association that every single day, our staff and our volunteers work on behalf of the association because we have such an important mission to fulfill. Cardiovascular diseases are the number one killer of people in the US and worldwide, and we have so much work to do to be able to help people have a healthier life. So, at the core of our corporate culture is this focus on our purpose and the reason that we exist and how can we utilize the diverse talents and skills of our employees and our volunteers to create new innovative approaches to helping people live longer lives.
Charlie: The culture of the American Heart Association is outstanding for very many ways. We are divided into seven different affiliates and I am proud to be in the greater southeast affiliate. One of the ways that we had been able to define our culture has been dividing us into different teams and creating fun mascots. And so, my team in the northern southeast is the GlacierCats. You may recognize that name. They were a minor league hockey team at Arkansas that is no longer in existence. But that has been an incredible rally cry to help define our culture. Everybody recognizes with the GlacierCats. We have hashtags that we send out regularly through emails. We send Snapchats and videos of encouragement to people and it’s really helped build our culture.
Ryan: We always are driven by the stories of our survivors and the people who have overcome so much from heart disease or stroke. And so, the culture isn’t driven around the idea that people have been through so much and we’re working every day to improve the lives of other individuals and I think it’s just a great place to work. We’re always happy. We’re always empowering individuals. We’re always working toward a greater goal. And so, the culture here is optimistic. It’s inspiring to work here and everything that we do revolves around that core mission of our great organization.
Karen: When we come here, we know every single day, we are working really hard to save lives and that is why we show up everyday and work tremendously hard. All of our teams, no matter what area of focus that you’re in — and my work is in government relations — we know that our work changes lives. We know that ultimately, when we put in that 110%, we are helping define someone’s legacy and that is tremendously impactful. And that is a corporate culture that we take very seriously and is something that we’re tremendously proud of as staff members. And you can see that on people’s faces. We take this job very seriously. If we’re to talk to anybody, we would say this job is a tremendous gift but there’s a lot of responsibility coming with that gift too, knowing that you really are making a difference in someone’s life and you need to take that very seriously.
Brenda: We have a great coach from National that gives some great advice and offer some feedback on given situations you might be in, you might be faced with. You have, weekly or monthly webinars that you participate in with also homework on some great articles to read and Ted Talks and different things that you’re exposed to that you might not normally look into yourself. So, it kind of gave a different topic every month and help you explore the different area of management. And it was very eye-opening and a great way to collaborate with peers from across our region which is an 8-state region to learn more and to have that peer-to-peer relationship. So you can work with people who are maybe new to managing and discuss different scenarios.
Lori: We have a tradition in the Cincinnati office of getting together and doing speed dating which is where we go, it’s sort of like speed dating but traditional… what you’ve heard about. But you’re paired with another member of your team and we mix it up and we share what we’re working on and we have several questions and answer period but we not only share what we’re working on. We also share some personal information. So, we are able to get to know each other better since we are in so many different aspects of working with the AHA. But I certainly feel that this has really helped us break down silos within the office so that we’re not just, the development team isn’t together versus the communications staff or the health strategy staff.
Nancy: I think it goes back to something I said earlier and that is that innovation and this burning desire to make a difference has been at the roots of the American Heart Association since 1924. If you go back and read the early writings of one of our six founders, Dr. Paul Dudley White, you will see this dissatisfaction with the status quo. You will see the call to action to change the world for people, and we continue to live by that mantra today.
Chrissy: You’re working for a company that would really love to not exist in the future. And how many companies, how many organizations can say that they, every single day, their mission is to put themselves out of business? And those are the kinds of things that are really, you have to instill into the employees that every day, when you sit down at your desk in your home office, you’re working hard to save lives. And that underlying passion, I think, is a big piece of that. And, yeah, it gets woven into the on-boarding and the training and the conference calls and the conversations and everyday, we hear these incredible survivor stories, their incredible stories of people who maybe didn’t survive and who just motivate all that much more. But there has to be that underlying passion and that underlying drive and desire to really change the world, to really make a lasting change and a lasting impression. And identifying those people is just the key to making sure your culture is on point.
Teri: Well, actually, we just started something called Hearts with Pride which is an LGBTQ employee resource group. And that group meets every other month and its individuals that are LGBTQ or allies across the United States from all different markets and we talk about ways to outreach to the local LGBTQ communities where we live with heart and stroke awareness information because there are many health disparities for LGBTQ people. And this is a brand new thing. This has been around for about a year. So, those employee resource groups don’t just apply to LGBTQ. We have an Asian employee resource group. They’re starting a Hispanic resource group. So, the AHA is really invested in bringing together like-minded people to make changes not only across the United States but in their own individual communities where they feel the most passionate about.
Charlie: I was coming from a for-profit organization and the hiring process was better than that organization. It was something that I didn’t really know what to expect. It was very clear communication. The recruiter that was in constant contact with me throughout the entire journey from submitting a resume online to the phone interview and then we went to a face-to-face interview. Then took a skills assessment test online and then came back for about, I think it was a two and a half hour face-to-face panel interview. And that really sharpened my personal skills on interviewing because that’s a pretty intense interview process when you’re being drilled different questions but it also speaks to the caliber of people that American Heart Association hires. They take it very seriously and truly only want the best for our organization.
Lori: I’ve gone through many performance reviews but what I really like the best is that there are no surprises. I think that management culture, the AHA, is constant communication so that when you walk into your mid-year review or you walk into your final performance review, there really aren’t any surprises. You know what’s going to happen. With constant feedback, it’s positive.
Chrissy: All of that underscores a commitment to excellence that really makes the American Heart Association unique. We’re not just a nonprofit. We’re not just another company. We’re not just another business that’s working on our bottom line. We have a commitment to excellence and that is a value that is really instilled in every single aspect of what we do and it all pulls up to that.
Nancy: You can teach people many things but you attract people who have at the core of their being this desire to do good for others, and that’s what we have at the American Heart Association, and that’s what I’m so proud of.
Denver: I want to extend my thanks to Tracy Bertaut for organizing this and to all those who participated: Charlie Haddock, Brenda Vitali, Ryan Johnson, Lori Fovel, Karen Englert, Chrissy Meyer and Teri Arnold. If you would like to hear this again or read the transcript, you can do so by visiting denver-frederick.com and we’ll have a link there to my full interview with Nancy Brown, the Chief Executive Officer of The American Heart Association.
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