Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: Tonight, we’re gonna head over to Wall Street and to the headquarters of Girls, Inc. We’ll begin with their President and CEO, Judy Vredenburgh and then you’ll hear from some of the other members of the staff.
Judy: Girls, Inc. is both an enduring part of American history and our culture, as well as being modern and cutting-edge. We’re proud of these two facets of who we are. We were founded in 1864, 154 years ago to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War. Over time, we have adapted to meet the specific environmental challenges facing girls. I’m really proud of that– how we’ve been flexible. Of course, we stay true to our deeply held values and principles.
Lara: I worked places where you might go a whole year without getting feedback. Maybe it doesn’t surprise you that I came from the legal field. But it really feels good to know that your accomplishments are recognized and that when you do get confused about something or do something in a way that maybe your manager would not have preferred; that you find that our right away and learn from it, and it’s not seen as a problem. It’s just seen as something to learn from. And I think this environment, it’s very safe to try new things. Even if it means we fail, we learn from it.
Pat: But we’ve incorporated questions in our annual review that each employee completes on her or his own that says what value did you really get into this year? How did you demonstrate that? What did it mean to you? What do you want to think about next year as a value that you’re really going to focus on and play out in your work? The whole process has also been iterative and we’ve been able to incorporate questions each year that address employees’ concerns. We have great objectives that people are measured against. Sometimes people felt, “I did a lot more than just what was in my objectives.” Or, “You know what, I didn’t do all my objectives but I did some other great stuff.” So, now there are questions so that people are able to document all of that, and I think that’s been really responsive and is an opportunity as a manager to also give not only positive feedback but this is in your record going forward so congratulations.
Cristin: The ability to collaborate across multiple spaces is really important to getting work done. I’m just really impressed with the way that our national organization has invested in both the infrastructure. By that I mean the IT resources, the video conferencing, the teleconferencing as well as the financial resources to support us coming together. That face-to-face communication that really builds trust and the clear communication is so important. So, taking the time to think about how that would look different across an organization that doesn’t just sit under one roof I think is really important and the way that we’ve done that with intentionality and focus and the resources underpinning it has been a value to me and my team.
Veronica: I have over 20 years of experience working at different corporations, organizations, industries, and sectors, and I’ve never worked at a place where everyone is so passionate about what they’re doing; that everyone despite their role, despite their responsibilities, genuinely loves what they do and genuinely is committed to their work.
Judy: I think each person here is really a humanist valuing the individuality and the uniqueness of each person and figuring out how we can support the development of each person so that he or she can contribute fully and we do that together to achieve something really really meaningful over time for our mission, and that combination of being tough-minded about the use of resources to get great results and doing it with deep appreciation for each of us is a very motivating and powerful in its impact on me and my motivation to come to Girls Inc. each day.
Debbie: I’m very impressed by the investment that they’ve made in technology. It’s so important and the understanding of that is very beneficial to the whole organization. Recently, since we have become data-driven, and we have one source of truth, we spent an awful lot of time in making sure that all our data is accurate and integrated and is definitely going to help us with our business intelligence strategy that we’re going to be working on after the first of the year and data visualization.
Lynn: Our culture here is so much about appreciation and celebration of our collective success and of each other as individuals and our individual contributions. We, at the end of every staff meeting, take a moment to recognize each other and call out staff appreciation. We thank each other for things big and small, for people going outside of their job description to things that people have done within their job descriptions to really make each other’s life easier.
Pen: One of the things that I’ve done with the learning services team is I blocked off an hour each month for what I call mental recess. It’s a time that we can come together, and there’s no set agenda. We do whatever. I have some things in my back pocket that we can do but we have done everything from just talk about movies to just having general conversations. For me, it really is a reward for knowing that they’re working hard and just giving them a little bit of mental break. They really appreciated it and looked forward to it and I think come to those with some things that they would like to do. It just had been really beneficial to take a recess from all the work that we’re doing.
Lara: I think as a nonprofit organization, our ability to focus is unique. A lot of organizations say they are doing strategic planning and say that they’re going to pick a few priorities for the year and then really try to do everything, and there’s a lot of burnout because nobody can do everything and do it well. I appreciate at Girls Inc. the way that we really are serious about focus. Judy has said it from the top that we’d rather do two things and do them well than do five things and not do them well. But it filters down. We can make choices and we recognize that sometimes it’s okay to say no. it’s important for our staff and for us to figure out where our resources can be best spent because it affects work-life balance.
Janet: We kind of follow the employee the first year to make sure that the experience they are having is a good one so that they know if they want to belong. We’re talking to them, and we’re asking them about their experience. People communicate in different ways, so we want to make sure that if they’re not calling me on the phone, that I’m calling them and making sure that… asking pointed questions in terms of, do you feel like you’re making a difference yet? How do you feel about your team? Things like that. I think that’s really important that we ask the questions whether or not they want to give us an answer at that particular time or not.
Veronica: I’ve been really impressed to see our hiring practices focused on attaining and attracting talent that comes from varying sectors, having very distinct experiences that may be completely separate to the nonprofit sector, and that talent, that expertise that we brought on has really helped us to be innovative in how we do our work because we have really smart, different opinions across our organization, and it’s resulted in us being able to accomplish really big things over the last couple of years.
Rebecca: I experienced my first Girls Inc. girl’s testimony at our national conference, and it brought me to tears because I looked at a 12-year-old girl who stood up there in front of a lot of people speaking about her Girls Inc. experience and what it meant to her, and she was so eloquent. She spoke like a college student, so mature, and it just made me really proud that I work with an organization that made that happen for that young lady.
Judy: I think the reason why we’ve been able to find these really high-impact partners and volunteers is because we’ve been open; not open in a random, chaotic way, but because we do have a clear roadmap, a strategy of where we’re going and what we want to achieve at the end point, that has opened us up to see and scan for opportunities and seize them when they are coming our way and take advantage of that. I think that’s been a huge point of difference compared to other organizations, and a big part of why we’ve achieving so much with a very tight team.
Charlene: I want to talk about what I brag about, and I brag about the fact that Girls Inc. has a mission that we are all passionate about and that we do not allow mission creep. We are dedicated to that mission, and it’s not just that we work with girls, and that we touch a lot of girls, but I love the fact that we look at the outcomes and really look at how are we changing the lives of these girls and measuring it, and not only measuring it through our research and evaluation department but even going to an outside organization to have them review what we’ve done to make sure what we’re saying is in fact correct.
Denver: I wanna send my thanks to all those who participate in this segment: Pat Driscoll, Lynn Hepburn, Penny Sheppard, Lara Kaufmann, Janet Moore, Cristin Rollins, Veronica Vela, Rebecca Carol, Debbie Babcock, and Charlene Jackson. To hear this again, read the transcript, or see pictures of the participants and the offices just go to denver-frederick.com and where we’ll have a link to my full interview with Judy Vredenburgh the President & CEO of Girls, Inc.
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