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: Today, we’re going to visit the 88th largest charity in the country, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) who have their headquarters up in Rye Brook, New York. The organization has undergone a remarkable transformation in the recent years under the leadership of their CEO, Dr. Louis DeGennaro, who happened to be a guest on The Business of Giving this summer. We’ll start the segment with his vision of the kind of organizational culture he has looked to establish at LLS and then hear from a number of people who work there.
Dr. Louis DeGennaro: I’ve been CEO now for just under two years. What I’ve established is an environment around a set of values, among which are: collaboration, openness, accountability, and transparency. And I’ve asked the team to live by these values, because it’s in the best interest of blood cancer patients, and it’s in the best interest of our ability to steward donor dollars.
Mark: And there’s something very distinguishing about LLS from the other places I’ve worked and that is we really are curing cancer in real time. I’ve never worked at a place where, literally, the funds you raised, the investments in the science…..and then last year multiple new drugs approved by the FDA and these are drugs for blood cancer. So that cause and effect being so close in, it’s very powerful. And I suspect it brings lots of people joy. I know it brings lots of people joy, obviously, our patients but here as staff and volunteers.
Pamela: I have seen such change in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. When I first started way back, we were known as the Leukemia Society of America. And the mandate from our boss was “Please don’t attempt to connect with any patients because the life span….they have enough to worry about….youngsters were living maybe six months or so, so leave them alone.” And its brought great pleasure to myself and to my friends to see what has happened and the progression that we’ve made over the years. Where would we be today without our outreach to patients and their families? They’re primary in our fundraising efforts. They, in turn, appreciate being asked because we are helping them and they, in turn, want to help us as such.
Beatrice: My team and myself really need to constantly collaborate among ourselves to make sure that we’re not missing any crucial piece of information. So what brings me joy every day coming to work is how collaborative everybody on my team is. So we take calls, but when we’re on a call, we have ways to jabber among ourselves or exchange emails, and we constantly do that just to make sure that the patient who is at the other end of the line is getting as complete a piece of information as they are going to need. We really want the patients to get all that information upfront because we really don’t know whether they will ever call us back and whether we will have another chance to interact with them.
Andrea: I come in every day knowing that something I’m doing is really making a difference for patients and their families. As a member of the communications team, I have the opportunity to tell our stories every day, whether I’m talking to a reporter or I’m posting something on the blog or in one of our newsletters or even sharing it internally because we do both internal and external communication. So sharing a great story or even telling our colleagues about a media placement that helps raise our awareness, it’s just really gratifying to be able to do that.
Richard: So I was recommended to this place by a friend and on day one, I was on an airplane headed out to Silicon Valley to visit with some field offices along West Coast. I was so amazed at that first visit in our San Jose office. I thought I had stepped into a rah-rah program at Mary Kay Cosmetics. I’ve never seen so many people so energized about what they do and the funds they’ve raised in so many creative ways. I got to tell you, I had no idea what I was getting into and I was really amazed. Over time, what I’ve come to appreciate in this organization is every single person here is a fundraiser. I’ve worked in higher ed, I’ve worked in healthcare and in hospital settings – in this place, every employee is a fundraiser.
Mark: I oversee 56 chapters and we have a new leadership in our HR department that brought this, it’s a McKinsey-based product called “nine box” and it’s a way to look at the talent you have and place them where they are in their development, and then bring to them training that meets them where they are. And I say this because just last week, and everybody knew there’s big sign out in front, we had 15 executive directors in. They were our top executive directors who are thriving. So what do they need in situational leadership management that’s focused on them, individually on them. And so I see us doing things at LLS, whether it’s the matrix management or the nine-box personal growth. For 34 years I’ve discussed this in the organizations I’ve been, but I’ve never been in an organization that’s truly doing it. And I give that credit to Dr. Lou and his vision.
Pamela: Yes, we have a culture here. Maybe five years ago, perhaps that would be ‘we’d like to have a culture here.’ We’re all human and we resist change. We dig our feet in and say, “No, it was OK before. Why should we change?” But with the change in our management leaders as such, people have sort of taken a step back and evaluated and said, “If they think change is good, then we should climb on board and embrace the change and such.” And a change that I have seen is transparency. The silos that we had under our previous CEO hopefully have now been sort of torn down and people understand that they can cross lines and cross departments, whatever and such.
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