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.
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.
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.
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