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 evening’s Better Than Most, you will be going down to Alexandria, Virginia in the headquarters of United Way Worldwide. The United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in every community. The United Way is 130 years old and there are 1,800 local United Ways in 40 countries. And often older organizations and bigger organizations have more difficulty adapting to changing times. But as you’re about to hear, the United Way is more than meeting that challenge.
Lori: So we actually have four behaviors that represent our culture here at United Way: one is extend your reach and it’s about creating communities because we solve problems together with other people, not alone; Forge trust, again, in order to do the work that we do, we need to have trust which is about integrity, it’s about character and commitment; Find common ground, which is about inclusion and having representation for all different perspectives; and the last is believe because it is about the mission and what we do. So those are the four culture behaviors that represent United Way.
Donna: One of the things that I feel is a “wow!” about United Way are the people. I’ve been in the DC area for 11 years and I would say that everywhere I’ve worked, it’s always felt like people do not care about the people around them it was just about getting the work done. I’ve never worked somewhere where everywhere you go, people stop and they talk to you. They want to know more about you. They want to know your story. They want to know what brought you here. But also, everybody is just really in tune with the mission and they really care about what they do. I think that shows, too, with how long people stay here. Every other year, we actually host the 30 Year Awards.
Jon: I want to talk about the avenues that employees have here to express our voice, to share ideas about how we improve the workplace as a whole. We have a great opportunity in our staff council. So our staff council is made up of staff from all levels, from all departments and it gives us a great chance to again express our ideas, what we want to see improve in the culture, and it’s a body that our executive management team recognizes and responds to.
Jennifer: United Way Worldwide pays up to 75% health insurance for all employees and their dependents. We have 100% coverage for short-term disability up to a max of six months. It’s just an incredible benefits package that really stresses work-life balance. We don’t want people taking their vacation time being sick hence the short-term disability. I think every time I sit down with a new employee and while we’re going through the onboarding process, they really are amazed at what a good package it is and they haven’t had packages like that elsewhere. Being a nonprofit, it’s just mainly…Brian Gallagher has always stressed “don’t cut the benefits” and I think he realizes how important it is to employees and we really haven’t had to cut a lot and I think being able to continue these good benefits and stressing the work-life balance over the last years that I’ve been here, it shows when it’s important to the EMT, to our CEO, it really trickles down and I think the staff feels it as well.
Alex: One of the things that I thought was unique to our organization is all of the new employees besides getting announced at the next quarterly staff meeting and any celebration on their teams, things like that, is also the lunch with the executive management team. It’s not that their doors are closed or anything but it’s nice to take a moment in time and be intentional about creating that connection. So regardless of your staffing level, you’re sitting next to executive management team and the CEO and getting just to know each other on a personal level and the work that you do, and I thought that was really helpful back when I was a new employee. But then also a question is asked during that lunch whether you came because of employer of choice or a mission of choice, and when we did it almost everyone there was because of the mission. And that’s unique to United Way. The mission itself but also the fact that it just collects so many people to advance it.
Marveen: The other thing I’ll say is that about two years ago, I had a very serious accident where I couldn’t walk for six months. And the outpouring of gifts, of cards, of coming over with casseroles and cookies and cleaning my kitchen…I even had someone that would come over and take my trash out once a week because I couldn’t get down the steps. It’s that kind of caring that is phenomenal. Recently, we had a team member that suffered a health crisis and it rocked our building because we care, and I’ll even use the world love, love this gentleman so much that we just needed to see his healing and we have done everything we can to make sure that he’s progressed and it’s good that he’ll be coming back real soon.
Jon: So one uniquely United Way thing that all of our staff should be familiar with is Rudy. So Rudy is a reindeer statue that makes an appearance every holiday and from what I understand, Rudy has been around actually for decades and this statue will appear on each floor for a week or two during the holidays. It’s bedazzled, it’s got Christmas lights on it, and it survived building renovations, it survived…it’s just been around for a long time. So we know during the holidays, Rudy the Reindeer is going to make an appearance.
Megan: I think one final thing that I would want everyone to know about United Way is that although we have a rich 130-year history, we are not sort of this old, soggy organization that I think we often get perceived as. We are innovating. We are moving fast. There is a lot of energy here. So we are breaking down silos in lots of different ways.
There’s a lot of disruption in our world today and United Way needs to and is adapting to that change and that’s exciting and it makes United Way an exciting place to work.
Lori: So we’re recognizing and our CEO recognize that it’s time for us to really transform our organization with the disruption that we’re seeing in the marketplace and the way that the world is becoming more digitized and globalized, and so that’s part of the goal, is to say let’s not lose any of the great things that are in our culture but let’s turn the light up and add some pieces that help us to transform and move quickly.
Denver: I’d like to thank Southerlyn Reisig for organizing my visit and for all those who participated: Lori Malcom, Megan Walker, Jennifer Chavez, Alexander Fike, Donna Platon, Jon Swann and Marveen Hart. If you go to denverfrederick.wordpress.com, we will have this podcast, a transcript and pictures of the participants as well as the headquarter offices of United Way Worldwide.
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