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: There are few organizations as beloved as UNICEF. It also happens to be beloved by the people who work at the US Fund for UNICEF as you will hear. We’ll begin with their President and CEO, Caryl Stern and then hear from some other members of the team.
Caryl: What I find really unique about this organization is that people care not only about the product we produce, how much money we raised, how good is that piece of collateral material or that film. But they care about the process by how it got done. There is a culture of, we’re going to do it the best way that it can be done but we’re also going to do it in partnership with others.
Ten years ago when we wrote our first real strategic plan, we didn’t only write a plan that talked about the steps we would take but we wrote a plan for how we would take them in terms of the relationships that would be required in order to ensure its success.
Tom: So, this is really the first time that I’ve been able to come to a place where I get to see all of that come together, and I get to see all of those disparate sides, work together, cross-pollinate during the day. Everybody moves with all of the gears moving in order in order to make things happen. I think that’s been really illuminating and really great to see a place where instead of working on one facet, you see everything come together, everybody work together to make it happen, and you get to see the impacts that that sort of coordination and collaboration can bring together and elicit.
Michelle: How do we keep the mission connected? It’s something that I think is intentional but I think we also by our nature hire people that care. You look at diversity in a hundred million different ways. But on that one thing, I don’t think we are diverse. Everybody here really feels that. So, when we talk to our partners, we also draw people that really care. We talk about the inclination being really important, that we want long-term, valued partners, not quick wins.
Sang: Just to bring this all back – when I started off working in International Development, 42 thousand kids were dying each and every day from preventable diseases, and that number’s dropped to 15 thousand now. So, I’ve seen that changed, and I’ve seen that being sustained.
Scott: I have a lot of friends that work at some really great startups, and my favorite thing to do is to say that I work for UNICEF because my grandma knows it. My 10-year-old cousin knows it. They might not know that new tech company that came out, and my grandma definitely does not know that. But they know UNICEF.
Kristi: We identify ourselves by being associated with UNICEF and UNICEF USA, and we identify ourselves as global citizens or citizens of the world. When we have to have hard conversations for example in giving each other feedback, many of us acknowledge that since we identify so closely with the brand and so passionately with our hearts; that it may be difficult to have those conversations to give feedback or to give constructive criticism, and I just held a series of feedback courses where we acknowledge that because we identify so closely with the brand, we have to be careful in how to deliver that feedback, so that it’s received as helping each other be better and stronger and better performers in the future and everyone’s nodding, and everyone agrees because we all do believe in the mission, and we want to be better, and we’re continuing to be in the growth mindset to build that culture of learning.
Sang: We also recognize people who are behind the scenes. One thing that’s really nice about the organization is every year, we have an award ceremony to recognize colleagues who work behind the scenes, who make a difference, an All-Hands-on-deck award to, so that we recognize teamwork.
Michael: But I think also between the learning but also how we stay connected to the mission, I think UNICEF USA for a long time has made sure that we stay not only connected to the programmatic work of UNICEF but that everyone at the organization regardless of what your job function is, regardless of what level you may have, whether you’re early in your career or late in your career, you have access to UNICEF programmatic experts
Scott: We have some great perks here but I think, I came from the private sector and coming here, I think the greatest recognition you can get is the trust that senior leadership has in no matter what level you are. I think around this table, I’m in seniority, the lowest here. But it’s a testament to that, (a) I’m included in a lot of things.
Tom: Everybody wants brand authenticity, and sometimes you’re forced to manufacture that. Here, you’re not. This place really lives the brand and it is a huge blessing to be able to be in a place where your reputation has been built in a certain way but it’s also responsibility to keep building it.
Caryl: So, I don’t ask as many questions about your previous experience as I do about you. I ask for concrete examples not descriptive answers. Don’t tell me what you did in your last job. Tell me the greatest success you had in your last job. Tell me why it felt good to do that. Tell me why that is a success in your mind, and when you answer those questions, I learn a lot more about you than the actual achievement you achieved, and I think that we try really hard to employ that kind of interviewing.
Michelle: I think that how much we care transcends in so many ways. We care about the mission but I think people who are apathetic about things in general bring that often to their lives. If you care about a mission, and you come to work every day, it’s hard not to work on your professional development. It’s hard not to make sure the people around you are pushing really hard to. So, I think we bring our best game because we are a people who care.
Michael: We’re empowered and have access to the tools we need to do our jobs, and we’re not stuck in a mentality of, no you can only do your job within these four walls, and we have the latitude with appropriate oversight in talking with our supervisors about…let’s plan this out, tell me what you need, tell me where you need to be, and let’s find a way to get it done, so that at the end of the day, the job is done.
Kristi: I want to speak to the opportunity to move to entirely different jobs because I have taken on several different roles in the organization and most recently took a completely new job that was afforded to me by our leadership, and I think many of us that you’ve interviewed today as well as outside this room have all had the opportunity to grow and change and take on new roles and continue to contribute in the organization in meaningful and effective ways.
Caryl: Pride in being able to say we work for UNICEF. Pride in the products we’ve produced and the partnerships we create. As the CEO, it’s definitely pride in this team. I am awed by the people who work for me. I have worked, as I said, in the nonprofit world for 40-plus years. I have never had a team as good as the one that I have one now.
Denver: I want to thank Lauren Davitt for helping to organize my visit and to all those who participated in this segment, Tom Walker, Michele Walsh, Sang Silano, Michael Grudzinski, Scott Karrel and Kristi Burnham. To hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants and the offices, come visit www.denver-frederick.com and we’ll have posted there my full interview with Caryl Stern, President and CEO of UNICEF USA.
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