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 tonight, we’ll be heading out west to Westlake Village, California, in the headquarters of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. Their mission is to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people throughout the world. It’s a pretty special place to work, and you’ll hear why from some of the members of the team.
Courtney Reed: Learning is really important at the Hilton Foundation, and one thing that they offer is unlimited professional development. So whether that is going to be something focused in your current role or you’re trying to build capacity to really broaden yourself for a future role or learn something that is completely different by your department, the unlimited professional development allows all staff to be able to build on that education and bring awareness to different parts of the learning cycle.
Breaking Down Silos
Sister Jane Wakahiu: But through Lunch and Learn, an opportunity is provided for the foundation staff in order to come together and learn what the other departments are doing. Particularly from the Program Department, when we are working in the field, we are working maybe with the young children affected by HIV and AIDs, we are working with Catholic sisters on safe drinking water or foster youth or substance use prevention. All these are specific areas or specific programmatic areas that we work in.
Technology and Media
David Mascarina: One of the initiatives from the communications team that I’m most proud of is whenever we partner with the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the $2 million prize which we designate to a nonprofit every year is broadcasted through Facebook Live every year. So last year, for the first time ever, we were able to reach over 60,000 listeners and viewers, and we were able to tell the story of the recipients of that year. We also have a colorful set of speakers ranging from New York Times columnists to leaders in the humanitarian field. All of them discussed very relevant topics of the time. Again, one of the things I’m very proud of is to be a part of that — to lift the voices of the voiceless in many ways.
Marshall Stowell: The things that attracted me to the foundation were its humility; the long-term commitment the foundation takes to funding grantees, which is very rare; a lead behind attitude as well. So it’s not about the foundation. It’s about the work that we’re doing and elevating the people that we serve and really sharing the voices of people with actual-lived experiences versus our own voices. That was really, really impressive to me.
Julia Friedman: Peter, who was the first non-Hilton family member and non-close business associate of a Hilton family member to run the foundation, bringing a lot of experience from the outside, other nonprofits foundations and a vast career in the field. One of his first lines of business was to get to the bottom of what our culture was and what our values were. That was something that he tackled in the first year through a series of small group discussions, committees really focused on “what are the core values of our organization?” And so that was really something that he drove. He’s also brought a real, open-door policy. He really does say, “My door is open, I want to hear what you have to say.” Our all-staff meetings, there’s always an opportunity for an open mic. Oftentimes, people don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of the entire staff, but it really is an opportunity. He’ll sit there, and there’s some quiet and silence, but he’s waiting for folks to raise their hand and talk and incite a discussion. That’s one really key value that he’s brought to the organization as a leader.
Jinny Choi: We have something called an all-staff meeting every month, and that really surprised me when I first started working here because we have all 70 to 80 employees in one room every month, not only going through updates in each department but really having the time and the space to voice questions, any concerns right back to our CEO Peter, and he would answer them or he would continue the discussion with every single member of the company right there on the spot. I think that’s really unique of any place I’ve ever worked or any place I’ve heard my friends worked at. It’s really important for us to have that time and that space to strengthen the community that we have, and to make sure that everyone does have a voice.
Sister Jane Wakahiu: Carol talked earlier about our work group or our meetings each month. We share values vignette every of those meetings, and we have a foundation historian who will bring the voice of their founder or any of those who have been leaders before at the foundation. And those values…what was it like maybe in creating the Hilton Hotel? What was it like at a particular board meeting? What does it say in particular writings of the foundation? And that keeps on weaving the story that we continue to live moving forward, so that we get to connect ourselves to the founder and the historical happenings of the Hilton Foundation. I like that piece very much.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Courtney Reed: One of the values at the Hilton Foundation is integrity. We are living that value through our diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative. All staff have participated in a three-day workshop to gain awareness and build a culture where everyone is encouraged to be their authentic self. We have a DEI advisory group who keeps this initiative fresh at the foundation.
Julia Friedman: The most personal and cool thing that happened with me here in the first month that I started working here is, one of our colleagues had a trip planned to go to the Vatican. She was asking if anyone had anything, any items that they wanted Pope Francis to bless. I don’t know if anyone’s familiar what a mezuzah is, but a mezuzah is a religious item that goes on the outside of the door of someone who is Jewish and inside is a little Torah message. It’s meant to bless the home, and it’s also meant to say, “This is a Jewish home.” I asked my colleague if she would be willing to take my mezuzah to the Vatican to have the Pope bless it. Of course, she was thrilled to do so. Now, the mezuzah that is on our front door of our house has been blessed by Pope Francis, which I think is really cool, and it’s really warming to me.
Performance Management tied to Goals
David Mascarina: I would like to speak more about our performance management system at the foundation. It always starts with an organizational goal. Again, this is a very goal-oriented organization. We start it up, our leadership team every year meet and identify what are the key goals of the organization trying to accomplish for the year. From there, it percolates down to each department. For me and the communications team, we lay out a set of goals that the communications team is trying to identify, and then from there, we connect to it individually. Like how does, as an individual at the foundation plug in to these goals?
Carol Lee: We also, on top of that, offer a holiday discretionary grant to all staff members, so that’s a fun way for staff who may not be able to give throughout the year. This is a $1,000 gift that the foundation makes on behalf of the staff member. It’s fun to chase after people later in the year to remind them that this is something that is a great benefit to them.
Sister Jane Wakahiu: The other piece is where, which I see is unique of the Hilton Foundation. During our monthly meeting, we celebrate people’s birthdays which fall within that particular month. It could be, in a way Carol explained, whether it’s food or ice cream, but also we do at whim that you can get a free PTO. People get excited, enthusiastic to get that PTO because it’s a paid day. That also makes me very happy and I look forward to.
Jinny Choi: I think the number one reason that the foundation is the best place to work at is how caring they are towards their employees and how flexible they are willing to be to ensure that this a place that employees would want to work at.
Carol Lee: What makes working at the Hilton Foundation so special is how kind and giving people are here. From the moment that you start, that, informally, folks sort of rally around you to welcome you. You get invited to happy hour. You get invited to lunches. That spirit of giving just feels very organic. It just feeds into the work and makes you want to be a good colleague, a good team member. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with such a smart group of people.
Denver: I want to thank all those who participated in this piece: Julia Friedman, Courtney Reed, David Mascarino, Jinny Choi, Sister Jane Wakahiu, Carol Lee, and Marshall Stowell. To hear this again, read the transcript or see pictures of the participants and the offices of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, just come visit denver-frederick.com.
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