Recent events have compelled nonprofit organizations to change the way they get work done, how they deliver their services, and what they do to achieve a more just and equitable society. So, The Business of Giving has connected with those organizations that are doing this exceptionally well in a segment we call: The Paths Forward. Because there is more than just one way.

Denver: In this edition of The Paths Forward we’ll speak with team members at the World Food Program USA. We’ll begin with their CEO, Baron Segar, who will tell us of their mission, followed by India who will discuss the importance of Leadership in the organization.

Barron Segar: So World Food Program USA, the 501c3, were really the voice of the World Food Program in the US with a focus on fundraising, working with our policymakers, do a lot of advocacy. We do a lot of advocacy, particularly with governments on funding. And we’re overseen by a board of directors. We are very heavily, by the way, with the World Food from USA, very heavily integrated with the global organization. Is, as I’d like to say at any given day at the World Food Program, we have 5,600 trucks on the ground. We have 92 planes in the air. And we have 20 cargo ships on the move . It’s a stellar organization. Again, helping to save a hundred million people on any given day.

India: Yes, he speaks to all of the new hires and get them on his calendar when he’s not busy or something like that, so he can talk to them and really understand them as a person. I think our colleagues have really appreciated that, that he’s open. He even has like CEO chats where we can speak with him directly and talk about some of the decisions he’d made for the organization. And he’s really open with that, surprisingly. And I haven’t seen that at any other organization where you can just put a CEO in a room and employees ask questions, but they do and they really enjoy it. So I like that in relation to some other organizations I’ve been to.

Denver: Open and honest communication is always key, but it takes on even added importance in a virtual environment. Katie and Gloria share their thoughts on that.

Katie: But I think one of the things that was really helpful is when he onboarded, after the first three months, we sat down and he goes, “Here’s everything I’m noticing that I would like to talk to you about. And after I talk about this, I would really like to know if you have any feedback for me on how you think I’m settling in, what can I do better, what are some things I should be aware of, and how I’m speaking to people. And I think that openness made it very easy to work with him and affected how I thought about the relationship between a full-time employee and their supervisor, and really kind of taking that with everyone else. So if there is a conflict, I was like, “Let’s just sit down. Let’s talk about this virtually. Here’s my perspective and what I’m hearing. I would really like to hear your perspective and what you’re hearing.” And there’s always more common ground than we might realize, and sometimes we might realize it’s a completely third party that’s like causing all the issues so we can bring them in, or it could just be a fundamental misunderstanding of what we both even thought the problem was.

Gloria: But I keep thinking back to what’s really made the difference and what has brought us together. I think it’s important to also be empathetic and be vulnerable because they think that each of us are dealing with these trying challenges in our own personal ways and that creating the space for peopleto  feel comfortable, telling you, “Hey, this is going on,” or “I need more time.” Voicing their opinions is just leading by example and being vulnerable makes all of the difference, especially when you’re working with a team fully remote and you’ve only seen them maybe 10 times in the past two years. I think that’s really, really important

Denver: One thing that can’t be overlooked in a virtual setting is the vital nature of social connection with your co-workers. Goldie, Sally, Tahir and Bo share their perspectives on that.

Goldie: I think having that social foundation, that goodwill, is really important to getting your workdone. If you only ever interact with people about work, I think it makes people feel, and I’ve heard this from one person on the team a while ago. I know she doesn’t feel this way anymore so that’s good, butthat you just feel replaceable. You feel like you’re just there to execute a function and you’re as good as the next guy in that case, which is nobody wants to feel that way. So I think making time for those coffees, the happy hours, the lunches, the shared experiences, the baseball game, the documentary watching club, is foundational to getting your work done well because it makes it possible to have those hard conversations. Because they know that you have their best interests in mind, your friends. So you can be like, “Hey, I got to talk to you about something. I love you and you’re great, but you’re doing this thing that’s…

Sally: But going into some of the best practices for virtual meetings, one of the things I always like to do is either build in some time, like at the beginning or end of the meeting, to just like hang out a little bit and talk, catch up. I think doing that one-on-one is great, but also doing that in groups is great too because people’s personalities bounce off each other. You can get a greater feel for what they’re working on. If they’re stressed out, you can read that a little bit more

Tahir: So social squad came out as an idea for staff to get to know each other during the pre-pandemic days. So it was really a tool for in-person events and it’s been interesting to see that switch over to more of a virtual model. So that could be the book club, that could be virtual happy hours, doing virtual cooking classes and virtual painting classes. But it’s also interesting to see what ideas could also take place when we go back in person. So in August, when the pandemic did start to die down a little bit, we held a team gathering at a baseball game. We’re looking at possibly doing one at a hockey game at the upcoming retreat, but it’s really building those opportunities for staff to get to know each other in a casual setting.

Bo: And I really think for an organization to buy in at the level that people need it where they’re given the tools that they need through, whether it’s Teams or SharePoint or having all staff-meetings on Teams and allowing for, we implemented a policy where there are 10 states that employees can work from, which was super great to see because we have a fairly diverse and dispersed workforce within the organization. But just all things like that, they sound a little impersonal, but they really add to people’s abilities to do the best job that they can do

Denver: As a Result of the lockdown The World Food Program has reimagined its office space. Dorota and Katie tell us how its changed.

Dorota: And I think one thing that I feel like everything that we have been going through, how it’s also reflected in our office space. So we actually redesigned the office space so that it is more comfortable and casual versus a more sort of stale office environment. So that is the outcome of all those two years and how we have changed how we work. We have redesigned the office and made it more casual. There’s some armchairs. We took out some of the cubicles. So they really are creating those spaces for us to feel more comfortable and at home.

Katie: So I think one of the things we recognized is cubicles aren’t for everyone, and that’s not how people thrive. So our COO and CFO started an office redesign committee and we pulled people from all across the organization to sit on it. So it’s like, when people do return to the office, how can we make them most comfortable? And really, that included taking out the big desk that was in the lobby that no one’s there to sit at and greet people with. And we added couches and maybe some whiteboard space so it could be more of a lounge area. We also removed some desks from the back office and created a back lobby space where we’re going to put an espresso machine. We’ve added a booth so for people who like that coffee environment, but also those big kind of easy boy chairs with the laptop desks for our colleagues that do prefer that coffee house kind of environment. And then one of the things we’re still waiting on, the supply chain is wild, but are some micro offices and micro desks in that space for when you do need to step in and take a private call or take a Zoom call or a Teams call, you don’t want to disturb the colleagues around you

Denver: Wellbeing and Mental Health have been at the top of the list of concerns for all of us. Donate and India share with us how WFP has addressed this important issue.

Dorota: So one of the newest one is we actually have a benefit for a year, it’s a stipend almost, that we can use for anything that could support our well-being in the workspace. So we could cover things like fitness, we could cover things, I don’t know, like transportation that makes our workday easier. So really flexible approach and it is provided by the organization to every employee in the organization. So really definitely the space and the fact that we are open to hearing or people flagging things is I think the first piece, but then that leads to specific ideas and specific initiatives that the leadership takes on and embraces.

India: The silver lining for me would be the new focus or the enhanced focus on not just well-being but mental health, and people are really acknowledging that it’s a real thing, and they are willing to support their employees in whatever journey they have. So I think just keeping that in the forefront and knowing that people still have to address some of mental health issues, that we’re accommodating those things. So I really love that piece and I hope it never goes away.

Denver: Finally, Sally, Goldie and Gloria tell us how much this new found Flexibility has meant to them.

Sally: And it’s not necessarily hear about being online 24/7 or nine to five strictly, it’s about getting your work done and doing it the best you can, however that happens, and if it’s a Sunday at three o’clock and I’m fine doing that if I need to do that because that is what’s better for me. If it’s, I have to take the afternoon on Friday off to clear my head, but I’ll come back to the work later when I’m ready for it, I think that there’s really no judgment about that. And it’s kind of a go at your pace as long as you’re checking in, you’re letting your manager know what’s going on, having those clear lines of communication. And I think that’s a really good environment to work under.

Goldie: The fact that we have flexibility now in a way that was really unthinkable two years ago, it’s really life-changing. It’s a game changer. I have spent cumulatively nine weeks at home in Wisconsin in 2021, because I can just take my laptop home and work from there. I could have never done that before. And the possibilities of that are nearly endless, so that’s like more than a silver lining, it’s like a very, very positive thing. And I hope that stays around

Gloria: I’ll second what everybody else said, but I think we’re definitely in a brand new world. So in order to remain competitive, attracting new staff as we continue to expand and keep existing staff happy, we have to stay flexible. So I hope that this has been a big lesson and we can take this with us going forward.

Denver: I want to thank the WFP team members who participated in this piece: Goldie Pyka, Katie Siahkoohi, Sally Cohen, Dorota Amin, Tahir Ahmad, India Kapenzi, Bo Bartley and  Gloria Walker. And to learn more about WFP come to and hear my full interview with Barron Segar, the President a d CEO of the World Food Program USA

Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Strategic Advisor and Executive Coach to NGO and Nonprofit CEOs and Board Chairs. His Book, The Business of Giving: The Non-Profit Leaders Guide to Transform Leadership, Philanthropy, and Organizational Success in a Changed World, will be released in the spring of 2022.

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