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 Comic Relief USA, a nonprofit organization that uses the power of entertainment to drive positive change towards their vision of a just world, free from poverty. We’ll start with their CEO, Alison Moore, who will explain how Comic Relief USA goes about its work.
Alison Moore: And so our vision broadly is a just world free of poverty. And so in that space and in that mindset, we occupy a really unique role. It’s almost like a fulcrum role between, on one side we have this really deep expertise in marketing and content engine and creating what is a creative sort of single-minded focus of and a really easy way for consumers to give. We take those kinds of programs and through corporate partners raise money at scale.
When we raise that sort of scale dollars, we turn around and on our other side, we are a deeply rooted grant making engine with really strong insight to what’s happening on the ground in any of the sectors. And so we ensure those funds raised are directed to the programs making really deep impact to people in need. And that’s the sort of construct with which we operate our organization A Healthy Work Culture Begins with the hiring process. Jamie and Ridwan speak to their experiences of being hired.
Jaime: But even in that interview process, you got to understand, you could see where your skills could fit in to help overcome the challenges and move towards the vision. And it was actually very refreshing in that process because you were able to not only have visibility into what you were coming into, but you were able to see where you can fit in and assess very clearly if you’re a match for the organization
Ridwan: So, I think in terms of knowing what you’re getting yourself into, I knew that, I knew what environment I was coming into, I knew what situation I was coming into, I knew the growth period of the organization that I was being inserted into. I think that’s really critical because people, there’s public
There’s what it actually is. And then there’s like the truth is somewhere in between of what we think we are, what the world thinks we are, and where we would like to be. It’s like a combination of that. And I think having all that presented as a prospective employee, I think, was really critical in just knowing what you’re getting yourself into.
It’s not like a pipe dream where, as you’re saying, like everything’s not perfect and we’re making progress on a lot of different things. I think presenting that
honestly is really important. It’s not to scare off prospective employees, but it’s to give them truth and honesty as they’re coming in.
Denver: Change is required for an organization to get better and improve. Sydney and Lisa speak about that process at Comic Relief.
Sydney: I can speak to a couple of different levels of the organization changing over some time. But I think that the real impact has happened when we’ve said that we wanted to change and then take in concrete steps towards walking towards the vision that we want for the organization.
I think that we started by having the conversation about what we want to as a collective of people working towards a collective goal, what we want the
organization to look like and what we want to embody on a daily basis, and then we took steps to fulfill that vision.
Lisa: But there was a very different dynamic in the team. There was a very, very different look and feel in the team, and typical power dynamics showed up and in a negative fashion. And we needed to correct a lot of behaviors, we needed to have aligned thinking and language on how to ask for what you need, and that was very important.
Denver: Trust is the foundation to every organization that allows great work to be done. Lisa and Ridwan share their thoughts on Trust.
Lisa: So, when I say trust, do I trust my employer? Do I trust my supervisor? Do I trust my colleague? That is earned. That is not something that I can put into staff. That is not something that I can put on a survey and say, “Trust your employer because we do all these different things.”
That is earned. That is every interaction. That is built and take away. Those are deposits that you put in the bank and you make withdrawals on. And so, trust for me is an individual thing between employee and supervisor, between employee and subordinate, between employee and peer, between head of department and the very most junior person in the team.
Ridwan: You need to earn the trust, right? You need to earn the trust of other staff members. You need to earn the trust of the organization. You need to earn the trust of everybody to be able to spread your wings and fly, team members will say, ” Oh, why don’t they just let us do what we want.” And you’d be like, “You got to earn it.”
You don’t get that, you earn that. And I think earning that is difficult over Zoom. I think part of that is difficult over Zoom and being disconnected is difficult to earn that trust within the team and to build trust within the team. But I think for me, trust is like the biggest thing in terms of trying to earn from others and trying to get my team to trust me and trying to get others to trust my team and building that trust, I think, is really important.
And I think it’s done through communication. It’s done through conversation. It’s done through listening. It’s done through listening what pain points exist and how can you be alleviating some of that suffering and not only for our grantees but also for each other.
And how can we be that support system for each other and be that tool to say, “Okay, how can I make your life easier? How can I make your job easier? It’s something as simple as “I noticed you were off in that last Zoom call.” Even on a Zoom call, if somebody feels off, hitting them with a side Slack and saying, “Hey, I noticed you were extra quiet today. Are you alright? Are you okay?” And I think that goes a long way to building relationships.
Denver:Jamie speaks to how the organization is aligned, Radwin on adapting to individual work styles and Sydney on Celebrating Victories.
Jaime: We all, everyone on this call, could say exactly what our social impact goal is. Articulate it, no problem. It was set forth through a collaboration with
everyone’s input. It was distilled down to a very sharp-focused vision and mission.
And so, you have a north star that we’re all working towards, then all the other work that happens, all the results, the impact, the beautiful stories that Ridwan, his team share, that is done through the work of the grants team, granting out the funds that we raise, there’s a real visibility of everything that you’re doing is building towards that vision
Ridwan: I think in having that flexibility and having that being able to think agile in the way that we’re approaching situations and issues, I think is the way to go in terms of keeping the team engaged and then leveraging what their needs and wants are to make sure that we’re listening to you, we’re listening to the team, we’re listening to what people desire, how people work best.
Because it may not be the most efficient or the best for that particular individual. But recognizing that and going “Well, this person works great this way. Let them exist in that space, whatever that space may be, be it in person, be it online.” So, I think that transition from completely online to starting to come in a few days a week has been an interesting one and starting to commute back and what that looks like.
Sydney: I definitely think the buzz around Red Nose Day, you can definitely feel like that energy throughout the staff. And even though we’re remote now, you can still feel it throughout the Slacks and the emails and the updates that are going on a regular basis.
And I definitely think that, especially during the pandemic, we’ve tried to make it a point to really celebrate those victories and share it amongst the team. So, I definitely think that you can feel that supercharged energy during the time
Denver: Finally, what is the Secret Sauce that helps make Comic Relief a special place to work. Lisa says the people, Sydney thinks about Humor, Ridwan talks about Caring and Jamie thinks it a little bit of all the above.
Lisa: I interview all day long. When I’m asked about what keeps me here, what’s attractive to me about Comic Relief, I tell the story of how after every interview that I was on, I grew more and more fond of the organization based off of the passion and intelligence and authenticity that I found with the people that I would potentially work with.
And I think that continues to exist as the team has changed and shifted and people have rolled off and gone on to some really amazing opportunities and we’ve had the space to bring in new staff. That’s what I’m looking for in that new staff, the individuals that come to the table with passion and excitement about this work. So, that’s our secret sauce, our people.
Sydney: We’re an organization that a million things can be going on at one time and someone will still crack a joke and make us all laugh in the middle of the moment. So, I definitely think that our ability to have comedic moments while we’re all running around is definitely a piece that is special to this organization. And I definitely think that it’s the way that we connect and keep going throughout it all. We’re about a 30-person team, and we get a tremendous amount done. And I definitely think the only way to do that is to have these moments where we connect and we laugh and we bond in those types of ways. That’s what I would say our secret sauce is.
Ridwan: But I think the secret sauce is caring, like caring about the work, caring about the mission, caring about the children that we help, caring about the grantees that we work with, caring about each other, and caring about the ultimate goal of accomplishing these things and using all of these tools and the talent and the skills and the team to impact the world and to impact the world positively.
Jaime: I think it’s a confluence of working with really not only smart, but kind people who have a sense of humor. We work through the power of entertainment to bring joy to people. That’s what we want to lean on to inspire people to donate to us. And it permeates through everything that we do. So, there’s the impact. The purpose is what drives us. And it’s always the undercurrent and the connection to the cause remains ever-present, and that comes through the impact stories that we share.
Denver: I want to thank the Comic Relief USA team members who participated in this piece: Lisa Clark, Sydney Phillips, Ridwan Adhami, and Jamie Lash And to learn more about The organization go visit their website at, Comicrelief.org or visit denver-frederick.com and catch my earlier interview with Allison Moore the CEO of Comic Relief USA.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Ever-Changing World, will be released later this year.Listen to more The Business of Giving episodes here. Subscribe to our podcast channel on Spotify to get notified of new episodes. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook.