Archive | June, 2012

5 Tips for Building a Great Culture for your Social Good Organization

28 Jun

Build Culture. Grow Impact.

At Catchafire, building the right culture is a priority. It’s central to maintaining a happy and productive team. It’s key to retaining and recruiting amazing and dynamic talent. The right culture spurs creative problem solving and pushes innovation – key elements that are especially important to a growing a social good organization. Here are top 5 tips for building your social good organization’s culture:

  1. Hire people better than you:  Hire people that will compliment your team’s strengths and address areas of weakness. The goal is to hire new talent that will encourage others to be better and push themselves harder, personally and professionally, as a result of the new person’s presence.
  1. Hire People Invested in your Social Mission: There are many do-gooders and changemakers in the world. Hiring people interested in doing good is not enough. Hire people that are invested in your specific social mission. They will likely have more ownership of your social mission and be thoughtful and driven to achieve it.
  1. Build a Culture of Shipping: In launching a new product, service, or project, do not shoot for perfection. Aspire to ship quickly, and iterate, iterate, and iterate. We have standing meetings to limit lengthy meetings. While ideation is incredibly important, focus on execution – this is key to an agile team looking to scale social impact quickly.
  1. Build a Culture of Best Mistakes: Mistakes and failures are inevitable. Every Monday, we have an all-hands meeting to discuss priorities for the coming week and each person’s best mistake from the past week. Provide a forum where team members can openly talk about failures, mistakes and areas for improvement. This is the best way for the team to capture all the valuable learnings that come from it.
  1. Build a Culture of 1%: In addition to celebrating best mistakes, we also celebrate successes at our Monday morning all-hands meeting. We borrowed the idea of 1% from our friends at Skillshare. It’s simple – celebrate individual or team initiatives that push your organization forward 1% or more. Everyone pushing the organization for 1% in aggregate equates to significant improvement and growth, and, importantly, 1% improvements are achievable on a daily basis. Making the time and space to celebrate your teammates successes is inspiring and encourages a culture where anyone can be a leader and make significant impact.

Read more about Catchafire’s culture and values here. Interested in building your nonprofits or social enterprises’ culture? Check out this Catchafire Project:

Culture Coaching:

Work with a Catchafire Pro Bono Professional to help manage and build a culture tailored for your organization’s needs here.


Ryan Letada is a Senior Account Manager at Catchafire. He is a Fulbright Fellow and co-founder of eKindling. He writes on impact investing and capacity building for social good organizations. You can follow him at @rletada


CFED and the 1:1 Fund

28 Jun

The Corporation of Enterprise Development (CFED), a national nonprofit based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for low-income families and communities. Their impact is achieved through their “think-do-invest” approach grounded in public policy, community practice and private markets:

  • Think: CFED explores ideas and practices that enable families and communities to participate in the mainstream economy
  • Do: They gather investors, local businesses and policymakers to demonstrate how programs would work for communities nationwide
  • Invest: They onboard investors and policy advocates eager to see the large scale implementation of programs that could bring about positive social and economic change

The 1:1 Fund: Among the most recently implemented programs is the 1:1 Fund, CFED’s newest social enterprise. The 1:1 Fund is a creative approach to enlisting donor support and creating economic opportunity for American’s youth. The program is led by Carl Rist out of Durham’s CFED office. Carl previously served as the director of CFED’s Saving for Education, Entrepreneurship and Downpayment (SEED) initiative, bringing innovative matched savings programs to children and youth in low-income families. The 1:1 Fund, on the other hand, is an online savings portal that harnesses the power of technology, state-of-the-art marketing and data management, enabling donors to help students save money. Simply put, it’s an opportunity for anyone to match their donation with that of a student to help them realize their dreams.

How does it work? For every dollar a student saves, their donor matches the same amount, penny for penny. Research shows that a student with a savings account is four times more likely to go to college, seven times more likely if the account is in their own name! The dreams of too many students remain dreams simply because of the lack of support and access to funding. The 1:1 Fund presents a solution to this problem.

Think about it, then do it… invest! Here’s a link to the 1:1 Fund, the CFED website and their social links:

Meet Mee Mee, a refugee from Burma who is rebuilding her life through candlemaking

27 Jun

Mee Mee heard that the soldiers were coming.  She took hold of her son and frantically joined the rest of the villagers who were running toward the Thai-Burmese border, where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was located. Her husband was in another village running in the opposite direction, Mee later learned.  After the soldiers’ pursuit ended, Mee returned home to her small village in Koechi, Burma.

Between 1997 and 2000, Mee Mee and thousands like her lived under the constant threat of violence from Burmese soldiers. Many people would take temporary refuge in the jungle, and return home to their village after soldiers left the area, only to do it all over again days later.  About once a week, Mee and others would be on the move to avoid capture, rape, or death by soldiers.

During one incident, Mee’s husband ran ahead of his wife to secure food for his family. Her husband was spotted by soldiers and shot. The bullet shattered a portion of his ribcage, leaving him severely wounded as he journeyed toward the jungle with his family for safety.

For three months, Mee’s husband hid and moved the family with a debilitating wound at his side. He received no medical care, except for Mee’s tending.

“I was afraid to return to Burma,” Mee said through an interpreter. “I feared dying. I cried and cried every day,” she continued.

Mee’s husband eventually drew enough strength to walk five days toward a small village in Thailand where they learned the location of a hospital and a refugee camp.  When Mee and her husband finally arrived at the hospital, he underwent immediate surgery and later recovered.

Life in the jungle for those fleeing Burmese soldiers was indeed terrifying and difficult. Makeshift bamboo tents with only roof and floor coverings became suitable temporary dwellings. Many women including Mee gave birth to children in the jungle.  Mee’s then six-year-old son assisted in the delivery of his sister named Eh Ku Hser. Her name means love – cold – sweet. “Cold” in Burmese culture means so as to not pass through the fire of life, as heat represents troubled times.

“I hoped my daughter would be free from difficult and troubling times,” said Mee. “I did not want her to go through what I had experienced,” she continued. For Mee, the birth of her daughter in the midst of darkness, torment and fear, was a symbol of hope for a new life to come.

Mee Mee preparing the finished product for shipment!

With the help of UNHCR, Mee and her family were able to resettle in West Springfield, MA.  There, Mee met Moo Kho Paw, another woman who emigrated from Burma, and who was working with us as a candle-maker in Florence, MA.  Prosperity Candle helps refugee women who have escaped areas of conflict rebuild their lives through the art of candle making.  Moo Kho recommended that Mee join the organization, and Mee gladly accepted.

“I was excited to be out of the house,” said Mee, “I was raised to believe that because I was a woman, my role was to remain at home and raise my family,” she continued.  “While many Burmese women want to do more for themselves, they are often encouraged to remain homemakers.”

She has become a talented candle-maker with Prosperity Candle, and her strength and resilience continue to be an inspiration to many.


Adopted from Judith Santiago’s Hope in a Time of Crisis: a Mother’s Day Story, originally posted at:–A-Mother-s-Day-Story

Green Plus: Helping small go green!

27 Jun

For the last decade or so, the media has been awash with news of big business making positive social and environmental change through their sustainability initiatives. Today, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a norm, not only to please the growing concerns of conscious consumers but to reap the benefits of CSR programs: cost savings, happier employees, greater efficiencies, improved business ethics, the list goes on… While big business – the large multinationals the media love to scrutinize – may steal the limelight, many small businesses were left out of the conversation.

This was the realization of Tony Waldrop, of the University of North Carolina, back in 2004. Tony wondered when green opportunities would make their way to the many small businesses and nonprofits in his community. There was a disconnect: While these small businesses were eager to “go green,” the big business solutions were impractical and out of reach.

Working with UNC’s business school, Tony set about closing the gap between the university’s excellent sustainability programs and local businesses. While UNC worked in a business plan, Tony formed a group of interested parties including local businesses, chambers of commerce, and philanthropists. In 2009, with the business plan ready and social entrepreneur Chris Carmody at the helm, a pilot program was launched, now known as Green Plus.

On April 12, the Institute for Sustainable Development honored the 2012 Green Plus Sustainable Enterprise Award Winners at the Research Triangle Park Foundation.

Today, just three short years later, Green Plus operates in 12 states, working with over 250 small businesses. Their 2-year certification program enables Green Plus to “educate, motivate, and recognize smaller enterprises for their efforts towards becoming more sustainable.” A 2011 Duke University survey of 31 Green Plus businesses found that:

  • 87% of businesses institutionalized their sustainability programs
  • 52% believed Green Plus certification generated new business
  • In most cases, over 80% of employees participated in the sustainability efforts
  • 77% of the business created partnerships with nonprofits through volunteering, donations, or in-kind support
  • Click here to learn more about their work and impact

Green Plus continues in its mission of democratizing the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit) of sustainability by making it accessible to small businesses and their communities. Here’s their social links, connect with them:

Meals on Wheels of Durham: Over 1.75 million meals served

26 Jun

The Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOWAA) is regarded as the oldest and largest organization in the United States offering meal services to people in need. What began with canteens to British service men during World War II grew into America’s first Meals on Wheels program launched in Philadelphia in the 1950s. Today MOWAA is the largest volunteer army in the nation with between 800,000 and 1,7 million volunteers working in 5,000 local Senior Nutrition Programs and providing more than one million meals a day.

How did Meals on Wheels come to Durham? In 1969, Durham’s City Center Church Council (the Durham Congregations in Action) commissioned a number of studies to determine how best they could provide for their local communities. The studies revealed that those who were unable to prepare their own meals were not adequately meeting their personal nutritional requirements, and in need of a program that provided them with ready-made meals. In 1975 Meals on Wheels of Durham was created. It started with just a handful of volunteers serving about a dozen elderly, disabled and homebound and alone clients but grew fast to serve 325 Durham residents and over 85,000 meals a year!

Don Lebkes, a Meals on Wheels volunteer, delivers meals across Durham. As a retired delivery man, Lebkes said Meals on Wheels was a similar job but he gets to help out the community! (The Herald-Sun | Lauren A. Vied)

Meals on Wheels of Durham recently relocated to a new facility in east Durham. Their operations are more efficient and they’re impact greater, which is good because more people are in need of help. Meals on Wheels of Durham is ready to grow and has a list of approximately 200 people waiting for assistance… but more funds and more volunteers are needed.

If you know of someone who homebound as the result of age, disability, or illness, lives alone and are handicapped, malnourished, elderly, or unable to take of their daily nutritional requirements, connect them to Meals on Wheels of Durham or one the MOWAA many affiliates nationwide. Here’s their social links, connect with them:

Communities in Schools: the leading dropout prevention organization

25 Jun

 Back in the 1970s, Bill Milliken, then a youth advocate in New York City, conceived the idea of bringing community resources into public schools and founded Communities in Schools. In little over 30 years, Communities in Schools has become the nation’s leading dropout prevention organization. Their network includes over 5,000 passionate professionals in 25 states and D.C., who serve nearly 1.3 million young people in over 3,400 schools. Their mission: to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Communities in Schools of Wake County

Communities in Schools of Wake County  (CIS Wake) has been supporting schools in the N.C. Triangle for more than 20 years. CIS Wake currently serves over 500 students in five after-school community-based learning centers and in six Wake County public school sites. By the end of this year CIS Wake will have completed the implementation of Communities in School’s national model, enabling them to expand their service offerings to more than 1,600 students. CIS Wake has three core programs:

Graduation Coaches: provide goal-oriented coaching to ensure that every CIS Wake student has a personalized plan to graduate from high school, to reduce and ultimately eliminate drop-out rates

Eligibility Coaches: fill a very similar role to Graduation Coaches but target student-athletes to address their specific needs

Learning Centers: provide students with a place to go afterschool where they get tutorials, mentoring and homework assistance. The Learning Center monitors the students’ progress in a) attendance, b) behavior, and c) coursework.

Communities in Schools continues to expand nationally, offer its services to more students, and improve its results. During the 2009 – 2010 school year:

  • 98% of students remained in school and on track to graduate
  • 88% of students were promoted to the next grade
  • 87% of seniors graduated on time
  • 82% of students reduced their high-risk behavior
  • Click here for more proven results

CIS Wake now looks forward to its expansion to 1,600 students, which includes opening a sixth community-based learning center, the addition of three new school locations and an increase to 250 community volunteers. To learn more about their plans and to get involved, connect with them! Here are their social links:

Self-Help Credit Union: Investing in Durham’s Future

22 Jun

The Center for Community Self-Help was founded in 1980 to address the lack of management skills among North Carolina’s worker-owned businesses. A few years later, as those needs evolved, the organization’s focus shifted to helping disadvantaged North Carolinians build wealth through home and small business ownership. With $77 raised from a bake sale, the Center for Community Self-Help established its financing affiliates – The Self-Help Ventures Fund and Self-Help Credit Union. During the years since, Self-Help Credit Union, and its affiliates, have expanded nationwide and invested a staggering $6.08 billion through more than 70,000 loans to families, individuals, and organizations. (Click here for more statistics of their impact).

Self-Help reaches out to females, low-income and low-wealth families, and rural and minority communities across North Carolina, Washington DC, California, and a number of other states. Their mission is to create and protect “ownership and economic opportunity for all, especially people of color, women, rural residents and low-wealth families and communities.” In Durham, where it all began, the organization has made tremendous progress in fulfilling its mission. Here’s how Self-Help has invested in Durham:

  • Building Neighborhoods: With the view that homeownership is the foundation of safe, stable neighborhoods, Self-Help has funded nearly 600 home loans to the value of $42 million.

A city grant and a loan from Self-Help enabled Kelli and Billy Cotter to renovate a Main Street shop space for their new restaurant, Toast.

  • Strengthen Community Organizations: By providing critical infrastructure and services to underserved communities, organizations funded by Self-Help are able to make a meaningful contribution to the city and its residents. Self-Help has made $23 million in loans to local nonprofits.
  • Growing Local Businesses: Self-Help finances small businesses because they are the engines of the local economy. Self-Help depositors have invested over $98 million in 400 businesses in Durham County.
  • Revitalizing Downtown: Self-Help encourages local businesses to invest in the city’s infrastructure. The organization has renovated seven buildings at the cost of $14 million and created homes for several Durham institutions.
  • Advocating for Financial Reform: Self-Help’s Durham-based Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) advocates for consumers of financial services in North Carolina and nationwide. The CRL and a coalition of like-minded organizations have saved North Carolinians hundreds of millions of dollars by curtailing predatory loan practices.

While Self-Help has a far-reaching mission, their key lesson learned is simple, eloquent and note-worthy: “Over time we have learned, and demonstrated, that low-income borrowers pose no greater credit risk than other borrowers. Our borrowers have proven their determination to repay their loans, build their businesses, improve their communities, and build wealth through home ownership and home equity.”

Please visit their site to learn more about this great organization.

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