HR & Culture Q&A with Samantha Arpino at DoSomething.org

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With me to today is Sam Arpino, DoSomething.org’s Talent & Culture Manager aka Head of Fun. DoSomething.org’s has a world-class culture that came up again and again in my conversations with the team. Her team of 55 mostly millennial staff is not just having fun, they are changing the world at scale. Among many other accomplishments, they are the fastest rising organization on our stats based Top 100 Nonprofits list (currently #5, up from #19 a couple years ago).

Preview of the topics we cover

Craig Van Korlaar (TopNonprofits): Thanks for joining us today. DoSomething has quickly become a powerhouse for change.

Q: For those less familiar with your organization, can you tell us a little about DoSomething and the impact you are making?

Sam Arpino (DoSomething.org): Simply put: DoSomething.org is a global movement for good. We’re activating 5.5 million young people (and counting!) to make positive change, both online and off. And it’s already happening in every area code in the US and in over 131 countries! When you take action with DoSomething.org, you join something bigger than yourself. You team up with the young people who’ve run the largest sports-equipment drive. And clothed over half of America’s teens in homeless shelters. And cleaned up 3.7 million(!) cigarette butts around the world. You’ve got the power and the passion to make a difference on any issue you want — we’ll help you get it done. Welcome to DoSomething.org. Let’s do this.

Q: Fun is in your title, it’s communicated in the expressions and pictures associated with actions. Even your website’s team page communicates it through the use of the awkward/cute childhood school pictures instead of the normal office headshot. This is more than a corporate value drummed up in a board meeting. It seems core to your DNA. Why focus on fun, and how has that helped shape your culture and your impact?

Sam (DoSomething.org): You’re totally right: fun is really important to us. I get to be the ‘Head of Fun’ because I oversee People Operations here and the incredible people we hire are what keeps us fun. We know people do their best work when they can be themselves in an environment that strikes the balance of having fun and getting stuff done. We have a deep commitment to always striking this balance because happy, productive employees who enjoy coming to work are more innovative, more thoughtful, and ultimately always do what’s best for our members.

Q: How would you define organizational culture?

Sam (DoSomething.org): Imagine polling every employee, every person who has sat in your lobby, and every person who has interacted with your staff and ask them what they love about your company and what they wish were different. The culmination of those responses is your organizational culture. It’s what employees associate with coming to work in your office, how they feel sending an email to their manager requesting a day off, and how fulfilled and challenged they’re feeling every day. It’s what visitors to your office see, feel, and overhear. It’s the thoughts and feelings people get when interacting with your staff; do they seem happy? Do they believe in what they’re pitching? It’s about consistency within your office’s current ecosystem.

Q: What are some of the most common mistakes you see when organizations try to engage millennials volunteers or employees?

Sam (DoSomething.org): So many companies believe they know what millennials want. Sure, we love our couches and foosball tables, but a short list of things we love even more:

  • Recognition for our work
  • Trust through autonomy
  • Respect through consistent communication
  • Opportunities for support and guidance
  • Fair and equitable treatment amongst our peers

When our employers remember we’re individuals and that the first 5 items here might not apply to every single one of us. You know, like generalizations of any group!

Q: What are 3-4 of the most important things you look for when looking to hire a new member of the team?

Sam (DoSomething.org): We have 11 Core Values that we use for everything — determining strategic direction, figuring out what’s best for our members, and, of course, people ops. Those Core Values are our North Star, and we always use them when evaluating candidates. These include things like Believe in all young people, Be data-informed, and Take risks and fail fast. Aside from our Core Values, we notice people are most successful when: ○ They’re comfortable in fast-paced, startup-y environments. We move really, really fast. We need people who can thrive within this structure. ○ They understand that we’re tech-based, which means we operate with our product at the forefront of our minds. ○ They demonstrate a genuine belief in our mission. Anyone who comes into an interview and says they “just want to work at a non-profit” tells me they didn’t do their research on us. Every not-for-profit does something different and accomplishes their goals in different ways. Don’t lump us all together!

Q: Why are diversity and inclusivity so important to an organization and what are some tangible ways that your team lives out these values?

Sam (DoSomething.org): Diversity and inclusion are critical to an organization’s success. Part of being “intentional about fun” means that we make sure our whole staff is having fun, not just the ones who hold certain identities. That’s partially what inclusion is; shifting your mindset from the number of people (diversity) to how people with various identities thrive in a shared space (inclusion). When people feel inclusion within a group, they’re more likely to speak up and share their thoughts, whether in agreement or in disagreement, and that will always push your organization to be better. Live and promote our culture of diversity & inclusion is one of our Core Values. Knowing that your organization and leadership stands behind this mindset enough to put it in writing and evaluate future candidates on it as a standard of working here is incredibly powerful. Through this core value, we’ve developed an inclusivity committee which we call “Empower Hour.” We meet monthly to propose changes — sometimes small tweaks, sometimes large overhauls — to keep our office as inclusive as possible. “Diversity and Inclusion” isn’t a checkbox for one-time successes; it takes continuous practice, communication, feedback, learning, and unlearning to work. And if your org is willing to take that time, the benefits are limitless.

About author

Craig Van Korlaar

Craig specializes in strategy, systems, and metrics. He enjoys cross-pollinating ideas from the nonprofit, government, and business sectors (all of which he's worked in). In addition to heading up topnonprofits.com, his passions include technology, books, social causes, and the global church.

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