Diving Into The Values At Denver Scholarship Foundation
A foundation who takes their values to heart.
DSF takes its values--equity, innovation, integrity, leadership, learning, and relationships-- seriously. They use those values daily, including in their professional development and annual performance reviews. They give awards to staff members who embody the foundation's values. They constantly revise and consider their values, ensuring alignment with the organization's culture, goals, and mission.
A woot-woot, rah-rah culture.
DSF's workplace culture is best described by one word: fun. Team members work hard, and they are committed to DSF's mission. They offer to help each other. They serve the needs of high school and college students, DSF Scholars and Alumni, donors, and the community. But they know that the best work happens when you also give yourself permission to have fun. Supervisors host a welcome breakfast every time a team member starts. They organize goodbye gatherings on the rare occasion when a team member leaves. They have an exciting, inclusive environment with an incredibly diverse team. Team members represent a variety of ages, genders, ethnicities, experiences, and backgrounds.
Every team member at DSF is celebrated and valued. Chief executive officer Lorii Rabinowitz says, "when we welcome new team members, we do not just say our names and title, we share random facts so that we get to know each other a little bit better, and that carries through into our everyday interactions. We have a good sense of what is going on outside of work. And we are intentional about following up on and learning about each other's lives. There's not a person who walks by another person without saying hello. We are not just thoughtful about in-person communication. We also think a lot about email tone, often adding smiley faces and woo-hoos to make sure that emails are friendly and welcoming."
Building Lifelong Relationships
Trust and connection.
Relationships are key at DSF. Staff need to have strong relationships with the students whom they serve. They are a trusted resource for students. They navigate an important journey together, with each other, as a team. They build lifelong relationships with the students they serve. And staff do not only need strong relationships with students. They need strong relationships with each other in order to be successful. DSF staff are located at over a dozen school locations. That means that staff are scattered all over the Denver area. To keep the staff connected, they do a monthly all hands meeting. They do an annual retreat. They also have supervisors who bring team members across locations together into strong but small collaborative cohorts. We provide training and leadership that focuses on healthy communication through a learning culture model. If challenges arise we approach it not as a difficult conversation, but rather as a learning conversation.
Doubling in Size
A growing organization.
When you think of high growth workplaces, the first industry that comes to mind probably is not nonprofit organizations. But DSF is not just your typical nonprofit organization. They are on a mission to inspire and empower Denver Public Schools' students to enroll in and graduate from postsecondary institutions of higher education. In the last year, alone, DSF's staff has almost doubled in size. The addition of new staff has not just helped the organization grow, it has also allowed the leadership team to strategically add redundancy in staff roles so that can get something precious in the demanding nonprofit industry: time off and work-life balance.
Most nonprofit organizations are small, and employees have to wear many hats, leading to a lack of work-life balance. But DSF is serious about making sure that employees have a healthy work-life balance. In 2018, they shifted to a trusted time off vacation policy, which means that team members can take unlimited vacation time. But what is the point of unlimited vacation time if you never actually take it? People at DSF actually use their leave. The leadership team even checks in once a quarter to make sure that employees are taking time off. They reach out to team members who are not taking enough time away from work. They encourage people to send in photos of what they are doing with their time off, whether that means taking a big vacation or relaxing at home.