Nancy and Erica from DoSomething duke it out in a social good cage match (nonprofit debate).

Nancy and Erica from DoSomething duke it out in a social good cage match (nonprofit debate).

Not many organizations would call their CEO “Chief Old Person.” But that’s exactly how they operate at DoSomething.org. If you’re over 26 years old, you’re old in DoSomething.org’s eyes, Katie Radford explained. And with a title for herself like “Head of Fun,” it’s easy to see that DoSomething.org is doing something right with their organization’s workplace culture.

(They also refer to their IT guy as “Tech Wizard,” which we think is awesome.)

That’s why we interviewed them for our final article of the nonprofit workplace culture series. They were named one of the Nonprofit Times Best Places to Work for 2013. Here’s what your organization can learn from DoSomething.org.

What They’re About:

“We’re the largest not-for-profit for young people and social change and we just sort of went through a big shift in the past few months. So we’re really honing in on the idea of running campaigns for young people to participate in to get them involved in their communities.”

Need some further explanation? Their website copy says it all, with an added flavor that embodies their workplace culture:

“DoSomething.org makes the world suck less. 2.5 million members tackle campaigns that impact every cause, from poverty to violence to the environment to literally everything else. Any cause, anytime, anywhere. *mic drop.”

1. Hold On to the Startup Mentality

“We’ve always operated like a startup. We’ve always been really scrappy. And really work hard, play hard. And I think whereas a lot of organizations, as they grow… their culture can get watered down a little bit. Here, a huge focus for us is on hiring, and I think that’s honestly one of the most important things that we do—is just hire really smart, amazing people.”

The Takeaway:

Just because you’re a nonprofit doesn’t mean you’re not a startup. You were still formed to help meet your mission, whether that was five years ago or 100 years ago. You can embody the startup feel.

If you’re an established organization that remains traditional, don’t lose sight of what makes your organization feel established. But you can inject new tactics into your culture. Don’t be afraid to inject some fun and start a new tradition. Not sure what to do? Ask your current volunteers and staff what they’d like to do to spice things up.

2. Be Thorough with Your Candidate Search

“One of the things we talk about a lot is that we spend more time with our coworkers than we do with our loved ones,” Katie said. “And people that we actually choose to spend time with, so it’s really important that everybody we bring onto the team, we’re all really excited about them.”

So what exactly does that hiring process look like for DoSomething.org? There’s a two-hour-long staff interview, where the candidate meets as many people as possible. Sounds intimidating, right? It’s more of a chance for people to get to know you instead of a formal and intimidating interview. And something unique to DoSomething.org is that anybody has the right to veto a candidate. If somebody has a hard ‘no,’ Katie explained, then they’re out. That’s a lot of trust-power instilled in their current staff.

Not to mention the fact that they ask fun (and telling) questions that really bring out a candidate’s personality:

“I can’t think of a single person that’s come here that hasn’t been asked what their favorite karaoke song is, or what their superpower is,” Katie said.

And overall for the hiring process, Katie said the big thing was getting them there and in the atmosphere to see how they interact.

“One big key is just getting people in here and seeing what they can do.”

The Takeaway:

Treat the hiring process with the same mentality that DoSomething.org treats their hiring process. You’ll be spending a good majority of every single week with these people that you’re bringing onto your team, so make sure your process is thorough enough to find the right people for each position. You’ll be glad you took the time to develop an intense interview and hiring process.

Only nonprofit superheroes need apply at DoSomething.org. Photo taken at "Onesie Day."

Only nonprofit superheroes need apply at DoSomething.org. Photo taken at “Onesie Day.”

3. Take Time to Recharge

“There is a huge sort of common thread of burnout in the not-for-profit sector where everybody is so passionate and everybody is always working so hard. And especially when you’re working on social issues, it’s sometimes really hard to see that immediate reward in your work.”

To help combat that fatigue that we’re all familiar with, DoSomething.org has annual retreats that they participate in.

And it all starts with some improv, Katie said, with their resident improv leaders.

”They run us through a few exercises, we all get a little bit weird together,” she added.

The Takeaway:

Sometimes it’s better to take a step back. As nonprofit professionals, we get caught in trying to make our missions happen, and we get so inspired that we think we can’t rest and can’t sleep until our mission is met.

But it’s better to take the time to recharge and regain your footing. It’s hard to take a step back, but it’s going to be better for your staff in the long run. Make sure to take the time to get refocused and reenergized.