Monthly Archives: December 2015

30th December 2015        Uncategorized     No comments yet

The Conover + Gould team will be donating to ten causes in the spirit of giving back during the holiday season. During December and January, each team member will be blogging about their chosen nonprofit. For his gift, Jon chose DC Greens.

According to the 2014 US Department of Agriculture Household Food Security in the United States survey, the occupants of 13.2% of households in the District of Columbia didn’t have enough to eat. The survey found that households with incomes near or below the Federal poverty line suffer from the highest rates of food insecurity. People living in food insecure homes skip meals, are more likely to suffer from obesity and other health issues stemming from the consumption of poor quality food, and experience longer and deeper bouts of hunger.

DC Greens is a nonprofit that started out as a farmer’s market serving fresh fruit and vegetable to neighborhood children. DC Greens now works with other DC nonprofits, schools, farmer’s markets, the local government and other partners to improve at-risk children’s and families’ access to fresh food. The Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, launched in 2012, now serves 200 DC residents, and also provides valuable data on the benefits of bringing healthy food to families.

DC Greens works with more than 50 teachers in schools across the District to integrate food education and garden science into existing curriculum. In the Cooking Corps program, undergraduate and graduate student interns lead hands-on cooking demonstrations with students from third through eighth grades. DC Greens also serves as the state lead of the National Farm to School Network, which convenes stakeholders from the classroom, cafeteria, farm and garden to identify challenges and find solutions for how best serve their communities.

I chose DC Greens to help support its mission to fight hunger, improve access to high quality food, and its collaborative approach to educating others about the benefits of eating well.

29th December 2015        Holiday Giving     ,     No comments yet

The Conover + Gould team will be donating to ten causes in the spirit of giving back during the holiday season. During December and January, each team member will be blogging about their chosen nonprofit. For her gift, Minna chose Playworks.

I spent a lot of time outside as a kid, and I loved playing outdoors. I still do! In Finland, school children spend at least an hour a day on recess – always outside, come rain or shine or snow. The end of every class is punctuated with a 15-minute break. All this play pays off as Finland consistently scores high on the international PISA tests that assess and compare student performance around the world. It’s hard to say why Finland does so well, but research shows that play is powerful.

How does play work? Besides redirecting pent up energy, play also promotes learning. Kids learn important social competencies: how to communicate, resolve conflict, collaborate, compromise. They return to class refreshed, focused and better behaved. Our brains need a break!

In the U.S., almost a third of schools with children at the highest poverty levels have no recess at all. Those that do have recess often report it to be uncontrollable chaos - more destructive than refreshing. This is where Playworks comes in. They partner with schools, districts, and after-school programs to support recess and healthy play during recess. This ranges from providing on-site recess coaches that float on the schoolyard to keep everyone engaged and included; a school coordinator to teach, model and empower a sustainable recess program; or a trainer to help staff create and maintain a play environment throughout the school year.

Playworks serves more than 900 schools in 23 cities, and reaches more than half a million students directly and through training. In the District of Columbia, Playworks places coaches at 18 low-income area schools to organize games and activities, and show teachers how to incorporate more physical activity into the day. Coaches don’t stand on the sidelines and bark orders. They get messy, they play along with the students, and chaos is organically transformed into safe, active recess. Teachers at participating schools report both a decrease in bullying and an increase in academic engagement. Play works!

Play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith said it best: “The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression.” So remember to make some time for play for yourself, for your children and the children in your community. You can donate to Playworks by clicking here. $100 will fund balls, cones, and jump ropes for three schools!


27th December 2015        Holiday Giving     ,     No comments yet

The Conover + Gould team will be donating to ten causes in the spirit of giving back during the holiday season. During December and January, each team member will be blogging about their chosen nonprofit. For his gift, Matt chose the NAC Food Pantry.

The NAC Food Pantry is an emergency food pantry located in my hometown, Northbridge, MA. Its mission is to help local families in need who are struggling with food insecurity.

Food insecurity is a condition where someone has limited access to food based on their economic or social status. When we think of food insecurity, we tend to think of the homeless or those who are unemployed. In fact, over 1 in 7 Americans struggle with this issue, and 85% of food-insecure households with children have at least one working parent. It’s an issue that is particularly hard on people of color and people living in rural communities.

The NAC Food Pantry works to solve this issue by providing food, household items and hygiene products to 100 local families in need per month. Everyone that walks through its doors is treated with compassion and respect, regardless of the difficulties they’re facing.

As a volunteer, I’ve been able to see how my hometown has rallied behind the Pantry over the years. Our local Shaw’s and Hannaford stores donate food to the Pantry, and many other local businesses hold fundraisers for the Pantry throughout the year. Additionally, students at Northbridge High School are in charge of a Community Garden, which has grown 1800 pounds of fresh produce for the Pantry this year alone. It’s inspiring to see so many people come together to help local families in need.

Please click here to learn more about the NAC Food Pantry and how to make a donation.

26th December 2015        Holiday Giving     ,     No comments yet

The Conover + Gould team will be donating to ten causes in the spirit of giving back during the holiday season. During December and January, each team member will be blogging about their chosen nonprofit. For her gift, Kemi chose Operation Smile.

I am a first-time mom, and my daughter is my world! My favorite thing to do is to tickle her until she breaks into a smile. Unfortunately, some kids can’t have a beautiful smile because they were born with a facial deformity; and that is why I have chosen Operation Smile. Its mission is to help children born with a cleft lip/palate to get free and safe reconstructive surgery. Most of its patients are poor and lack access to surgical care. It costs as little as $240 to help a child have cleft surgery.

Operation Smile has provided over 240,000 free surgeries. The stories of the kids and their families are so heartwarming, and I hope to help Operation Smile to help more kids through this donation. The generous gift from Conover + Gould this holiday season will give the gift of a beautiful smile to moms like me all around the world.

25th December 2015        Holiday Giving         No comments yet

The Conover + Gould team will be donating to ten causes in the spirit of giving back during the holiday season. During December and January, each team member will be blogging about their chosen nonprofit. For her gift, Sally chose the International Rescue Committee.

As a student of European politics who started my Masters’ work last fall, I have been intensely aware of how the Syrian migration crisis has grown rapidly and with an urgent need for assistance. Help is needed to support the refugees in the vicinity of Syria, who have been displaced by the conflict and also those who are seeking asylum around the world, in particular in the EU. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working to improve many aspects of this crisis, from providing healthcare and immediate help to vulnerable populations in the Syria region, to helping refugees through the asylum process in the EU, to helping a successful resettlement of refugees in the U.S. All of these steps are critically important work, and the IRC understands the importance of supporting children first and foremost as they attempt to resume their education and get the necessary food and health care to learn and grow.

Organizations often fall into the trap of not asking the right questions before they take action that affects their reputation. Another trap is asking the right questions but providing the wrong answer, then acting on it.

Take the recent case of a private school that announced it was acquiring a nearby property so it could consolidate its two campuses. The school is also connected with a religious movement known for compassion and simplicity.

So far so good, right? But the announcement appeared in the town’s daily paper. That in itself wasn’t remarkable. But the problem for the school was that it didn’t make the announcement. The newspaper did and in the form of a problematic story reporting that the property was occupied by a long-term care facility and hospice. Residents were the sick, the old, and perhaps the dying.

The future headlines could be imagined: “School for Kids Boots out Grandmas and Grandpas;” “School Known for Compassion Evicts the Elderly;” “Junior Gets the Best of Seniors;” “Granny’s Room to Become Homeroom;” “School Tells the Sick: ‘Don’t Die Before Leaving.’”

School officials seemed taken by surprise, and the story noted that “they were not immediately available for comment.”  That’s a nice way of saying, “No one in charge would talk to us, and it’s a shame, because they missed the opportunity to defend themselves.”

That window of opportunity may have closed.

When officials did respond, they sounded defensive and lawyerly. They pointed out, correctly, that the school was buying private property adjacent to the school’s property, and that the current owner was responsible for the residents. But even the facts smacked of the black-caped cartoon character Snidely Whiplash, twisting his mustache. Meanwhile, the story quoted a resident saying he was blindsided by the announcement and doesn’t know where he’ll end up living.

Public reaction was understandably negative with critics accusing the school—and by inference parents and students—of being heartless and elitist. A follow-up story featured school alumni criticizing school administrators for being tone deaf. The uproar died down, but has flared up again as neighbors weigh in on traffic and parking issues that will impact them. With each new flare up the school’s reputation is taking a hit, which could later include fewer alumni donations and prospective families looking elsewhere for their kids’ education.

How could it be avoided?

The first priority is to begin with the end in mind. Yes, the ultimate goal is to acquire property at an affordable price so separate campuses can be consolidated. But other important goals are to do the right thing for everyone touched by the purchase, and to avoid a furor that damages your organization’s carefully molded reputation. List the principles to operate by, which in this case required looking no further than the school’s admirable mission statement.

Write potential headlines

Avoiding some negative reactions may have been impossible because moving the sick and elderly is not like moving or closing a dry cleaner or gas station. But the first concern of the school administration after concern for the residents, family members and employees is to anticipate how this might affect the community. Remember that the press often serves the role of town ombudsman, and people call the news desk when they don’t know where else to turn, want to stop something from happening, or punish alleged wrong-doers. Part of planning is to assume someone will contact the press, that the press will be interested, and the focus of the press may not be what a smart business person you are. Imagine how the story will be told and in the most unflattering way. Try writing some headlines like the ones above.

After this exercise, you should sense the potential for an unhappy outcome. You’ll also realize that even if the future welfare of the residents is up to the residents and their families, the right and smart thing to do is to show that you understand how difficult the closing and moving will be, then offer to help smooth the transition in any way feasible and reasonable. That could mean hiring a consultant to work with residents and families on finding new placements, counseling residents, offering to pay for transportation and moving expenses across town, and extending the date the school takes ownership if some residents haven’t yet found appropriate living situations.

“This is the responsibility of the property owners,” you might say. Technically correct, but they also appeared asleep at the switch and seemed to do nothing to prepare for the announcement and eventual move. Press reports indicated residents heard indirectly that the place was closing. Cue Snidely. So if you have leverage over a partner—and the school did in this case—use it. Coordinating with the property owner in advance could have helped avoid problems that were aired in the press. Everyone has a reputation in need of protecting.

Make a list

A second useful and perhaps necessary task is to make a list of all of the stakeholders. Once you consider all those that are impacted by the move and those that can be influential in achieving your desired outcome, you will likely have a list that is longer than the one you originally compiled. In the school’s case stakeholders include the board, students, teachers, parents, alumni; prospective families; the owners of the property to be purchased, and as important, the residents, their families, and staff. Then there are the press and elected officials, and neighbors who will be affected by increased traffic.

With a plan in place, you can get ahead of the negative story by making the announcement yourself, and better yet, in conjunction with the property owner. If that’s not possible, you’ve met with residents and neighbors to answer their questions and address their concerns, explained the support to be provided and steps to mitigate the impact on neighbors, and are ready if and when the press calls come. With a plan, you won’t likely face the “Oh god, what can we tell them” moment which leads to at least two undesirable results:  You delay returning a reporter’s call and are quoted as the “no one was immediately available for comment,” (which translates as, “We were taken by surprise and don’t know what the hell to do”); or you do return the call and sound defensively discombobulated, resorting to legalisms and referring reporters to the property owner who will be equally unprepared because you neglected to get agreement with them in advance about the best way to conduct the purchase and how to treat everyone right.

And don’t forget to brief everyone on your team about the plan, underlying principles (do what’s right even if it costs more than anticipated), and what will be done to assist people adversely affected.

No matter how smart and decent, we all operate in bubbles with blinders. That’s why it’s important, in matters large and small, to take time individually and as part of a group to examine assumptions and role play possible internal and external audience reactions to your decisions before you make them.

When you make mistakes, learn from them. After the initial rumpus in the press, a senior school official was overheard saying that certain people in the community were always ready to pounce and repeat the charge that the school is elitist and unfeeling. If this is the lens through which leadership continues to view itself, more self-inflicted damage is as inevitable as the arrival of the next semester.