Get to Know Fairmount Ventures: Molly Botnick, Associate

By Aimée Miller  |  September 25th, 2017

Molly BotnickMolly Botnick, Associate, is dedicated to helping nonprofits pursue social justice and to assist them in serving their communities more effectively. With a background in social work and direct service, she brings a ground-level perspective of the issues facing underserved Philadelphians to Fairmount Ventures. Molly earned her B.A. in International Studies at Kenyon College.

FV: After graduating from Kenyon College, you gained both direct service and social work experience at City Year and Congreso de Latinos Unidos—how do you apply your takeaways from those roles to your work at Fairmount?

MB: After graduating from Kenyon College I felt that it was really important for me to work in direct service to learn from, and work with, different communities in order to get to know Philadelphia from a different perspective than my own. I always intended to work in the non-profit world but experienced that it can sometimes be a prescriptive process. While working in case management and direct service I learned that the best experts on any given issue are the people utilizing the services or experiencing the problem. Sometimes we forget to stop and listen. The organizing principles to my work (and life) are to listen to others, and to utilize the tools and talents at my disposal to amplify the voices of those who often go unheard. Since we are supporting organizations who, in turn, directly serve the community, our work at Fairmount takes a more indirect approach. However, I still apply these principles to my work every day as we help to solve the issues facing Philadelphia, by working with our clients to ensure that planning processes reflect community voices and that fundraising aligns with mission and community needs.

FV: What does a typical day look like for you?

MB: A typical day for me at Fairmount is comprised of internal meetings with my project team, research and grant writing at my desk, and organizing and attending client meetings. Fairmount’s diverse portfolio of clients means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to an issue, so we spend a lot of time brainstorming, discussing, refining…and discussing again. Did I mention discussing? Since each client needs an individualized approach, time management and organization skills are key to successfully balancing multiple clients at once.

Collaboration with our internal teams is essential and also one of my favorite parts about working at Fairmount—everyone is thoughtful, creative, and cares deeply about their work. It’s a great feeling to finish a project and reflect on how it evolved, what proved to be true, and what needed to be changed or adapted along the way.

FV: You’ve mentioned having a deep passion for engaging in dialogue about the challenges that we face as a society—what’s it like to have the opportunity to work with a number of clients who address those issues head-on?

MB: The nature of our work really gives us a “bird’s eye view” of what is happening in the city and a sense of what Philadelphia might look like in 10-15 years. It is a pleasure and privilege to support incredible organizations that are working to make Philadelphia a more equitable, tolerant, and culturally rich community—thinking about all the innovative and thoughtful work that is going on here right now makes me hopeful.

FV: What’s one of the most memorable projects you’ve worked on so far?

MB: When I started at Fairmount a year and a half ago, I was assigned to a team to write grants on behalf of Episcopal Community Services (ECS). The organization has gone through a tremendous change over the last year and recently adopted a new strategic direction that focuses on long-term, intensive coaching geared toward economic mobility. This innovative approach to service delivery is really exciting and watching a large organization adeptly pivot their mission and service delivery in order to respond to the needs of their community has been really inspiring. Fairmount’s role with ECS has been to help them craft their new case for support and find new sources of funding for this unique approach. ECS so clearly takes their responsibility to provide high quality services seriously and it is a pleasure to support them in seeking the financial resources to make their vision a reality.

FV: What are some of your favorite things about Philadelphia?

MB: This is not a secret by any means, but the food scene here in Philadelphia is pretty amazing, and super fun to explore, and it is a great way to support local businesses here in Philly!

Button 2The aphorism “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, while apocryphally attributed to Peter Drucker, is a powerful insight irrespective of who said it first. How many of us have developed great plans only to have our ideas not reach full potential, despite best efforts? We spend considerable time focused on the stuff we can see and think we can control – procedures, technology, staffing – at the peril of giving insufficient attention to the stuff we cannot, or choose not, to see: organizational culture.

Organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs which governs how people behave in organizations.  Identifying these invisible forces and then determining which are helpful and which are detrimental are as critical as developing a great program idea or securing funding. Here are some questions we ask of ourselves and the organizations we support to get at the culture issue.

open for breakfast1. What’s the nature of the problem?

Do we need to address a technical issue (e.g., program design, work flow, hiring more staff, sharper grantwriting) or is the problem also ingrained in how we think about the people we serve, how we interact with each other, or how we view the world? The latter set require culture shifts, not technical solutions. It is important to align strategy with the nature of the problem. A food insecurity organization developed a better operational system to distribute food to people across its city, but the plan fell flat because it ignored the cultural norm of community sites expecting to determine their own practices. The community groups were consulted but never embraced the change.

2. What are the organization’s unspoken norms?

Every organization has internal narratives that tacitly inform what it believes about itself and how it behaves. The same cultural norm can be both a strength and a weakness. It is laudable that a child welfare organization always puts the needs of children first, but it can also result in staff burnout and excessive turnover.

3. Is the mission statement clear enough to provide common ground to resolve differences?

Fairmount Box
People who work in nonprofits are passionate about what they do and often believe that they know what works best. Conflict can arise when others within the organization are similarly passionate but have another view. Beginning the discussion by articulating shared values and beliefs, and then finding common ground in a clear mission statement, can pave the way for moving from a difficult conversation to shared understanding and a plan for change.


Why now?

Organizational culture has been around since people have been drawing on cave walls, so why worry about it now? The next three years is likely to be a proverbial snowstorm thanks to a federal government that is hostile to the concerns of vulnerable people, the environment, the arts, and civil society. Nonprofits need to be able to generate great ideas and funds to support them, with a solid plan for implementation. The stakes are high, and the margin for error is thin. Organizational culture is a critical ingredient for success.

So, what’s cooking at your organization?

How will you consider culture when developing your next big idea or strategic plan?

We’d love to hear your thoughts…and I’ll buy the breakfast.

From Conversation to Action: Updates Inspired by On The Table

By Lauren Zimmerman  |  July 28th, 2017

In May the Philadelphia Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation joined forces to launch On the Table Philly. On the Table was an initiative to engage area residents in open dialogue and to inspire solutions around the topics of participants’ choosing that can strengthen Philadelphia communities. A team of Fairmount Ventures staff decided to jump in to this inaugural round of On the Table conversations by convening members of the region’s nonprofit organizations around this question: “How do we support the nonprofit sector’s passionate workforce and retain the talent critical to ensuring the effectiveness of your work and the vibrancy of the sector?”

Read on for a look at our group’s perspectives and for a mid-summer update from one of our participants about how she converted her Fairmount On the Table discussion into action.

Breaking Bread this Spring

Fairmount Ventures has worked with hundreds of nonprofits over the years, and we often hear from our clients that they struggle with staffing issues. Everything from low morale to frequent turnover can be disruptive to day-to-day operations and the ability to achieve long-term organizational goals. We tackled this issue during our dinner on May 23rd, one of more than 300 On the Table discussions that happened in kitchens, conference rooms and restaurants citywide. The Fairmount gathering included 14 executives and emerging leaders from 12 nonprofits that address a variety of areas, from the arts and youth development to food access and human services.

Fairmount Ventures hosted an impressive group of executives and emerging leaders from 12 nonprofits for the inaugural round of On the Table conversations in Philadelphia.

Fairmount Ventures hosted an impressive group of executives and emerging leaders from 12 nonprofits for the inaugural round of On the Table conversations in Philadelphia.

What did we learn?

  1. Change from the Day to Day: Employees seek out opportunities that take them out of the day to day of their own work. What are other employees or departments working on? What skills do others use in their own day-to-day work that I don’t know about?
  2. Communication: Employees desire clear channels of communication for showing both appreciation and encouragement, as well as criticism and concern, across the organization.
  3. Commitment to the Mission, Inside and Out: Staff want to benefit from the same ethos of service that nonprofits practice with their constituents. Constituents and staff deserve respect and trust.
  4. Camaraderie through Good: Nonprofits often fall into the trap of “camaraderie of the trenches.” But employees want to rally around something exciting and come together with other employees to celebrate and build relationships based on positive progress and change.

The group was inspired by the stories of success from their peers and left ready to take realistic, actionable efforts to improve workplace culture in the short- and the long-term.

From Conversation to Action

We recently checked in with one of the participants who joined our On the Table dinner to see if our discussion about workforce issues had prompted any new ideas. Here’s what she had to say:

“I had a great time at that dinner and have thought of it several times recently. One of the most tangible takeaways from the dinner for me was the importance of staff bonding and retreat, [and] that getting away from the facility to enjoy each other’s company and engage in some fun activity is extremely important. At a small nonprofit that can be challenging due to finances, small staff, etc. [but] I came back from the dinner and advocated. Now we will all be going canoeing on the Brandywine and picnicking together in September!”

Share your ideas for keeping your nonprofit staff inspired, happy and engaged in your mission via Fairmount’s social media channels — @FairmountV on Twitter or @FairmountVenturesPHL on Facebook.