Top 3 best small nonprofits

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Articles - October 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Dena Chilikos (left) and Susan Emmons, as the “aging muses” at Northwest Pilot Project, often don their fortune-telling costumes to predict co-workers’ futures.
Leaves at Northwest Pilot commemorate clients who have passed away. // PHOTOS BY JUSTIN TUNIS

No. 3 Best Small Nonprofit

Northwest Pilot Project

In the office of Northwest Pilot Project, the smiling, wrinkled faces in the black-and-white photos hanging on the walls are a testament to the success of the Portland-based organization’s decades-long mission: to help low-income seniors find affordable housing and transportation to basic services.

“It’s tough; it’s largely an invisible population,” says deputy director Brenda Carpenter. “We try to be the conscience of the people.” Board members have often spent hours with the staff to learn how exactly the job is done and get to know the faces behind the frontline work.


Northwest Pilot Project employee Cindy Mosney shows client Kristin Reinboth a housing assessment.
Despite good-humored pranks and other general monkey business, the staff at Northwest Pilot take their work seriously. // PHOTOS BY JUSTIN TUNIS

The nonprofit provides housing services for about 1,500 people. After a senior is settled into a residence, it periodically follows up to make sure the placement is successful for everyone. Employees appreciate their close relationships with clients and love the feeling of success when they find a place to live for a senior in need.

“I was attracted to the integrity of the organization, its reputation,” housing specialist Caroline Smith says of her choice to join the organization, founded in 1969. This is Northwest Pilot’s second year as a 100 Best Nonprofit.

“We celebrate ‘summer serenity,’” housing specialist Jess Larson says, joking about the fake holiday created to fulfill the nonprofit’s policy of one day off a month. In addition to four weeks of paid vacation time, workers appreciate the 37.5-hour workweek and one-hour lunches. “We could find better salaries,” Larson says, “but never a better place to work.”



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There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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