Project Management

3 Ways the FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship Made Me a Better Leader

Special Project: coordinating the annual Riverkeeper Sweep. For my special project in my first year at Riverkeeper I worked closely with the Director of Community Engagement to coordinate the 6th Annual Riverkeeper Sweep, our day of service for the Hudson River and its tributaries. Previously I had the opportunity to coordinate small straightforward events like campus film screenings, community rallies, and service projects, but had never organized an event on such a considerable scale. At first the prospect of coordinating an event of this scale felt impossible.

How would I keep track of 109 locations, over 100 registration pages, and ensure each Sweep Leader had the training, materials, skills, and volunteers necessary for a successful project?

Under the guidance of the Director of Community Engagement, Dana Gulley, I learned to manage moving parts such as tide dependent cleanup times, waivers, data management, Sweep Leader training, and successfully collaborating with 164 individual leaders. With Dana’s partnership and a strong plan with weekly deadlines, we achieved the most successful Riverkeeper Sweep yet, with 109 Sweep projects, and 2,200 volunteers across NYC and the Hudson Valley who removed 48 tons of debris and plant to maintain over 800 trees and shrubs.

Building on the skills I learned last year, I was the primary organizer of the 2017 Riverkeeper Sweep, which achieved a count of 101 projects from Brooklyn to the Adirondacks with over 1,300 participating volunteers.

Direct Service: supporting Riverkeeper campaigns. The drinking water contamination crisis in Newburgh, New York has allowed me to grow my skills as a community organizer, by developing a comprehensive outreach plan, building relationships with new partners, and executing strategic community education and outreach. These efforts have helped raise awareness about toxic chemical contamination to Newburgh’s drinking water supply, pressure the Department of Health to conduct blood testing, and to spread the word about the blood testing program. Working with communities such as Newburgh has taught me to think outside the box and find non-traditional partners, outreach methods, and the responsibility to amplify existing community voices. It’s easy to step into a situation and make your voice or the voice of your organization the center of attention. What’s instead needed, is to listen and learn from the community you are serving and amplify their concerns and goals.

Goal setting and prioritizing professionally AND personally. Since the start of my Fellowship at Riverkeeper my work schedule has included weekend events and night meetings across New York City and the Hudson Valley. In the beginning it was easy to orient my life around my job and the challenging expectations I was working to meet while unknowingly neglecting personal goals. Quickly I learned the value of prioritizing during work and personal time and having goals in both areas of my life. Last winter I set a goal to climb all 46 Adirondack high peaks over the next few summers while acquiring the necessary skills and gear. With this goal in mind, I’ve prioritized incorporating almost daily exercise and frequent weekend hikes into my weekly plan. Prioritizing exercise has allowed me to be more focused in the office, and I have climbed 9/46 peaks with 5-10 more planned for summer 2017.

Jen Benson is an FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow at Riverkeeper. As the Education and Outreach Coordinator, she creates opportunities to increase youth environmental awareness and engagement with the Hudson River. She also works to support campaign and programmatic initiatives, and helps coordinate the Riverkeeper Sweep.

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How to Stress Less Over Project Management: The RACI Tool

Remember the days of working on group projects in school? If you’re like me, you might have felt like no one had any idea what his or her role was. You might have even gotten stuck doing all of the work because you were worried that no one else would take responsibility or were afraid to ask for help. Maybe you came to dread group projects. Nowadays, does your professional life ever feel like that?

When I first started my FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellowship at Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, we were undergoing several leadership transitions. Roles were unclear, and projects sometimes stalled or petered out entirely. Luckily, when our current Executive Director came on board, she introduced our transition-weary team to a project management tool with a somewhat conspicuous name that has since helped us immensely: RACI.

RACI is an acronym for the words “Responsible, “Accountable,” “Consulted,” and “Informed.” Below is a quick summary of what that all means (you might notice that it should really be called “ARCI”).

  • ACCOUNTABLE: Ultimately accountable for the success of a project, program, event, or goal. S/he may or may not be responsible for carrying it out in a hands-on way.
  • RESPONSIBLE: Responsible for implementation. There may be more than one R, and an A may also be an R.
  • CONSULTED: Someone who is consulted for her/his opinion, but not expected to be involved in carrying out a project.
  • INFORMED: Simply needs to be informed of progress and/or outcomes.

Here’s a quick example: Say you are the Program Director of a year-long program for teenage girls. You’re nearing the end of the school year, and are planning a celebratory event for the girls. You are overseeing a team of one staff person, whom you supervise, and three volunteers. All of you are involved in the event planning in a hands-on way.

  • A: You as the Program Director are accountable for the event’s success.
  • R: You, the staff member, and the three volunteers are all Rs.
  • C: Your Executive Director is not involved in-depth, but you need to consult her here and there to make sure you are staying in line with the event budget. Plus, she is helping you secure a venue through her sponsorship connections.
  • I: Given the culture of your specific organization, your Board Chair only really needs to be informed of the date, time, and location (if she wants to come) or simply of how the event went after the fact.

Since learning about the tool and applying it to all areas of our team’s work, I’ve become somewhat of a RACI evangelist (as have other staff and volunteers within SWSG!). I’ve implemented it when planning events with a team of volunteers; when navigating community partnerships that me, my supervisor, and her supervisor are all involved in; and when simply looking to designate someone who was in charge of something, big or small. (“Who’s the ‘A’ on opening the mail?”)

What’s so great about RACI? Simply identifying roles—what they mean, how they differ, and how they interact—for a project, program, or goal, is immensely clarifying and tension relieving. It’s also simply helpful to provide your team with a common language to refer to understood norms for roles. As a person who is young IMG_82981or simply new to an organization, it can be tough to decipher when you are and are not in charge of something unless it’s spelled out. It can work the other way around, too. For example, does your Development Director really need to be “responsible” for overseeing your program’s field trips? Nope, she’s more like an “I” or even a “C.” Keep that micro-management in check! Supervising staff or volunteers and want to set expectations around their role? Draft a RACI, get their input, make sure they buy into it, and use it to hold them accountable.

Clarity and communication, paired with the right amount of detail and structure, equals less stress, more progress and more goals met. Have you or will you put RACI to the test after reading this? Let me know how it goes!

Sarah Kacevich is the FAO Fellow and Program Associate with Strong Women, Strong Girls (SWSG) in Boston, an organization that empowers girls to imagine a broader future through a curriculum grounded in female role models and delivered by college women, who are themselves mentored by professional women. At SWSG, she oversees three college chapters and 35 partner program sites, leads the pilot Junior Mentor Program, and manages partnerships with other nonprofits. Outside of work, she loves to hike, run, do yoga, make art, cook, and travel.