Brett Goes on Sabbatical
More than 20 years ago, before we were married, Melissa and I bought the DeLorme Oregon Atlas and Gazetteer. This was long before iPhones, and the best way to explore the backroads was to trust the topographical maps that were updated every few years. At one point, we experimented with an early Garmin GPS system, but the DeLorme had a better track record of not leading us on to bad tracks. The dotted lines meant something: even a jacked up 93 Explorer may not have enough clearance.
I’m still a little surprised we never broke an axle. Over the years, we drove through snow storms in the Hart Valley Antelope Refuge to camp at the hot springs. We made it to the bottom of the Owyhee Canyon with no actual plan for how to get back up the switchbacks. On the Fields-Denio Road, in the shadow of Steen’s Mountain, a golden eagle burst out of the brush ten feet in front of us, carrying a rabbit; we camped on the Alvord Desert that night and ran after a herd of wild horses in the morning. We white-knuckled it up the back of the Wallowas, below Dead Horse Ridge and through Imnaha, not quite climbing from the bottom of Hell’s Canyon, but pretty close, as locals casually passed us on the hairpin turns. It was not a faster route to Terminal Gravity Brewing in Enterprise, but it was beautiful.
As we completed each trip, we traced over the roads we’d been on with a highlighter. Looking at the maps now, I can see we missed a few, but the green and yellow and orange trace our travels through much of Oregon. At some point, we had decided we had no choice but to make sure we’d driven on at least one road on every one of the 88 maps.
When I joined ThinkShout in early 2013, we all worked out of a tiny space in the business incubator in the EcoTrust building in Portland. My hire came during an early growth spurt: three hires in three months brought the company up to nine. I joined for the chance to work with a range of great nonprofits: Mobility International USA, Philanthropy Northwest, the Salmon Project, Facing History and Ourselves.
We made a lot of mistakes back then, but what has shown through was how much we all cared about the work. Clients forgave our early missteps because it was obvious we were committed to helping them, to figuring it out, and to doing better.
Five years on, ThinkShout has grown to 36 staff. Or maybe 37? It’s hard to keep track, as change has been pretty consistent. We’ve outgrown our office space, again. Our team has had the honor and the privilege to work with amazing organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club, Teaching Tolerance, the National Center for Youth Law, and so many more. We’ve been nominated for a couple of Webby Awards, and even won one. I had to buy a suit because of that.
That we care about the work our clients do is still reflected in the work we do – but something else has changed. Over the years, we’ve come to view each other as more than just co-workers.
ThinkShout is not just a place people come to be able to do work for organizations making a difference in the world. In addition, I think they’ve come more and more to work with great people who want to do great work. All of the policies, processes, systemizations, and professionalization we’ve experienced and led have kept in mind the tenet that people do better work when happy and fulfilled – and that ThinkShout’s mission extends beyond helping our clients to serving our team and our community as best we can.
This is reflected in our hiring process, in the clients we choose to work with, and in the benefits we offer; one recent hire pointed out that our health insurance is better than she’d had at a company more than a hundred times our size. As we’ve grown, we’ve done our best to insure that when we say we value work-life balance, we’re not saying it just because it sounds like something people want to hear.
As part of that commitment, we’ve expanded our benefits package to better assist people at different stages of their life. When you invest 40 or more hours a week into an organization or company, it helps to know they in turn are there for you when you need an assist. Life throws us curve balls from time to time, that’s why we rolled out the following:
- a profit-sharing plan
- paid leave to take care of yourself or loved ones (young and old)
- and a sabbatical policy
I selflessly volunteered to beta-test that latest one.
Importantly, though, sabbaticals aren’t just being offered to those of us who’ve taken on the leadership of the company, but to everybody. Work hard for five years, take up to five months off to recharge, come back refreshed to keep pushing us and our clients forward. From what I’ve seen over the years, it’s pretty rare for a company our size to offer this sort of policy.
But it’s the right thing to do.
I’d be lying if I claimed to be spending a lot of time thinking about what I’ll be doing when I come back to ThinkShout in the Fall. There’s the World Cup coming up in June, and I won’t have to plan to watch games around my work schedule.
Melissa and I are throwing a big party for our 20th wedding anniversary in July. We’re planning trips to Asia, Europe, and South America. And we have about 10 maps in that DeLorme atlas left to trace our lives across.
Through it all, though, I know that I’ll be excited to come back: to see what ThinkShout has accomplished, the new organizations we get to help, the new teammates who’ve joined in our group effort to make the world a better place, one fundraising strategy and line of code at a time.
And I’ll be excited to figure out how I can jump back in and contribute.