Molly shares how she has overcome burnout and thrived in her dream job in this episode of Create Good Podcast. This nonprofit communications veteran has built a career over 10 years and has leapfrogged through some of the most progressive organizations in the nation. Learn more about this comms dynamo.
Molly Rivera is the communications director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. With more than ten years of experience in nonprofit communications, she has worked at the ACLU of North Carolina, the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, and served on the board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Triangle. Originally from Wisconsin, Molly has a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin and enjoys sharing her extensive knowledge and love of cheese with anyone who will listen.
Additional Links from Molly:
Brian Crawford 0:02
Welcome to the Create Good podcast. I’m Brian, and I’m Dawn. And we’ve spent the last decade plus working with passionate communicators activist and do-gooders around the country. We also host a conference called Create Good, where we gather folks to share their work, and create a community for people trying to make the world a better place.
Dawn Crawford 0:25
The Create Good podcast is a conversation with changemakers and rabble rousers to find out what makes them tick, and how they create good. Let’s get started.
Hello, and welcome to the Create Good podcast today. We have Molly Rivera, and we are so excited to have you today.
Molly Rivera 0:46
Hello, so glad to be here,
Dawn Crawford 0:48
You know, to get you warmed up like to do a little introduction so that all of our listeners can find out who you are. So could you please share your name, your current title and the organization you work for?
Molly Rivera 1:01
My name is Molly Rivera, and I am the Communications Director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
Dawn Crawford 1:08
I’m sure a lot of people have heard of Planned Parenthood, but can you tell us a little bit about the organization but also the regional kind of focus?
Molly Rivera 1:16
Yes, of course. Yeah. A lot of people will, I imagine recognize the national Planned Parenthood brand. I work for the regional affiliate. And of course, Planned Parenthood as a national organization. We are the country’s most trusted provider of sexual and reproductive health care. But I work for the local organization that provides health care through 14 health centers across four states. I work in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina these days. And at all of these health centers, we provide essential health care like cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment, gender affirming hormone therapy and abortion care. And so that’s the Planned Parenthood health care that lots of people are aware of. But also my work these days is mostly spent working for Planned Parenthood votes South Atlantic, which is the 501 C four nonpartisan political arm, that’s the, you know, hot pink Planned Parenthood brand that I think people are used to seeing at rallies and, and state legislatures across the country. And through that I do a lot of voter education, lobbying, elected officials and other advocacy work in order to keep the Planned Parenthood South Atlantic health center doors open.
Dawn Crawford 2:45
Great and, total tally, how many years have you been doing nonprofit communications? You think?
Molly Rivera 2:51
It’s pretty wild? For me to say it out loud, but it’s been 10 years? Yeah. Doing nonprofit cause?
Dawn Crawford 2:57
Right. It’s good. Yeah.
Molly Rivera 2:59
It’s really good. We’re feeling really good about it. Yeah.
Dawn Crawford 3:02
And I know your current organization has been a dream organization for you, right?
Molly Rivera 3:06
Yes. Yeah, it really has been. It’s really, it feels like a home for me. And that felt really good when I started during the pandemic. And yeah, so many things were unfamiliar and turning upside down. And this job was such a welcome. warm feeling for me the past couple of years.
Dawn Crawford 3:28
That’s awesome. Okey dokey. So we’ll go into the meat of the questions. Okay. So I haven’t Yeah, yeah, I have a timer. So 90 seconds or less. Go ahead and tell us what your career has been. And what’s your bio in 90 seconds or less? Ready?
Molly Rivera 3:48
I am originally from Wisconsin, go badgers. I worked in a kitchen at a cheese castle. I interned at Planned Parenthood while I was in college. After school, I moved to Spain, taught English travelled the world. Then came home moved to North Carolina, worked at the food bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, doing digital media for about three years. Then worked for the ACLU of North Carolina doing communications during the Trump presidency years. And now I am communications director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
Dawn Crawford 4:28
Awesome. Perfect. That was way less than 9 0 seconds, good job. I know that’s right. And you have a whole presentation about your Cheese Castle days, correct?
Molly Rivera 4:41
I do. It is my folksy claim to fame that some people bring up once in a while.
Dawn Crawford 4:52
Okay, so why nonprofits why this work?
Molly Rivera 4:57
Well, according to my birth chart, It’s kind of by destiny. I’m a Pisces Sun Aquarius ascending with a Libra moon. And my friends who are into astrology telling me that based on when I was born, and how the stars aligned, I am just drawn to work that is bigger than me. I’m drawn to causes and helping humanity be better. So you could say it’s my destiny. And I it kind of feels that way. Because I’ve just never considered anything else. I was always interested in doing nonprofit work, and really more specifically advocacy work. I went to school for communications, and I never really wanted to be a reporter or work for a PR firm. I always saw myself doing what I’m doing today, which is kind of wild, because I kind of still think of myself as a kid out of college trying to figure things out. But it’s really cool that I have found myself in a job that I’ve just always been drawn to
Dawn Crawford 6:00
Perfect. Yeah, I felt the same way. Yeah, definitely do out of college. And this is what I wanted to do. And I remember telling my mom and she’s like, Oh, well, I’m sure every company has an HR department. I’m like, okay, cool. Yeah.
Molly Rivera 6:13
Cool, mom better than my mom, who was always telling me to not quit my day job. Every time I tell her I have a new hobby or something. So supportive.
Dawn Crawford 6:22
So good. So what’s the what’s, what is your favorite thing about what you do?
Unknown Speaker 6:28
I really love to write, I have been getting kind of more into strictly creative writing, actually, as a hobby outside of work, and have been trying to infuse more of that into my daily job, which I know is something the Create Good community is all about. So I really love just the creative process that goes into communications, I love to chew on words until they’re just right and revise, revise, revise until my sentences sing off the page. And I just love that whole process. I also really appreciate working for nonprofits that can help you feel a little less helpless in this world. There’s just so much in the news. And in real life every day. I know we’ve all just been feeling maybe some fatalistic, dark thoughts lately, with so much out of our control, and so many injustices in the world that I know it can be paralyzing. And it’s just a privilege to have a job that gives me a really small role to play when everything feels like it’s on fire. Even though, we don’t always win, and there’s not always something you can do to fix the whole thing. But at least I can sit at my desk and tweet about it. Or write that press release or write that op-ed and kind of help steer the conversation.
Dawn Crawford 7:54
Absolutely. Yeah, I know, I was. I always do wonder what people because a lot of people have that thing of like, I just want to do something. And like why, like do something every day, you know? And like, we know, the paths to helping other people do things. But also Yeah, what are the ways to actually make impact? And I think we do learn that through nonprofit communications and caring about the sector as a whole.
Unknown Speaker 8:17
Totally, it really opens your mind to so many, like, cool professionals who do this work every day, like us. But just really cool organizations that are identifying a need and finding creative ways to meet that need. And it really does give you a view of the world that I think folks who don’t work in this sector kind of miss unless they’re paying really, really, really close attention.
Dawn Crawford 8:42
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Okay, magic wand time. If you could change one thing about your work life, what would it be?
Molly Rivera 8:51
You know, remote work is just not for me. So I would go ahead and use my magic wand for that. I appreciate the flexibility, of course of working from home and Lord knows, I do not ever want to dress business casual ever again in my life. But I just I gotta be next to someone, when I’m working with them. I want to feel their energy. I want them to see the look on my face. I want them to, you know, just feel, you know, our spirits together in the office. It sounds so cheesy, but I miss working in an office so much. And the challenge of my job now that I work for a regional affiliate is even if I were to go into an office in Raleigh every day, most of my job would still be remote because I work with folks in South Carolina and West Virginia and Virginia. So again, with that magic wand, I would make it so that I could apparate or just appear wherever I needed to be. Whatever state or part of the world I needed to be in so that I could do this work in person every day.
Dawn Crawford 10:00
Yeah, yeah, that’s a really good perspective. It’s yeah. Yeah, I feel a lot of people are feeling that way too. I think communicators too. We do like that connection. So what are you looking forward to in the next year?
Unknown Speaker 10:13
Doing things in real life. That’s, that’s my theme. You know, just see some live music and live performances and more art in real life. So restorative when you can do that outside of work? More trips to see friends and family. Oh, and going to the movies. I love going to the movies. I didn’t realize how much I missed it during the pandemic. But there are some really awesome movies coming out this year. Lots of superhero movies if you’re into that, like Thor love and thunder is coming out and I think another Black Panther is coming out. But my big one I’m so excited for is Jurassic World Dominions. It’s Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and Chris Pratt out a motorcycle with raptors running through the streets. I seriously can’t wait. Really like?
Dawn Crawford 11:11
Like, it was like the surprise Jurassic Park movie. Like I didn’t really see this happening until like, yeah, what Super Bowl and I’m like, wait, What? What? What’s this? Let’s go. Yes,
Molly Rivera 11:20
it was a Super Bowl. I cannot freakin wait. It’s gonna be awesome.
Dawn Crawford 11:26
Like they’re doing something that’s amazing. Okay, so what else do you need to achieve in your career?
Molly Rivera 11:33
You know, it occurs to me that I don’t, I haven’t really set any career goals for myself. So maybe that could be step one. But, you know, thinking, I don’t know about things I want to achieve. But I do have a list of things I just want to do. On a personal level, I really would love to join an adult softball league. If anyone out there is playing softball, I would love to do that with you. As long as it’s not too competitive. You know, keep it chill. I really want to make a puff pastry from scratch. And I want to learn how to use a sewing machine. And I just want to see what else I could do. You know, I’ve been in the game for, as I said, 10 years, and my job can be quite stressful. And I really just think about how big the world is, especially when you’re not feeling under siege every day. And I would just love to see what other hidden talents I might have out there, you know, and just experience some new things. I think it’s like the COVID Hangover, you know, let me get out of this Groundhog Day, please.
Dawn Crawford 12:44
Yeah, definitely. So what advice do you have to a person starting their career or transitioning to nonprofits?
Molly Rivera 12:51
Negotiate your salary, negotiate, negotiate, ask for more money every time even if you are just starting out, or you’re right out of college, or maybe you are under employed and really need this job? That is real, I get that. And you need to ask for more money. I mean, they do it in the for profit world all the time. There’s no reason why we can’t make that a norm in the nonprofit sector. And, you know, because we work in nonprofits, there’s kind of a stereotype that we just devote our life to this work out of the goodness of our hearts. And that might be true. But we also need a paycheck, because we live in this capitalist world where you need money to buy things like housing, and food. So negotiate your salary.
Dawn Crawford 13:40
That’s awesome. That’s great, great advice. Okay, so the next section is about feedback about how you receive critiques reviews, edits on your own work, and how you work with your team to either have it be a great experience or an awful experience. You know, how do you personally process criticism and feedback on your work?
Unknown Speaker 14:01
This is such an important topic. I’m glad you’re asking this question. And processing feedback. And getting feedback is such an important skill. And it’s something that we can all learn how to do well, especially important for people who are managers to develop this skill, which I am now a manager of people. And so when I get feedback, I take it all in. And I tend to not respond right away, and I kind of sleep on it, so to speak. And I take I just give myself space to reflect on it, think about it and incorporate it. But I mean, feedback is fundamental to communications work. If you’ve ever worked as a writer, a reporter or you went to school for it, then you know that editing is just a part of the job, right? And really, every piece of feedback is honestly an opportunity to improve your work at least in some aspect. So even if I don’t Totally agree with the feedback I’ve been given, I really try to at least understand where that person is coming from, and get to the root of their concern or idea or approach. And, you know, try to incorporate it. I remember I was earlier on in my career, and I was part of this volunteer organization. And we were in this big meeting about, you know, like promoting our work, basically, and someone said in the meeting, our website is trash, it really needs to be better. Like, we need to put people’s photos on the website with their bios of our volunteers so that people can see who we are. And I got in my head got really hot about it, because photos and files were on the website, we had a whole section devoted to the volunteers with their headshots, everything about that for all the world to read. You know, on one hand, that’s maybe not the best piece of feedback. But on the other hand, you could make the case that we weren’t distributing that content very well that if this person had never come across this page, then maybe it’s not placed on the website, right? Maybe our navigation menu was off, maybe we need to promote it more on social media or through email, either way, the content isn’t getting to the person, right? So especially working in communications. So there’s always so many factors at play, I really learned to try to, you know, find some kind of helpful information and any piece of feedback that I get.
Dawn Crawford 16:36
Yeah, that’s great. Definitely. So yeah, how do you like to receive feedback? You know, people can, you know, they like it prescriptive, or like a direct, they like it most of our coaching style, which type of feedback do you like to receive? And then how do you communicate that to your colleagues?
Molly Rivera 16:53
I’m a direct kind of lady. I’m from Wisconsin, we speak directly, we speak our mind directly to people out there in the north. So I like direct specific, frequent feedback, I tell my colleagues, you know, I’m an open book, you can ask me anything, and I prefer direct communication. So please don’t hesitate to speak with me honestly, in terms of how I how we do that, process wise, though, I prefer to kind of keep it in a reflective space, if you will. So I have weekly check ins with my boss, and the people that I supervise. And we all use those spaces, to share feedback regularly. That way, we’re all kind of in the mental space that we need to be to give and receive feedback and talk collaboratively about, you know, the projects in front of us. Also kind of just ask it as we as I work with my colleagues, especially for doing something new. Or if I have a newer colleague who’s just getting trained up. I like to just ask, how did that go for you? Do you have any feedback for me? Is there anything that you needed in that media interview that I did not provide to you before? And just kind of keep that communication open? Yeah,
Dawn Crawford 18:07
I like the idea. Yeah. Having the content space. I think that’s, yeah, that people don’t take enough advantage of that on one on ones, right, is to have constant check ins. Because yeah, having it once a year or something like that once a quarter is awful, like really great. So I have no idea we’re talking about.
Molly Rivera 18:22
Absolutely. Especially working remote, right. Yeah. So important to have that intentional, thoughtful space. I mean, we should never wait for a review. Right. Feedback should always be timely. The performance review should never have anything, that’s a surprise. Yeah, you know, both of you, the manager, and the employee should be walking into any kind of performance review, knowing what’s going to be said.
Dawn Crawford 18:47
Absolutely. Great. So what type of style doesn’t work for you?
Unknown Speaker 18:53
I do not like the feedback sandwich. When you say something nice, then something critical, and then something nice, like I that really irks me.
Dawn Crawford 19:07
Oh, good. I love it. That’s great. Okay, so we’ve all been living through the pandemic in all of our different ways. And I think you hopping from ACLU to Planned Parenthood is also a different level of heat. You know, throughout both of those jobs, I don’t think it’s, they’re just different levels. So yeah, you know, I think a lot of us are experiencing burnout, just trying to figure out what’s important how to carry on how to step into this next phase. So how do you avoid burnout? You know, you’ve had you’ve logged good time you know, at your organization’s and you haven’t just abandoned ship. So how do you avoid burnout?
Unknown Speaker 19:45
Another really great topic. I have learned this the hard way, and I’m going to quickly share it as a PSA because I feel so strongly about this topic, as I know you do too. When I was at the ACLU, I let my stress and my burnout get the best of me, I was not in a good place mentally, physically, emotionally. And my stress manifested as shingles. And my doctor straight up said, Yep, your stress at work just made you sick. And you now have shingles. And you need to take off of work now for several weeks, because you have now broken your body. And I don’t know if anyone out there has ever had shingles, but it’s very painful. And it’s serious, right? And so I, that was a big wake up call for me. And now I am working on being much more aware of my body. I try not to let work cloud how my body is feeling. You know, just practicing mindfulness and self awareness. Am I hungry? What did I eat today? Have I moved today? Did I exercise today, maybe I need to take a walk or do a quick meditation to just keep me on track. I’ve also been better about setting boundaries with my colleagues at work, but also in my personal life and not over scheduling myself. If you’ve ever met me, in person out in the real world, and you know, I was way over scheduled in the before times I had way too much going on. And that really was to my detriment in the end. So I’m working on winnowing down and just giving myself more time for rest. And on that note, I really don’t work more than 40 hours a week, most weeks there, it’s very few and far between that I push myself past 40 Because we are paid to work 40 hours a week, right there are there, you know, there were union workers out there who worked so hard to get us a 40 hour workweek and we should honor that. And I worked really hard. Again, personal boundaries to not work on the weekends, for example, or in the evenings to shut off my computer, even put my phone in the other room and have a quiet dinner, or a drink or whatever it is that’s going to bring me some peace and joy that evening. And to take time off, take that PTO and when you’re off, be off, shut those notifications off. Do not check your email and think about things other than work. I mean, even though we work for nonprofits work is not our entire life. Right? There’s the world is so big. So yeah, that’s a long monologue. But this is a topic that really strikes a nerve. For me have you know anything about shingles that’s upon because it’s like, a nerve.
Dawn Crawford 22:47
That’s good. Yeah. And your shingles like, Yeah, you were out of the demo, like you’re young for getting that severe. Shingles attack? Yeah,
Molly Rivera 22:58
are real. Apparently, if my doctor said that they’ve had a rise in shingles for people in their 30s. And they are attributing it to stress.
Dawn Crawford 23:06
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. It’s a stress indicator. Yeah, it’s, yeah, your body’s like, cool. So I’m gonna slow you down. Now. Here you go.
Molly Rivera 23:16
That’s right. It was horrible.
Dawn Crawford 23:17
That’s awful. I’m so sorry. Yeah,
Unknown Speaker 23:20
we’re better. We’re feeling better, we’re on a better track
Dawn Crawford 23:25
it’s such a good point around 40 hours a week, though, and how few people honor that with themselves. You know, we’re consultants, but you know, we have, but that also means that I have 15 bosses at a time and, and we also really stick to 40 hours. It’s just your life’s too short to spend all of it working. And as much and that’s the coolest thing about nonprofits is that we love the 40 hours that we have at work, because it is so productive. It can be escape, you know, from your real life sometimes to for people, but you got to turn it off, and you have to have something else than work, because you just get eaten alive. So
Molly Rivera 24:02
Dawn Crawford 24:03
Absolutely. Yeah. So what does make you come back to work? over every great weekend? What? What makes you come back on Monday?
Molly Rivera 24:13
Well, I would say the first thing is the paycheck again, we got to pay for things in this capitalist society. So again, even though I work for nonprofit, I gotta make money. So that’s probably the first thing. But I you know, I always think about all the people who are relying on us to do this work. And not only on a personal level, my colleagues who are relying on me as the communications director to support them in what they’re doing, but all the other supporters donors, just everyday people who rely on my organization to do what we do.
Dawn Crawford 24:48
That’s really gratifying. That’s that’s a really great point. Okay, so this is the fun part. So these are rapid fire off the cuff, you know, kind of one word answers. You can elaborate if you really, really Want to but you know, it’s it’s meant to be short and fast. So what’s your favorite word?
Molly Rivera 25:07
Dawn Crawford 25:08
What’s your least favorite word?
Molly Rivera 25:10
I have a phrase theory of change.
Dawn Crawford 25:16
What is your personal cause, or mission that you care about most?
Molly Rivera 25:22
Lately has been mutual aid, which is kind of a broad category. But really grassroots. This family needs to be able to pay their rent, or we need $30 for menstrual products in this school, that kind of thing.
Dawn Crawford 25:35
Interesting. What cause gets too much attention.
Unknown Speaker 25:41
all of those national orgs man you name it, any of those big nonprofits, Feeding America, United Way, Red Cross, even Planned Parenthood, we all get way too much attention. They’re so big and any organization that gets that big, you just get further and further and further from what is happening on the ground, and the actual needs of those communities.
Dawn Crawford 26:08
What’s your favorite curse word?
Molly Rivera 26:09
Dawn Crawford 26:11
Love it. What profession other than your own? Would you like to attempt?
Molly Rivera 26:15
Dawn Crawford 26:16
Oh, good one. And then is there any other nonprofit professionals or organizations that you would like to talk to on a podcast like this?
Molly Rivera 26:25
The people who run the National Park Service Instagram account, they are amazing. And also the person who runs the Twitter account for the North Carolina Department of Transportation ferry system. I would love to know who that person is.
Dawn Crawford 26:46
It’s pretty easy to figure out. We just gotta DM them.
Unknown Speaker 26:52
Just got to shy about it. But I would love to meet that person. Whoever’s posting those ferry schedules and pictures of the boats going to Ocracoke that’s who I want to meet.
Dawn Crawford 27:06
Well, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been Yeah, it’s been great to watch you grow throughout your career. And it’s been neat to see you. Yeah, climb into organizations and do such great impact and causes I know that you love so good job.
Unknown Speaker 27:21
Thanks. Thanks, Dawn. Likewise, we’ve been in the Triangle game together for a long time.
Dawn Crawford 27:28
We have I know, I know. No change on the horizon.
Molly Rivera 27:34
Well, thank you for always creating these spaces for us comms pros to come together and, and share space.
Dawn Crawford 27:42
Absolutely. Well, thank you so much. And that’s all we have today. And y’all have a good afternoon. Thank you for listening. If you want to get all the new episodes sent to you as we release them, subscribe on your favorite podcast app. And until then, keep creating good