Last month, we learned about Geneca's journey into creating a culture of innovation within the company. Now we can learn about their journey into sharing their talents and treasures with their community. Just goes to show what great leadership can do!
Projects-With-Purpose: Bringing a Community Volunteer Program to Life
By Jess Chipkin, Geneca, Manager of Public and Community Relations
A New Direction for Corporate Giving
While I’ve always personally been involved in community work, my interest in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is relatively new.
It began when I came across an article about two years ago by a well known person in the world of corporate giving, Carol Cone. Often considered the “Mother of Cause Marketing”, Ms. Cone proclaimed in 2010 that “cause marketing as we know it is dead”. “Slapping a ribbon” on a product, website, or advertisement was now perceived as inauthentic. Cause marketing, she said, was going in a new direction: Leveraging core competencies to make a positive difference in the community, on employees and the bottom line.
This got me thinking: What would a program like this look like at Geneca? It would …
- Provide a meaningful benefit for our community;
- Highlight our core expertise (software development) -- a highly coveted skill needed by all organizations to support their business goals;
- Give Genecians a unique opportunity to put their professional skills to work for the community;
- Bring Genecians together for work outside the office in cross-functional teams, deepening connections to each other;
- Build company pride;
- Offer an attractive benefit for job candidates;
- Support our brand promise of a trustworthy organization committed to doing the right thing;
- Present an opportunity to invite clients to work with us on a community project, strengthen relationships and build goodwill.
The benefits of the program were undeniably compelling so I dug further. I began researching companies that were successfully implementing this kind of program.
My research led me to the Canadian offices of Edelman, the PR firm, and The Little Give. In a nutshell, The Little Give teams up Edelman employees to develop PR programs for local nonprofits focused on children and youth. Each project is completed within 48 hours, consisting of both personal and company release time. This seemed like a great model for Geneca.
I wanted to learn more so I connected with Lisa Kimmel, General Manager of the Toronto office. She was generous in sharing her experiences and was enthusiastic in her support of other companies using the Edelman model.
I was off and running.
Building the Business Case
Convinced that this type of program would be ideal for Geneca, I reached out to some of my colleagues who I knew had an interest in community giving. My “team of influencers” (which represented a cross section of roles) quickly came together.
Our first meeting was spent on articulating the benefits of the program and how to get buy-in from the Executive Team. I was optimistic. Who could argue with a program that gives Genecians another reason to love working for their company, makes clients feel good about us, and helps the community?
Thumbs Up From the CEO
The team was excited by a thumbs up from our CEO, Joel Basgall -- although he did offer some ideas on making the program more manageable. For example, since software projects often require enhancements and ongoing support, we needed to have a clearly defined project end point. And, since, we have limited experience working with nonprofits, Joel encouraged us to get help identifying and vetting the nonprofits with which we choose to work.
We went back to the drawing board to more narrowly define our offering and find a partner to help find nonprofits. In a few weeks, we presented Joel with the following recommendations which were readily agreed to:
- Lumity, a nonprofit organization that helps other nonprofits address business issues, agreed to connect us to the organizations in their network;
- We will target nonprofits that focus on helping people who want to better themselves (such as the organizations we currently make financial contributions to like i.c.stars, the BDPA, and Tillman Cornerstone Foundation.)
- We now have a defined offering, called a “Business Technology Roadmap”, that consists of multiple facilitation sessions to help the nonprofit (1) understand the impact their current technology has on short and long term business needs and (2) determine the technical solutions required to reach their goals;
- Our engagements have clear time boundaries, typically occurring over a 4-day period that includes one weekend (Thursday-Sunday or Friday through Monday);
- Employees contribute personal time which is supplemented by release time from Geneca.
Finally! Our First Project
After many months of planning, we have now completed our pilot project with Chatham Business Association (CBA). The CBA is a business support organization chartered with promoting economic growth and job creation in an underserved area of Chicago’s south side.
During our four sessions, we coached the Chatham team to first identify their organization’s diverse roles (which includes business service provider, government policy influencer, educational resource, and liaison for B2B urban development programs). From here, we identified the key activities and challenges faced in each area.
As a team, we defined the technology projects we felt would have the most impact in helping the CBA achieve its key priorities: managing their growth, improving member services and demonstrating value to its Board, City of Chicago and other stakeholders.
The Genecian team heartily agreed that this project was a unique opportunity to remove ourselves from our everyday business lives and put our skills to work helping dedicated problem solvers we might otherwise never have the privilege of meeting.
With the first engagement complete, our next step is to decide whether we need to make any program changes and report back to the executive team.
What’s Next for Projects-With-Purpose
With the first engagement complete, our next step is to decide whether we need to make any program changes and report back to the executive team. During the upcoming months, we plan to roll the program out to the company. After that, we have a long list of tasks, administrative and marketing, ahead of us.
If your organization is looking for ways to give back, this kind of program offers employees a great opportunity to get into the community and leverage their professional skills in a new and different way. I hope that as more companies learn about programs like The Little Give and Projects-With-Purpose they, too, will start their own programs. (And, I’d be happy to personally share some of our lessons learned with you).
Note: I’d like to thank all my fellow Genecians for their ongoing support and enthusiasm for this program:
- Clare Anderson, Client Partner; Chatham Project Business Facilitator
- Joneasha Snow, Quality Analyst; Chatham Project Scribe
- Gary Heusner, Client Partner; Chatham Project Scribe
- Ryan, McClish, Client Partner; Chatham Project Technologist
- Michael Klynstra, Marketing Director
- Tony McClain, Client Partner
- Ken Pedersen, COO
- Ann Nobis, Vice President, Delivery
- Jacob Radkiewicz, Client Partner
- Joel Basgall, CEO