Genecians Journey Into Corporate Giving

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 LifeChatham and Geneca teams at work. Clock wise, Gary Heusner (Geneca Client Partner), Joneasha Snow (Geneca Quality Analyst), Sharee Hill (Chatham Administrative Ass’t), Melinda Kelly (Chatham Executive Director), Clare Anderson (Geneca Client Partner), Karletta Kelly (Chatham Ass’t Executive Director), Samia Malik (Chatham Program Manager) and Jess Chipkin (Geneca, Public & Community Relations Manager). Not in this photo: Ryan McClish, Geneca Client Partner

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

Innovation High-Five

This is a guest post by Tim KippleyGeneca Vice President, Account Strategy and Growth.  In this post, Tim Kippley Tim shares one of the experiments Geneca is running to give its people opportunities to explore new ideas. So far, so good.  It is a journey and I hope we can follow Geneca's path of experimenting-learning-applying-iterating and learn for ourselves. 

By Tim Kippley:

Jeff Bezos, one of the planet’s greatest innovators, once said that: “You need a culture that high-fives small and innovative ideas and senior executives [that] encourage ideas.” 

The Value of Innovation at Geneca 

I have long felt that companies can’t survive without innovating. Fortunately, I work at an organization (a custom software development firm) that also views innovation as basic to our growth:

  • It reinforces our company culture and promotes deeper Genecian engagement;
  • It enhances our brand by allowing us to do more good within our communities and deliver more value to our clients;
  • It improves the ability of our recruiting team to attract creative, out-of-the-box thinkers;
  • And it drives growth by generating ideas that require new capabilities with the potential to create additional sources of revenue, whether direct or indirect.    

During 2012, creating a process for internal innovation moved to our priority list. Because the culture at Geneca encourages personal and professional development and there was buy-in from the leadership team, the preconditions for innovation already were in place.   

The Innovation Group is Born

The innovation initiative was born from our Organizational Growth Team, a cross-functional internal team formed in 2011 to focus on investing in Genecians, evolving our capabilities, and predictably delivering value to clients.

Early in 2012, the team created ideas to impact each of these areas and voted on innovation as the common denominator.  The team then hosted a brainstorming event with the entire company on how to encourage innovation at Geneca.  From this we developed an action plan for the year, starting with the development of a charter statement for our new innovation initiative:  

Innovation Charter: The innovation initiative is to foster a culture of innovation, creativity, and teamwork within Geneca.  Geneca’s pledge is to support this initiative in the form of time (e.g. providing time-codes to track innovation work), environment (e.g. space and tools that help drive innovation), and mindset (e.g. encourage Genecians to change the physics and challenge the perceived norms)

Our next step was kicking off our first Innovation Challenge.

The First Geneca Innovation Challenge

Shark Tank Winner, Jack Morrissey and Tim. Winning Idea is GRITThe first Geneca Innovation Challenge was divided into two events, an Innovation Meet-up followed by an innovation “Shark Tank” event for finalists.

The Meet-up was modeled after "Startup Weekend," the global grassroots for active entrepreneurs looking for feedback, knowledge, and support to launch successful ventures.  Each of the 15 participating Genecians had about 3 minutes to pitch their idea.  Each attendee had five votes to use on one or more of the ideas.  Although we did not specify the number of finalists, six finalists clearly emerged. 

There were no specific criteria posted for this event – purposefully.  We wanted this event to ignite enthusiasm and increase overall engagement within Geneca.  We wanted people to use their own criteria in voting for the ideas that they thought were the coolest, most fun and engaging, even if the idea had nothing to do with our business.

From social media tools to business process gamification to digital wallets, we received over a dozen great ideas.  Six innovations moved on to the Shark Tank:

  • Internal recognition and award tracking system called  GRIT (Geneca Recognition Instilment Tool);
  • iPhone app for drinking establishments to scan and detect alcohols level according to bottle size; 
  • GPS augmented reality game;
  • CrowdLunching application for local lunch deliveries; 
  • Online tool to retrieve documents and track changes for project documents;
  • Digital wallet with QR payments.     

Once in the Shark Tank, the requirements become more specific.

Bring in the Shark Tank

Geneca’s executive team met to discuss the objectives and criteria for the Shark Tank.  We made a clear decision to emphasize the positive aspects of each presentation and to encourage the finalists to continue working on their ideas.  We also told those not selected that it wasn't the end of Geneca's support -- they would continue to receive help and coaching if they wanted to further develop their ideas.  They had the option to resubmit at the next innovation event.

Next, the executive team defined the criteria for evaluating the ideas:

  • Is the idea cool, fun, and/or does it provide learning opportunities for Genecians?
  • What is the potential for monetizing the idea?  If not, are there nontangible benefits to Geneca?
  • Does this support/enhance the Geneca brand? (If not, it must be higher on the monetization side)
  • What is the overhead (cost of support/resources)?

After the criteria was defined, the Innovation Team met with each finalist individually to discuss the highlights of their idea and business plan.  Each finalist was expected to cover the following areas during their presentation: 

  • Business Description (including the walk-thru /"day in the life" of the idea, etc.)
  • Market Analysis and Customers
  • Competitive Landscape
  • The Company
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Sales Strategy
  • Financial Projections – including cost to develop/build
  • Operational Strategy
  • Mgmt. / Ownership

The executive team conducted multiple one-on-one sessions with the finalists, coaching them on their business plan.  One unforeseen benefit was that each finalist really got the opportunity to learn what’s involved in developing a business and gained an appreciation for the strategic effort that goes into growing an idea into a business.  Not only did each finalist feel that this was a really positive experience, the excitement spread within Geneca as well.

And the Winner Is … GRIT  

In order to set expectations, the executive team made it clear that there was a possibility that we would choose none of the ideas -- or at most just one.

That said, the executive team selected one idea to support and develop, an internal recognition tracking application called GRIT.  GRIT was clearly strong on fun, cool, and learning.  Plus, it did a great job supporting Geneca’s brand and core value of giving and receiving feedback. 

What’s Next for the Geneca Innovation Group

As the group matures, we hope to get more Genecians involved from all areas of the organization.  Maybe someone on the marketing team can help the innovator come up with a marketing plan; our financial folks can help the innovator create a Proforma; etc.

As we become more innovative in how we think about our innovation process, we plan to make small adjustments to the ideation and evaluation process.  We’ve already discussed alternating between entirely "open" ideation and more guided innovation challenges directly aligned with Geneca's brand. 

We also intend to continue our discussion of providing support for ideas not directly aligned with Geneca by developing partnerships with incubators in Chicago. We’d look to the incubator to further sponsor ideas originating from Genecians.  Additional support turning great ideas into actual products can play a big part in strengthening our innovation engine.

Based on the energy surrounding our first Shark Tank, we’re all excited about the prospect of creating a sustainable structure that gives us a way to support and reward innovation within Geneca.