Real-life Examples of Corporate Philanthropy’s Response to COVID-19

By: Brady Press

Companies need to be flexible, innovative and responsive to community needs with their corporate citizenship programs. What these programs look like is changing and broadening due to COVID-19. Continue reading for information on corporate philanthropy in Atlanta.

Key Takeaways

  • Georgia Power shares its deep commitment to the state of Georgia through a number of innovative 2020 corporate citizenship initiatives, including grants to nonprofits, assistance to customers through the removal of late fees, etc., community partnerships to assist vulnerable groups, the creation of a Small Business Capital Fund, the launch of an HBCU Learning Center in partnership with Apple and more
  • Mailchimp shares how its corporate citizenship programming shifted in 2020, including a campaign to support short film makers affected by the pandemic, an initiative to make voting more accessible in Georgia, efforts to engage employees in the democratic process, strategic grants and inaugural employee giving to smaller racial justice organizations — all in alignment with Mailchimp’s mission to empower the underdog
  • Corporate citizenship is evolving and transparency on ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles is now critically important
  • Companies need to be flexible, innovative and responsive to community needs with their corporate citizenship programs, and what these programs look like is broadening to incorporate virtual volunteerism, support for small businesses (in addition to nonprofits) and support for employees

This post covers the third session from Changing Our World’s Atlanta Forging Forward Conference Series focused on idea sharing, innovative solutions and a path forward within the Atlanta community.

Webinar Recording

https://changingourworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Atlanta-Forging-Forward-S3.mp4

Speakers

Session Notes

Ann Cramer, Atlanta leader and former Director for IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs for the Americas

  • I have retired from IBM and currently work with companies that haven’t yet defined their purpose strategy or those looking to redefine their strategy — advising on how they can leverage their assets in ways that really improve communities

Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power — the largest subsidiary of Southern Company

  • Throughout the past year, Georgia Power engaged with business and community leaders to talk about reopening plans, COVID recovery and a path forward in metro Atlanta and across Georgia
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power
  • We also did some great informal things, such as converting a former Georgia Power drive thru to a services center for the underserved, engaging employees to provide meals to frontline workers, partnering with GOODR to deliver meals to senior citizens and more:
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power
  • I measure the level at which companies are a good corporate citizen based on their ability to not just give grants and do volunteerism, but to use their area of expertise to help their customers in need. Georgia Power, for instance, suspended customer disconnects, removed late fees, lowered rates and more during 2020
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power
  • In addition, through Georgia Power’s Foundation, we provided grants to support the entire state of Georgia; many of the dollars reached underserved communities
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power
  • We also created a Small Business Capital Fund to provide technical support to small businesses and partnered with CDFIs to utilize pre-existing resources; 60% of the small businesses that received support were minority and/or women-owned
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power
  • Additional COVID response grants made by Georgia Power included $350K to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund, $100K to Giving Kitchen and $100K to Augusta University for statewide COVID-19 testing
  • From an equity standpoint, Georgia Power has given through its Foundation to organizations focused on social justice and racial equity, both to policy-focused and grassroots organizations, and encourages its employees serve on boards and volunteer — totaling an equivalent of around $1M per year in volunteer time
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power
  • Georgia Power’s parent company, Southern Company, made a $200M commitment to advance social justice and racial equity in our communities, focused on education, criminal justice reform and economic empowerment
  • While education and economic empowerment are already in Georgia Power’s wheel house, the focus on criminal justice reform is new
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power
  • This effort includes a $50M commitment to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and, in partnership with Apple, the launch of a Propel center for all HBCU students to use — a virtual campus and curriculum as well as a physical campus in Atlanta
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power

Lain Shakespeare, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Mailchimp

  • Mailchimp is a 20-year-old software company that helps small businesses with marketing tools. Its mission is to empower the underdog. Over the last 8 years we have engaged in corporate citizenship work and our team has invested $12M into small and medium sized nonprofit organizations, primarily in Atlanta
  • I previously worked at a nonprofit house museum with a quarter of a million dollar budget, where I saw a disconnect with corporate support and nonprofit needs, i.e. when I would engage a company they would send 100 company volunteers to paint the house, but the house was falling apart; the needs of the nonprofit were not being met
  • At Mailchimp we are committed to supporting small and medium sized nonprofits — ones that are often seen as high risk or having a low ROI — and being more aware of meeting the needs of organizations
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Lain Shakespeare, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Mailchimp
  • Over the past 8 years, we built a strategy called bigchangestartssmall.com, meant to support small organizations that are changing their corner of the world. The strategy was going very well and then COVID came and made it obsolete; the company had to make a big shift
  • South by Southwest — a big and well-known film festival for independent and short film makers — was one of the first big events to get cancelled due to COVID-19. Short film makers were immediately impacted and were not likely to get reimbursed for travel costs
  • Within two weeks of the South by Southwest event cancellation, Mailchimp created a marketing campaign called “Support The Shorts” and let 70 short film makers stream their movies on the campaign website for free. The campaign aligned with Mailchimp’s mission of empowering the underdog, letting creatives know they have a home at Mailchimp
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Lain Shakespeare, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Mailchimp
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Lain Shakespeare, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Mailchimp
  • The pandemic also really affected voting lines in Georgia in June, and Georgia voters felt like underdogs going into the general election, prompting Mailchimp to inspire 56 of its employees to become poll workers in Georgia (5% of company)
  • Mailchimp also partnered on voting initiatives with Electionday.org to make sure small businesses were “vote ready” and created VotingOnMyMind.com — a tool to show people, easily and quickly, their closest early voting location. Many of these tools exist on governmental websites, but VotingOnMyMind.com makes it really easy, which is what Mailchimp does in the first place — taking enterprise technology and democratizing it for small businesses
  • Voters from 71 counties used VotingOnMyMind.com
Source: Atlanta Forging Forward Webinar, Lain Shakespeare, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Mailchimp

Deborah Ryan (DR): Ann, what trends are you seeing in corporate social responsibility here in Atlanta, and how these have changed as a result of today’s current events?

Ann Cramer, Atlanta leader and former Director for IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs for the Americas

  • First off, Mailchimp and Georgia Power are A+ in responding to needs during this time; they are also two very different types of companies, but both demonstrate the need to be nimble, flexible, innovative, responsive and relational to be successful
  • As far as trends for 2021, Ann looks at companies engaged in ESG (the new term for corporate social responsibility) as companies that exist to serve their clients, because if you don’t have healthy communities you don’t have healthy clients
  • Companies should think about their basic values — who you are and what your basic beliefs are — and then think about your governance (legal, ethical, moral). For example, companies like Coca-Cola are currently thinking about their legal and ethical commitments as they’ve made investments in either PACs and/or to political candidates that may have done something illegal. Transparency is number one; no one can hide
  • Both Georgia Power and Mailchimp have strong commitments to the environment and this is critical. We are also hearing a lot about DEI — it’s really about how we treat each other; our employees, vendors, contractors. We need to treat each other with respect and really understand what that means
  • The people aspect is critical today and delivering on your promise is a very important part. Millennials will call companies out. Top talent is a key concern right now — companies are losing people they need to keep
  • Making a difference is an important factor for any enterprise — we all have these same opportunities to manage the ESG principles of being a responsible citizen. The only difference is a tax code — nonprofit or for profit — you still need to deliver on your promise
  • We are seeing this in the way corporate citizenship is broadening — virtual volunteering is now cool; supporting small businesses as well as nonprofits is now cool and supporting employees is now cool

DR: Bentina, many would say that we are tackling some of our most complex challenges in recent history. How does Georgia Power balance its investments in these current challenges with the organizations you have supported for many years and those that continue to be a part of your ongoing mission?

Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power

  • At Georgia Power, we are still learning the balance. We don’t want to turn our back on the nonprofits we have previously supported, but we do want to evolve and shift to a focus on criminal justice
  • For all nonprofits Georgia Power supports, it is important they think about racial equity in their work. For example, if a nonprofit is coming up with a new program that will train people to work in a new industry, are they looking at people in disadvantaged communities? Are they addressing racial equity in this program? Do they have minority recruitment as part of their strategy?
  • Georgia Power is now asking its nonprofit partners these questions. All nonprofit partners don’t have to do equity work, but they have to invest in equity as part of their work

DR: Lain, can you tell us why Mailchimp feels it’s important to invest in and educate its employees on our community’s most pressing issues — and some of the ways you’ve found most effective to motivate/empower your employees to get involved?

Lain Shakespeare, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Mailchimp

  • Ann nailed it; both Millennials and Gen Y are driving change; we’re looking for purpose in our work
  • Mailchimp is a very young company and we have to balance three things: are our people proud of the work Mailchimp is doing? Is the work effective for our community? Is the work helpful to our brand?
  • After realizing many Mailchimp employees were not familiar with the term equity, Mailchimp partnered with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and created a 32-hour program to teach employees about equity and gave them a $200,000 stipend to support organizations doing this work best. Because of this program, Mailchimp employees were better equipped to meet this moment

DR: Ann, can you speak to the importance of corporate leaders following through on their racial justice commitments?

Ann Cramer, Atlanta leader and former Director for IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs for the Americas

  • If you’re a company trying to do this work, you have to be at the table. Learn where you can share your assets and listen to your employees — they will tell you what they think and how they can be a better engaged citizen

DR: Bentina, how does Georgia Power inspire and encourage other local corporate foundations to follow your lead by investing in our community?

Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power

  • There are lots of role models and examples. The Atlanta community is doing a ton of incredible things that we aren’t hearing about. Companies talk about them in varying degrees; larger companies talk about what they’re doing more because they have PR teams and, if you’re a public company, you are sharing ESG principles with investors
  • CSR teams can find little things other companies are doing and suggest making those little changes

Lain Shakespeare, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Mailchimp

  • I recommend tying your corporate citizenship to your company’s recruiting. Many of our new employees pick Mailchimp because of its corporate citizenship and they stay because they’re proud to work here; it’s a competitive advantage; now is the time to speak up

DR: What advice for a smaller, newer nonprofit?

Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power

  • Make sure you’re comfortable with partnerships; figure out a lane where there’s work to be done and articulate how you can do that work

DR: How does Georgia Power Foundation work together with other corporate foundations?

Bentina Terry, Senior Vice President for Metro Atlanta & Corporate Relations for Georgia Power

  • Each corporate foundation makes its own independent decisions. We all have boards, but we do talk to each other to try to understand different perspectives. You want to know the experience of a corporate foundation with a particular nonprofit, for example
  • Nonprofits are able to attract more funders if other companies have given to them. So if you’re really passionate about a nonprofit, you’ll be helping them a lot by providing a grant

DR: Through corporate citizenship Mailchimp supports small world-changers with big ideas. What are some of the qualities you look for when identifying Atlanta’s nonprofit underdogs? What are your recommendations for smaller, younger nonprofits?

Lain Shakespeare, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship, Mailchimp

  • Mailchimp will never be an organization’s biggest funder and declines most requests for funding it gets, but we love to be the first funder and provide the “new housekeeping seal of approval”
  • I encourage nonprofits to find their lane; if you have an exciting new enterprise that addresses a need in the community and it aligns with Mailchimp’s interests, approach us

DR: What would each of you keep and leave behind from the pandemic?

Bentina — want to get back to social interaction in person; but would like to keep the creativity that we’ve seen people demonstrate living in an environment that is entirely different for business and nonprofits. It makes you level set, think about what’s important and shift. For example, we need to reconsider the models we’ve been using to fundraise. All of the nonprofit boards I sit on said they wouldn’t raise any money last year and nearly all of them raised more than the previous year

Lain — would like one less crisis, but want to keep the creativity. At Mailchimp, we wanted to make sure our current partners had flexible funding, but beyond that we came up with creative responses to crises that only Mailchimp could do. I want to lean into this and keep showing up in our communities when they need us most

Ann —want to take Zoom forward, and the creativity has been great. For example, The Conference Board and other convening companies have learned so much about business travel and the necessity of it. I do hope we get to some normalcy of routine but also hope we can redefine profitability beyond revenue. The “and” is about respect, being in relationships with our employees and communities, suppliers and supply chain, to really understand the return of our investments. It’ll never be back; we’ll always go forward

Want to know more?

For more Starting Up Good content, visit our Medium page here.

Brady Press is an Associate Director at Changing Our World, where she specializes in building strategic corporate citizenship programs. She is a consultant to SDGCounting and StartingUpGood.

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