The Foundation Story

This is the second post in a series about the Thankyou Payroll journey, which will cover their story from founding to philanthropy to governance to their future (hint: it involves equity crowdfunding). We’ve heard the Founding Story from Hugh, and now we’re moving on to the Foundation Story with Lani:

Kia ora! I’m Lani Evans, Director of Thankyou Payroll and Chair of the Thankyou Charitable Trust, our philanthropic arm. I’ve been involved with Thankyou Payroll since the very beginning — as the very first client in 2010 and as the very first CEO from 2013–2015.

I love what we do. I love the kaupapa and I love thinking about business as a force for good, something that produces goods and services wrapped up in a genuine, thoughtful strategy for community contribution. Government, business and non-profit organisations often operate in silos — they’re focused on outcomes within a very specific set of parameters. Social enterprises like Thankyou Payroll can move across those silos and act as mutually beneficial connectors. A foundation for good.

For us that means our job is to produce an excellent product, build strong relationships and continuously strive to contribute in new and better ways to the world around us. We are aiming to support business, government, community, staff and the environment.

Our contributions to business and the government are the easiest to quantify. We provide clear benefits to the IRD by ensuring tax payments are accurate. For businesses, our product is one of the newest on the market, it’s designed for simplicity of use and our business model means it’s free, or very, very cheap for our clients. We also have (probably) the best customer service professionals in the country.

“You guys are just doing such a marvellous job in there. A great system and the best help desk I have ever encountered” Margette, Pure Dance Ltd.

And to get great staff, you need great HR. HR is often sidelined in the startup world as founders focus on the mad scramble for viability, but for us, valuing staff was always a priority — you can’t create positive external change, without creating a positive culture within. All of our staff earn over the living wage, receive 5 weeks of paid holidays per year and have access to human centred policies like mental health leave and domestic violence leave.

HR is often sidelined in the startup world as founders focus on the mad scramble for viability, but for us, valuing staff was always a priority — you can’t create positive external change, without creating a positive culture within.

For the environment, we’ve started calculating our carbon emissions (with help from http://catalystnz.co.nz/) and off-setting them by planting native trees with community partners in the beautiful Port Chalmers. We’ve planted 470 trees in the last two years. Next up we’re hoping to get a hive of bees on our office roof (could we build a sideline in Thankyou Honey? Social enterprise inception?).

Our philanthropy aims for holistic benefits too. We put 25c from every payroll processed into the community, and over the last seven years, we’ve donated more than $80,000 in cash and $325,000 of in-kind donations. We launched the Thankyou Charitable Trust in 2013 to provide more expertise and structure to our giving. We aim to support communities to grow their resilience, connectedness and wellbeing and we believe that the people working and living in a place are best positioned to understand the needs of their community. Thankyou Charitable Trusts grant-making programme is based on grants of $100-$3000. We’re aiming to address a few of the challenges of non-profit grant maker relationship dynamics through our funding model.

We have a potluck dinner party as our accountability process, a “bring a plate” meal where half of the attendees have received a grant, and half are the local community. Over dinner, the grant recipients spend five minutes talking about how the grant made a difference for them. We don’t want organisations to dedicate time to reporting; instead, the accountability is informal and personal, including their community and their peers. We reckon that healthy relationships play a role in creating successful change interventions and this accountability model provides opportunities for community leaders to meet and to hear about each others projects and ideas. We hope this will contribute to greater communication, support, and more collaboration.

We have a potluck dinner party as our accountability process…

The second point of difference is the “Pay-It-Forward” funding model. The funding model we use is place-based, restricted to geographic locations defined by postcode areas. Successful applicants of the previous grant round make decisions on the next lot of grant recipients. We think that this grant making method creates greater connection among community leaders and organisations by providing a space for them to meet and engage in collaborative decision-making. We also want to use the knowledge that is within communities. Who understands the need of a local community better than the people who are actively working for its betterment? And we want to break down the distinction between fund giver and fund receiver by role modeling high-trust relationships with community organisations, handing over power and using more devolved, user-centric decision making processes. We see this as an opportunity for intervention within communities, as an opportunity for growing connection, collaboration, leadership and for providing funding for projects

I believe the social good elements of Thankyou Payroll are a part of what makes us successful. In seven years, we’ve done almost no paid for advertising and had no sales staff. Our growth has all been organic and word of mouth — because we have a good product and great ethics. We have a wonderful story to tell and one that we hope will influence other businesses.

But now we need the investment to tell our story (and tell it well). That’s why Thankyou Payroll is equity crowdfunding. We’re launching our equity crowdfunding campaign this Friday at 6pm. If you believe in what we do, and would like to see our social enterprise grow, please come along to our party and think about pledging.

In the next blog post, you’ll learn more about Thankyou Payroll’s future, with Christina’s story as CEO.

Sign up here to hear more from the team in the lead up to their equity launch.