Sometimes a life-changing experience can lead you to your purpose. That’s the case for Dilip Rao, CEO and co-founder of the mission-based food ordering platform, Sharebite, whose perspective on life changed after he was hit by a car while crossing the street in July 2014.
“Going through an experience like that really makes you look at life slightly differently than what you probably did even a day before,” Rao said. “Suddenly the priorities that made your top 10, top 20 list don’t even make your top 100 when you’re laying in a stretcher and can’t feel anything from the neck down. That’s when it was more like, ‘If today is my last day on Earth what purpose have I served? What problems in society have I helped solve? How have I been able to take this body of general knowledge that I've been able to amass throughout my career, what am I actually doing with it?’”
Ways to Give Back Locally
- Volunteer days
- In-kind donations
- Sharing sales percentages
- Pro-bono work
Less than a year after the accident, Rao met his co-founder Mohsin Memon, and they bonded over their desires to create a company driven by values that are important to stakeholders, not just shareholders. With that in mind, Sharebite was founded in 2015, and from the start, the company has been dedicated to helping eradicate childhood hunger in local communities and supporting small businesses where the company is headquartered in New York City. For every food order a business places on the Sharebite platform, the company donates a percentage of its revenue, at least enough to provide one meal, to City Harvest which uses the money to feed children suffering from hunger. In 2020, Sharebite donated enough to provide more than 400,000 pounds of food to children facing hunger.
“There’s this old Greek proverb, society only prospers when old men plant trees in whose shade they’ll never take rest in,” Rao said. “So our view as an organization, and my personal worldview here, is that you have to constantly think about how you’re creating value for all of your shareholders and your stakeholders, and by doing so, I think naturally that flywheel of sustainability will continue to spin faster and faster. So therefore, what’s good for Sharebite is good for small businesses, and it’s good for society, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Share Your Employees’ Talents
With ongoing restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, company-wide volunteer days at a neighborhood food pantry or a local school are more challenging to organize or simply not possible right now. That’s why Vidyard, a video marketing platform based in Kitchener, Ontario, decided to utilize its employees’ skills for remote volunteering projects in the local community.
“There are so many limitations right now with a lot of us being in person, but we didn’t want that to stop us from giving back, so we connected with organizations that we’ve done work with before and some new as well, offering ways that we could support above and beyond a lot of the traditional asks,” said Laura Galbraith, director of community impact at Vidyard.
For example, Vidyard is working with local and specialized hospitals to provide marketing support, related training and access to its software. Vidyard is producing a video for the Sick Kids Foundation in Toronto and building a website landing page and providing marketing campaign support for the Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario.
“When you have such a talented workforce, it’s great to be able to use their skills to help the communities that are part of.”
“Really tap into your employee base in terms of volunteering. You’ll be surprised. They’re probably already fully connected to a lot of different great organizations,” Galbraith said. “Not only will it help with your employee engagement with projects, but it will really help you get to know these organizations in a more meaningful way.”
Over the course of the last two weeks of November, Vidyard will work with 16 different groups on 50 to 60 projects during its Give Back Days. Other local organizations and nonprofits receiving support from Vidyard include members of the Anishinaabe indigenous peoples community, the House of Friendship in Waterloo, Ontario, Women Crisis Services of Waterloo Region and the Sunbeam Centre in the Waterloo region.
“We had started putting out asks to some organizations that we were familiar with or that were near and dear to a lot of our employees’ hearts, so maybe they were ones their family had a special connection with or one that was in their own community,” Galbraith said. “We started building a rapport and a relationship with them and were able to get some really unique opportunities our employees could work together to support.”
Vidyard reports 99 percent employee participation in its Give Back Days, and it also offers two additional days during the year when employees can do independent volunteering.
“One of the big pillars within Vidyard since day one has always been around community and supporting our communities that we live and work in,” Galbraith said. “How we approach it as a company is that we really have true executive buy in, so we have, right down from our CEO, the support and their encouragement of the program, but also their participation and really re-emphasizing the importance that we all have a role to play in supporting our communities and giving back.”
Even when in-person volunteering resumes, Galbraith expects that Vidyard will likely continue project-based volunteering that uses its employees’ talents.
“It’s a very different way of looking at traditional volunteering. It gives them the opportunity to use something that they’re really good at and apply it to community organizations that really need all the resources that they can get,” she said. “When you have such a talented workforce, it’s great to be able to use their skills to help the communities that are part of.”
Make Your Employees Feel Connected With Your Community Partners
Headquartered in Bozeman, Montana, conservation efforts are of great importance to the employees at Wisetail, a learning management system and learning experience platform software company. So, in June 2015, Wisetail created a charitable giving arm of the company called Wisetail Works, dedicated to giving back to the local community.
“From the foundation, its mission has been to help people live healthier, happier and more productive lives,” said Ali Knapp, president at Wisetail. “Our mission as a company is building companies into communities, so how can we do that with our Wisetail Works branch as well?”
Each year, Wisetail hosts a grant program where it donates three-year access to its software to a local organization. Nonprofits submit grant applications, and Wisetail employees vote on the organizations to support who might not typically be able to afford advanced software.
“When we do have these volunteer days or volunteer opportunities, we really encourage our remote employees to go out and volunteer in the communities that they are in as well to build that relationship with their community.”
“To have funds in order to go out and purchase technology, that can sometimes be hard to come by,” Knapp said. “It seems as though sometimes technology’s more of a luxury with some of the smaller companies that we’re working with.”
Knapp said the nonprofits who receive the software often focus on using the Wisetail technology to build community at their organizations. And on the flip side, Wisetail Works builds community at the company too.
“If we’re able to go out and volunteer and have our software being used with companies that are a part of our community, and seeing the difference that that makes, builds a stronger culture and a stronger community within our own team,” Knapp said. “I also think it’s important for us to be able to see our software used with different organizations … These programs really strengthen your culture, and they give you a different view and different insight into what it is your software can accomplish on the day to day.”
As the Wisetail team gains employees outside of the Bozeman area, the company is encouraging employees to give back locally wherever they are located.
“When we do have these volunteer days or volunteer opportunities, we really encourage our remote employees to go out and volunteer in the communities that they are in as well to build that relationship with their community,” Knapp said.
Encourage Employees to Volunteer for Causes That Are Meaningful to Them
Ten years ago, Cambium Networks, a global provider of wireless broadband solutions headquartered in Rolling Meadows, Illinois, separated from Motorola to become an independent company. At that time, Cambium developed a core set of values that have remained the same over the years — including a guiding principle that employees give back to their local communities.
“It’s not just giving money. They will be personally involved in that project. Whether it is helping the orphanage, whether it is helping women with sewing machines in India, whether it is helping a community with a broadband network … it doesn’t matter as long as employees are involved, and we know there’s a personal passion,” said Atul Bhatnagar, CEO of Cambium Networks.
“When you’re done with the goodness project, you take that camaraderie and teamwork into collaboration and innovation. That connection is pretty important with everything we do.”
To celebrate its 10th anniversary as a public company, Cambium offered its staff a Day of Giving in October where employees could identify a need in their local community and spend a day volunteering that month. Employees chose projects like cleaning a local beach, spending time with elderly dementia patients and distributing food at a local pantry.
Prior to the pandemic, Cambium engaged employees in group volunteering. For two years, Cambium employees built bicycles for children on the South Side of Chicago. Bhatnagar not only recalls the team bonding that came from the employees working together on the project, but he also was moved by the reactions of the recipients of the donations.
“I can’t tell you the joy we saw on those faces. There were some kids who were crying. There were some kids who were jumping. Everybody had a different reaction, but these are the kids who never had a bike in their life,” he said.
Cambium also emphasizes the importance of distributing its products in disadvantaged areas, bringing affordable and high performance broadband to developing countries and rural areas.
“Many of us in our careers worked on pretty sophisticated projects, but we could not really connect with people as much,” Bhatnagar said. “We have the tools ... to support initiatives where we help eliminate the digital divide.”
Bhatnagar said having employee champions who encourage colleagues to get involved with giving back initiatives is a great way to create a culture of volunteering at your company.
“They then attracted other people, and it just grew. Gradually it became a team building exercise,“ he said. “When you’re done with the goodness project, you take that camaraderie and teamwork into collaboration and innovation. That connection is pretty important with everything we do.”