Businesses today, as they always have been, are focused on building the best product. The competitive landscape is tough and there is always another company either biting at your ankles or coming out with the next best release. But for many organizations, just building a great product isn’t quite enough. They not only want to serve their customers, but their community as well.
At Bluecore, we feel strongly about our ties to New York’s Lower East Side (LES). For those unfamiliar with the area, the eclectic neighborhood has traditionally been known for its cramped spaces, rusty fire escapes, dirty alleyways and artful graffiti on every street corner. (side note: If you ever plan a visit, The Tenement Museum is an amazing experience that tells the immigrant history of the neighborhood). Today LES remains one of the most densely populated and ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods in New York, with a substantial foreign-born and working poor population. According to a 2010 census, around 30% of LES residents live in households whose incomes fall below $19,000.
Last year, a handful of our employees came together and decided we as a company could do more for our neighborhood. As a result, Bluecore Gives Back, a small internal team that organizes volunteer programs and partnerships was formed. The process didn’t happen overnight, so we wanted to share how our efforts came together in order to help other companies do the same.
Identifying a Purpose
The philanthropic initiative at Bluecore was initially inspired after a handful of employees read Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff’s book, Behind the Cloud. Although Salesforce is known for being an enterprise SaaS giant, it is also recognized for its philanthropy efforts. One of its many programs includes the 1-1-1 model, in which it donates 1% of resources, 1% of technology and 1% of employee time.
Inspired by Benioff’s story, Customer Success Manager, Claire Yale, Senior Events Marketing Manager, Sarah Cascone, Head of Customer Success, Ali Norwood, and Product Designer, Rachel Klausner decided to officially form Bluecore Gives Back. Yale adds, “I always felt really passionate about volunteering and nonprofit work, and I realized I didn’t have to leave a job I loved to do that.”
While each member had a special cause they were passionate about, they wanted to choose an organization that aligned with Bluecore’s mission as a business. Cascone, explains this thought process, “Being in New York’s Lower East Side is such a huge part of Bluecore’s identity. We integrate with sites, but how is Bluecore integrating with our city and neighborhood?” In the end, the team decided to pursue providing education throughout the technology industry, focusing on minorities, low income and women in Lower East Side.
Finding a Nonprofit
Once the team solidified its vision, the next step was finding the right nonprofit with which to partner. The challenge in finding the right nonprofit was selecting one that not only aligned with Bluecore’s mission, but also needed the right about of time commitment. Klausner explains, “Because we wanted to have long-term impact, we avoided programs that needed one-off engagements. At the same time, we are still small and this was a new initiative for the company, so full mentorship programs were too much to take on.”
The vetting process from the nonprofit side also proved to be very time consuming and robust, with many organizations requiring full resumes of all volunteers.
Yale adds that this step proved to take much longer than expected. “For me, it was a big surprise in how much time it took from ‘okay let’s do this’ to figuring out the ‘how and where and with whom?’ It’s okay to spend a few months finding the right partner though. You want it to be the right fit.”
After reaching out to numerous nonprofits through out the city, Cascone saw the Lower East Side Girls Club out in the neighborhood one afternoon. After doing more research on the organization, the team felt the mission aligned perfectly with Bluecore’s so they decided to reach out.
Founded in 1996, the Lower East Side Girls Club (LESGC) provides innovative community-based programs and services for girls and young women. The mission of the Girls Club is to break the cycle of local poverty by training the next generation of ethical, entrepreneurial and environmental leaders. Its mission states: Opening Doors, Empowering Women, Building Community, Girl by Girl. The girls in the program range from elementary to high school age, with the largest group in middle school.
After sending an email to the contact information on the LESGC website, the team set up a meeting with the founders to find out where the Club needed help. From that meeting, the two groups agreed that Bluecore helping with after school classes would be a good fit. Cascone adds, “But even from there it was kind of like, well, how do we do this? We aren’t teachers. How do you create a class? How do you come up with a curriculum? There are a lot of other details like, ‘What level do you need? Can men volunteer? Do you need software? etc.'”
In addition to the after school classes, Bluecore wanted to put on a field trip for the girls to the office and build a full-day program around different career paths available in the technology space.
From a logistical and approval standpoint, working with the LESGC was relatively simple. According to Cascone, “Background checks are pretty standard for volunteers at any organization, including LESGC. For any Bluecore employee who wanted to participate in the partnership, we were able to share the background check the company ran when the he or she was hired, in addition to having them fill out a brief questionnaire. The founders also scheduled a site visit to the office to grant approval for the field trip.”
In addition to planning curriculum for after school classes (we’ll share more details on this soon!), preparing a field trip for 20 middle schoolers was no easy feat. To get ready for the event, the team held roughly 10 meetings over 3 months, covering everything from setting the agenda, gathering volunteer credentials to submit to LESGC and recruiting employees to participate, to preparing presentations and materials for the day. In the end, the team pulled off a robust program with the help of 30 Bluecore employees participating the day of the field trip.
The field trip kicked off with speed mentoring, during which each LESGC girl was paired off with a Bluecore employee for 20 minutes to get to know each other and ask questions. The pairs were provided with thought-starter questions such as, “What is your favorite subject in school?” and “If you were to run a business one day, what would it be?”
From there, the girls had a Q&A session with Bluecore’s Co-Founder and VP of Bluecore Labs, Max Bennett. Yale adds, “It was really sweet to see the Q&A with Max. They came prepared with such good questions like, “Is it okay to quit? If so, when is it okay?”
In the afternoon, the girls attended department-based workshops, in which they were able to learn about different roles and career paths, such as engineering, marketing, customer success and sales.
After the field trip, the team received great feedback both from LESGC and Bluecore employees. Cascone adds, “For both sides, our expectations were exceeded because we didn’t really know what to expect. For this field trip, we were able to put together a pretty robust program and LESGC was delightfully surprised by that. On the walk home apparently all the girls were saying “I want to work for Bluecore!”
With the first big event with LESGC under the Bluecore’s belt, the team has learned a lot and is excited to continue involvement throughout the year. Yale adds, “We’re throwing some ideas around right now. The largest group LESGC works with is middle school and then there’s a big drop off in high school. We want focus on helping with that transition period and help keep more girls involved as they get older.”
For future events, the Bluecore Gives Back team wants to continue putting on programs and events. Norwood adds, “It feels more fulfilling this way. We have a sense of ownership. It was ours. We crafted everything.”
Reflecting on this experience, the team agrees that prioritizing time has been the biggest challenge. “We have to be respectful of people’s day jobs and get ours done as well. It’s all about prioritizing time.” says Cascone.
In the end, working with the LESGC has been an incredibly rewarding experience for Bluecore. According to Yale, “Just seeing the mentoring was great. Seeing everyone excited and talking. Seeing the Bluecore involvement, from the mentorship to the workshop. Watching everyone step up to the plate. Everyone that volunteered followed through 100%.”
For other companies looking to get involved in their communities, here are some key learnings from Bluecore Gives Back team:
- Find like-minded people who want to do it with you. It makes all the difference. 3-4 people working together is ideal for pulling off a more robust partnership. Even though we were all busy, we were working together.
- Don’t just do it just to do it. Do it if it meshes with your company, otherwise it falls flat.
- Reach out to people with varying skill sets who can help you. The diverse knowledge base helped us. We all had different strengths that complemented one another.
- It will take longer and more time than you expect, and that’s okay. We formed Bluecore Gives Back in September, we didn’t meet LESGC until December, and our field trip was in the following April. Leading up to the field trip, we were probably spending about 10 hours per week on the program. Granted that was also our first time, but any sort of successful partnership requires a time investment.