When Robert Musslewhite, CEO of The Advisory Board Company, presented the 2013 challenge of 100% participation in service, $1 million in nonprofit benefit, and 10,000 lives touched, his employees responded. At The Advisory Board Company, employees are encouraged to develop as professionals and lead with both their heads and their hearts. The company culture is driven by a desire to not only go beyond every expectation to serve mission-driven organizations, but to do so with an understanding of the importance of its nonprofit partners’ work. Because of this service-driven mindset, combined with a collaborative approach focused on truly understanding all facets of a challenging issue, they have built deep relationships with their partners. According to Graham McLaughlin, Senior Director of Community Impact, it is this combination of head and heart that drives employee participation in service and results in the large-scale impact generated by the firm, be it in their pro bono work or in their business outcomes with their hospital and higher education members. However, it is the support from senior leadership which has truly encouraged that success. Employees’ skills are always essential ingredients, but this approach placed equal value on the act of caring about the organization and individuals within it.
Musslewhite’s first challenge of 100% employee participation in pro bono service activities symbolized his understanding that individual work is valued as part of a broader collective impact story. The $1M in benefit was the head’s call to action. By providing $1 million worth of skills-based volunteering, employees could share the valuable professional skills they possessed. “It emphasized the value of employees’ time, expertise, and individual passion” said McLaughlin.
The final call to action, 10,000 lives touched, is the heart’s call to action. By leveraging the expertise of a consulting team, Advisory Board employees have been able to touch the lives of thousands of individuals. It’s not always easy to see those impacts, but the effects are real. The Advisory Board technical team stayed late one night to refurbish computers to donate to individuals in need of them. “As a result of that effort, a young woman named Tabitha was able to have a computer, complete homework and research projects, and is now in college on a scholarship,” McLaughlin shared.
To date, The Advisory Board is well on its way to reaching these goals. So far, $1M in benefit to pro bono partners has been achieved, thousands of lives have been touched, and employees are closing in on the 100% staff participation. 90% of the staff has tracked their volunteerism, and to ensure they get to 100%, the CSR team at The Advisory Board has developed a number of tactics to drive participation:
- 10 hours of paid daytime leave per month for employees to volunteer
- Hold service events at new employee orientation
- Provide up to three additional vacation days to acknowledge high impact volunteers
- Develop an internal volunteer portal created (pro bono) by its development teams that outlines volunteer opportunities by interest area and location
- Appoint “Community Impact Leads” focused on achieving 100% participation for their teams through activities that utilize associates’ skill sets and respond to their interest areas
The CSR team has also developed creative ways to drive internal volunteer tracking. During the recent “Week of Service,” employees received a 5 minute calendar invite every day with tracking instructions for their volunteer activities. This daily reminder enabled The Advisory Board to better capture its employees’ efforts and encourage volunteers to track their hours more systematically and accurately. Each Community Impact Lead receives a monthly update on his/her team’s volunteer participation and who has or has yet to volunteer. Equipped with this knowledge, Community Impact Leads can design new volunteer activities similar to those that achieved the highest participation levels and actively promote volunteer work to those who have limited volunteer hours.
Informal competitions are also incorporated to bring The Advisory Board closer to its goals. The CEO challenged the company’s second largest office in Austin to get to 100% participation before headquarters in DC - if that happens, he has promised to wear a “Don’t Mess with Texas” t-shirt on his next visit. Many of the other firm executives have side bets with their offices in hopes of getting to 100% office participation.
While the full challenge has yet to be completed, there are real signs that this program has impacted the behavior of Advisory Board employees. Employees are not only participating in volunteer activities, but actively engaging with partner organizations, allowing The Advisory Board to deepen its relationships with community stakeholders. One of these organizations is Community of Hope (COH), a federally-qualified health center in Washington, DC where Advisory Board employees provide pro bono service regularly. In addition to their business and pro bono work, the team had also thrown birthday parties for kids in temporary housing at COH, spent time reading to the children in the waiting room, and formed strong bonds with individuals at the center.
The team received an end-of-year performance incentive for hitting value delivery targets, and without hesitation decided to invest it in the kids they had worked so closely with at Community of Hope. The incentive amount was mailed as a donation to COH the next day. According to McLaughlin, “while other interactions with COH may have driven more impact on revenue streams or operations, this moment was representative of our focus as a firm because it was thoughtfully considered, stemming from genuine relationships formed during this head and heart driven campaign.”