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M.R. Asks 3 Questions: Bryan de Lottinville, Founder & CEO, Benevity

By December 5, 2019Article

A self-described “recovering lawyer”, Bryan de Lottinville has nearly two decades in executive operational roles in both the bricks and mortar and web-worlds. Following his time as a corporate finance partner at a major Toronto Law firm, Bryan held leadership roles in several early-stage companies that achieved international scale and success, including SMED International, iStockphoto and now Benevity, Inc.

As founder and CEO of Benevity, Bryan’s passion for constructive disruption and grassroots engagement around corporate ‘Goodness’ provokes novel ideas to help Fortune 1000 clients reinvent corporate giving programs in a way that provides better social and business returns, while simultaneously tackling the biggest struggles in the social impact landscape.

Benevity, Inc., a certified B Corporation, is the global leader in corporate social responsibility and employee engagement software, including online giving, matching, volunteering and community investment. Many of the world’s most iconic brands rely on Benevity’s award-winning cloud solutions to power corporate “Goodness” programs that attract, retain and engage today’s diverse workforce by connecting people to the causes that matter to them. With software that is available in 17 languages, to an employee base of 20 million users around the world, Benevity has processed over 3.5 billion dollars in donations and 17 million hours of volunteering time this year to almost 200,000 charities worldwide.

In our conversation, Bryan shared why he believes Benevity and its clients will, together, shape a new story of innovative and scalable ‘Goodness’ that strengthens both the social fabric of our communities and the role of corporations in the world. I’m pleased to share his viewpoint with our readership–especially at this time of year. 

M.R. Rangaswami: How are you noticing the businesses of ‘social good issues’ accelerating? 

A confluence of factors are accelerating growth in this new category: First, people are losing trust in traditional institutions that are failing to address big societal issues—climate change, poverty or gun violence, as examples—and they are turning to their employers to address the shortcomings they perceive. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 75 percent of respondents said that they trust “my employer” significantly more than other institutions. This creates new expectations and opportunities.

Second, people also want their workplaces to inspire them and provide a sense of meaning. A purpose-driven culture is not just a “nice to have,” but also a “must have” for many of today’s workers, especially Millennials, who will make up 50 percent of the workforce by the end of next year. Socially conscious and altruistic, this generation of employees (and the “Zoomers” coming in behind them) care deeply about issues like social justice, income equality and sustainability, and they are thinking about their legacy and sense of personal efficacy right out of the gate. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they expect the companies they work for and buy from to help them do it. From the corporate perspective, companies are seeing (and the data supports) that engaging their employees around issues that resonate with them as part of their employee experience can meaningfully improve metrics around attraction, retention and productivity. 

At the same time—and perhaps as an incident of the above—institutional and other investors are increasingly using ‘ESG’ (Environmental, Social & Governance) factors as the lens through which they are assessing the identity, quality, profile and future performance of companies. 

The culmination of all these factors is resulting in an unequivocal corporate shift towards purpose. More and more companies are recognizing that rapaciously pursuing profit is no longer the only objective (although profitability of course continues to be necessary) and that pursuing a more expansive, hybrid mandate is not just beneficial to society, but also to their employees and the bottom line. The recent Business Roundtable Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation is evidence that this call to action is resonating more broadly than ever before.  

M.R.: What does it take for companies to meet society’s expectation of them and engage their people in social issues outside of their immediate line of business?

Bryan: While the “why” behind the call for corporate purpose is becoming increasingly clear, many companies are still trying to figure out the “how.” Delivering on that requires both a mindset change and enabling technologies.

Ultimately, we want people to be able to do good on their terms, in a holistic and experiential way—within their companies, in their local communities and throughout society and the world at large. The Benevity platform was built with this vision of “democratized Goodness” in mind: make it easy, convenient, integrated and inclusive for corporations, their employees, customers and partners to give time, money, skills and behavior change; make it inspiring and fun for them to take action and invest in their communities; and empower them to champion causes they care about with a personal sense of impact. This is the recipe for engagement.

To make the vision of corporate purpose a reality, companies need to have infrastructure in place to support all kinds of activities—from charitable giving and volunteering to activism, mentorship programs, sustainability initiatives, diversity and inclusion efforts, and more. This is different than what we think of as traditional corporate philanthropy, which is often a top-down, once-a-year, “write a check for the annual fundraiser” kind of thing.

This is about building a corporate culture that prioritizes purpose and personal efficacy as much as it prioritizes profit, about recognizing the power of individuals as agents of change, and then empowering them to act. 

M.R.: What kind of innovative approaches to social impact can we expect to see more of?

Bryan: We try to meet companies and people where they are and help them ascend a spectrum of engagement around purpose that moves from passive, transactional interactions to those that are more experiential and likely to lead to cultural impact.  Some of this progress is made through embracing a more strategic approach. Others is through relatively simple tactical changes to existing approaches and programs.

We expect to see continued integration of previously siloed functions within companies, where corporate social responsibility folks are interacting much more cross-functionally, especially with HR and Marketing. (Corporate purpose is a team sport!) While it is not necessarily that innovative to some, we will see more companies matching the gifts of time, money and talent to organizations that their people choose, using donation currency as incentives for driving certain behaviors, and generally pursuing their purpose initiatives in a more democratized way to drive engagement.   

The most innovative companies are also aiming to help people weave purpose and social impact into all aspects of their daily lives—at work, at home and in their communities—in a variety of ways. The trends are showing us that people want to take steps, big or small, to address issues that matter to them, whether it’s through the products they purchase, the actions they take to give back or through the lifestyle choices they make.

This is the inspiration behind our Missions solution, which uses gamified tech to encourage positive daily actions like biking to work, eating less meat, reducing plastic waste, using more sustainable products, becoming aware of unconscious bias, and more. Since not everyone can give money and others may have constraints on their time outside of working hours, Missions provides a fun, inclusive and easy-to-navigate foundation for supporting people in changing their habits and behaviors.

It includes three bite-sized components:

1) A learning component that educates about an issue

2) An action component which inspires them with suggestions on what they can do

3) An impact component which helps them understand how their actions are making a difference. It also tends to increase participation in other elements of prosocial action, like giving and volunteering. It’s a gateway drug for Good!

The bottom line is that when it comes to building a purpose-driven culture, companies that support a variety of approaches to social good are more likely to inspire people and engage them to participate. Authenticity, grassroots engagement and user-centric enabling technology are key.

M.R. Rangaswami is Co-Founder of Sand Hill Group. 
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