Creating a Culture of

Creating a Culture of

At software company Blackbaud, corporate philanthropy centers on teaching its own employees how to be effective grantmakers.

When my fellow employees and I walk through the doors of Blackbaud every day, we bring our whole selves to work. Each one of us is there to help power an ecosystem of good, working with our customers – individuals, nonprofits, foundations, higher education and healthcare institutions and corporate clients – to drive positive change in the world.

But helping these customers effectively deploy cloud-based technology and data services for philanthropy and social good is only part of our professional and personal missions. We are also active participants in this ecosystem ourselves.

Blackbaud connects and empowers organizations to increase their impact through software, services, expertise, and data intelligence. As a shared value company, we have always embraced the concept that societal and financial benefit are core to our strategy. Our founder, Anthony (Tony) Bakker, launched many of our philanthropic traditions more than 20 years ago. As head of corporate citizenship and philanthropy for the company today, I’ve had the pleasure of following in his footsteps by building and growing our formal corporate social responsibility programs. More recently, I’ve helped chart a course away from “corporate” to what I call “human social responsibility” (HSR).

HSR is, quite simply, corporate social responsibility that is oriented – at its heart – around the people within an organization. It is an acknowledgement that it is vital to focus not on the “corporate” entity itself, but instead on the individual people who make up its community – in the programs offered, in how money is granted, in decisions that are made.

Human Social Responsibility in Action

As an example, a signature grantmaking program at Blackbaud fully embraces HSR both in how it involves individual employees and invests in their futures as global citizens, all while giving back to the community. In the mid-1990s, Tony Bakker established a donor-advised fund at the Coastal Community Foundation (CCF) of South Carolina, with two goals in mind. First, it was to invest over the long term in nonprofit organizations promoting education for disadvantaged youth and the disabled. Second, the grants were to be selected each year by a team of Blackbaud employees as a way of helping them learn more about the customers we serve and how to be effective grantmakers.

Blackbaud's signature grantmaking program involves individual employees and invests in their futures as global citizens, all while giving back to the community.

Each year, my colleague Sally Ehrenfried and I curate a group of employees to serve on The Blackbaud Fund committee – selecting co-workers who have shown a deep interest in and passion for nonprofits. We seek people from across the company’s headquarters, located in Charleston, representing an array of professional functions, and we gather them with experts from CCF for some upfront learning. Education begins with a briefing on community foundations themselves, how they work and how they play a critical role in matching donors’ passions with identified need. We then take the team through the process they will follow, teaching them how to read a grant application and what to look for during onsite visits that might not come to life from the written application. Ultimately, a CCF leader moderates a robust conversation where granting decisions are made.

If there is a secret sauce to this program it’s the journey each committee member goes on in the process of selecting the grantees. There is no guarantee that a nonprofit receiving funding one year will automatically receive another grant. The mix of people at the table changes, and the team is taught to look at how past funding was used. One organization that has had tremendous success with different committees over the past 20 years (receiving 11 individual grants totaling about $76,000) is WINGS for Kids. A key to their success: WINGS is extremely effective at showing its impact on the lives of children in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

Photo courtesy of Blackbaud, Inc.

Founded in 1996 as a girls’ summer camp with a vision of teaching kids to live “powerfully, joyfully, and responsibly,” WINGS has served some 8,500 at-risk elementary students across the region. Today, 1,600 youngsters a day benefit from the organization’s comprehensive afterschool program, which weaves social and emotional learning lessons into daily activities such as basketball, tumbling, cooking, drama, and chess. In 2013, thanks to a $3.6 million grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (as part of the Social Innovation Fund), WINGS was able to scale its direct service programs across South Carolina and expand to two new states, Georgia and North Carolina, where it operates programs in nine Title I elementary schools. And in its latest move, the program partnered last year with the unified school district of Pomona, Calif. to pilot use of the WINGS model within its Learning Connection afterschool program.

“WINGS works—and we have the data to prove it,” says Bridget Laird, CEO. She explains that the organization has worked with researchers to evaluate the program’s effectiveness. “Preliminary results show that kids who participate in WINGS are 67 percent less likely to be chronically absent than non-WINGS kids in the same schools, and are less likely to receive a disciplinary referral than their peers who don’t participate in the program. And WINGS kids are more likely to have improved academic performance and classroom behavior.”

Seeing organizations like WINGS succeed in schools right here in Charleston brings the importance of thoughtful grantmaking home. The overall experience of serving on Blackbaud’s grant committee also teaches lessons that just aren’t possible to learn sitting behind a computer or helping a customer over the phone.

Building on a successful pilot

More than five years ago, we took this Charleston-based program to all of our sites. Our approach varies by office size: Our larger locations run competitive grant programs, others invite specific groups to apply, and the smallest locations engage in robust discussions about where and how to proactively invest). With a little bit of support from the HSR team, each of these localized committees decides on grantees, keeping the funding local and learning about their communities in the process.

Kristen Martin, who manages Educational Services Operations at Blackbaud, views her experience on the grant committee as beneficial to both her professional and personal development. Reviewing so many worthy grant applications “has given me better perspective and understanding of the budget-conscious mindset of our nonprofit customers and why every dollar is so important,” she shares. “In addition to being enriched by witnessing successful outcomes of projects we’ve funded, I’ve also made valuable personal contacts in our local nonprofit community.” The process, she adds, “has helped bring clarity to where I direct my own personal contribution dollars each year.” After rotating on and off the grant committee over the years, Martin will become our employee lead going into 2019.

Whether we are evaluating impact based on grantee results or how our employees engage as individual agents of good, we know one thing to be true: Our partnership with the Coastal Community Foundation is critical to our success with the program. The relationship, cultivated over decades, continues to provide opportunities to marry grantmaking with employee action…and helps us put a face to HSR each and every day.


Rachel Hutchisson is vice president of Corporate Citizenship & Philanthropy at Blackbaud, Inc.


WINGS for Kids