Learning Series | Long-Term Impact Programs with Tessa Edwards

June 27, 2022

Andy: Tessa. Thank you so much for being here with Ben and I on the WeHero Learn podcast. We're really excited to dive into it today with you.
Tessa: Thanks so much for having me great to see you, Andy and Ben.
Andy: Yeah, well, we have been lucky to know Tessa, I think for two, three years at this point and have always had a conversation. We were joking how our conversations tend to last an hour plus because we are nerds about the social impact space. But I think here we're gonna keep things brief concise for everybody. So folks who don't know Tessa, would you mind giving your background what you're doing now and the type of work that really gets you excited?
Tessa: So I have been working in social impact for about 15 years now. I started out as an AmeriCorps member and that, that opportunity for national service really kind of solidified my worldview, I guess I would say in terms of giving back and wanting to be a part of the broader community. So I've worked a lot in the nonprofit world and a lot on the corporate side as well in corporate philanthropy and, and corporate social responsibility. And now I support companies in achieving their social impact goals. So whether that's helping with strategy, creating programs, partnerships, employee engagement, a lot of inclusion work particularly of late and just really being that strategic partner, trusted advisor and implementer. Also a lot of implementation needed, particularly for companies with small teams, which a lot of, a lot of, as we know, a lot of social impact teams are small. So I love this stuff. I'm super excited for our conversation today. I feel like it's a very special time right now in, in the, in the world of, of social impact and how companies give back and how everyone is participating in community work. And I'm happy to get to be a part of it.
Andy: Yeah, it's, it's really exciting times. I think we see the, the sea of corporate change only growing. And so it's very exciting to be operating within it before we jump in the AmeriCorps. Is there a pretty big you know, alumni of AmeriCorps community in the corporate social impact world, or do they go typically go in different directions,
Tessa: Both, but there are a lot of folks who did AmeriCorps who are, who are continuing to do this work. I think it really has a profound impact on a lot of people when you spend that amount of time working intimately with community members or in schools or wherever people are assigned. So I often come across AmeriCorps members and I try to highlight it when I can, because it is a shared experience that I think people that people have, and it really does provide a, a different outlook, I think, toward this work, having been on the ground right there in it day after day for, you know, a year or probably, or more
Andy: Yeah, knowing what's needed on the ground makes you so much better when you're planning and building these gives you just the perspective you need. I think so if we take a step back Tessa, you know, as Ben and I have talked to you about a lot of our clients have really in depth, holistic, CSR strategies around volunteering and philanthropy, but a lot of our clients are also just starting on this. And so I think what we've always been impressed when we're talking with you is how you build these holistic programs that align to a company's mission. And so you ultimately have a higher return on what they're doing. And so I'd love to hear about one, how you got into that, and then how you think about developing that and maybe sharing a few examples and I'm sure Ben and I will jump in and pepper you with questions.
Tessa: So I believe that having long term goals, strategic engagements, and weaving that into the core values of the company and how the company wants to show up in the community is really the way to make true impact. I think that one off events and engagements for employees or for nonprofits are meaningful. That's great, that's great work. And at the same time there could be more done and there can be more when we build on those and incorporate them into different, into the different aspects of how people give and how people individually wanna show up in the community and how companies give back also. So I think, I think that as you know, working in the, in the field, it's really going in this direction in terms of companies want to want to be involved for a number of reasons and are getting also external pressure to be involved and from employees too, all of these lead to positive impact for the community.
Tessa: Right? So I think that having ways that they can do that in a way that promotes engagement in general with their employees and promotes that kind of feeling of, culture, and also helps them show up in the community in the way that they want to. I think those are all really powerful things and, you know, the information now and the data really points to the fact that community impact has business value. And so I think that that is really becoming more prolific I'm. I, I get excited every time I see a new stat on that because it is, it's just, it shows everyone employees, community members, leadership in companies, people seeking new jobs, nonprofits that this work and these partnerships that we're creating, particularly those that have, that have, you know, longer term impact and that we can work on in multiple ways like engaging employees and giving and having you know, all of these elements to them really do have this deep impact.
Tessa: So I think, I mean, and you can do it in a lot of ways. I've seen a lot of successful programs that are, that are formally formulated differently. I think there are some core things though, that, that, that comprise these programs. So definitely making sure that it aligns with the company's core values, that is key. And if you're a small company too, and just building this a small company, a startup, or just building this, even if you're a large company, I think that's one really important thing to think about is how, how this work can align to your business in a way that is, has a longer term kind of like ability to show up.
Andy: Yeah, I was just gonna ask for a few examples there, cause I think some people may be like, we're a technology company that, you know, helps get more sales leads. So I'd be great to hear some examples of things in the past where they've aligned it,
Tessa: Right? So in that example, there's a small tech company that is generating sales leads. I think there's a digital equity issue is major right now and it will continue to be, as the world becomes more virtual and stays more virtual, I guess. So I think that that's not digital equities necessarily in their mission, but it it's correlated and it's gonna be a part of what they do for the duration of, for the existence of the company. So thinking about how we can bring computers into schools and then also combine employee trainings to come in and support those either on a broad scale national scale or, or local scale too, I think it can be done very successfully in terms of a deep impact. And then, I mean, on the sales piece, even partnering with small businesses who are trying to generate new revenue, I mean, that, that is really powerful thing or young or entrepreneurs who are just budding.
Tessa: So in that example you gave, I think that every company has core values that underlie what they do and that connect to their business. I think that's a main piece of it. And then I think too, that it's important to think about the unique contribution that you can make in this space that the company can make, because we wanna make sure that we're adding something and not duplicating, because if we are duplicating them, that's just taking resources away that could be given somewhere else. So if, for example, you wanna have an environmental program that reduces the carbon footprint of a shipping company or something like that. I think that thinking about who else is doing this already in this space, who's doing it successfully. Can we partner, or how can we add something unique? And here's where that is. And let's focus on that. I think those are a couple really important things to think about on the outset and also lead to creating goals, creating that those success measures and impact measures to show what impact you're really having, and also connect with all those aspects of, well, the different ways that employees can be involved in the communities members can be involved.
Andy: Yeah. Can you share a few more examples of companies you've seen do this really well in the past of connecting that overarching mission to what they're doing from a community standpoint.
Tessa: So a financial services firm that I work with has decided to get financial literacy programming into as many schools in the country as possible. And this is middle schools, primarily middle schools and high schools. And so this is a very particular niche impact that they wanna have. And it's very valuable, the personal finance curriculum and people don't learn about money often, and it's not really taught in schools. So they've found that they can add something there to the space, with the, the particular information that they want to share, the partnerships that they have on a national level to implement that, and then their employee knowledge and expertise that can be added to that. And then there are also giving programs associated with that and ways that employees can be trained and uplifted in terms of the way that they engage with these kids in the schools and the way that they think about teaching money to kids and the way they think about maybe teaching money to their families, it's become kind of a, a whole, a holistic approach there from the employee perspective.
Tessa: And from the partnership perspective. I think another one too, that is doing a lot of work that is really focused on employee engagement, particularly is a large communications media technology company that I've been supporting as well.They have existing programs that provide technology and accessibility to rec centers and schools, all different kinds of places where people meet. And they are really thinking about how their employees can participate this in this, in a meaningful way and how they might be able to add, add this particular Ben, the, the way the company is oriented, basically. So I think they are thinking about creating a sort of like a, a we're all in it together. Let's do this together. We're gonna be working on this to accomplish these particular goals altogether as a company. And I think that's really powerful too, when you can rally your people around something like that.
Andy: Yeah.
Ben: Tessa, I'm so curious. I love this notion that you're doing around the long term deep impact work, right? And these are big strategies for many companies and they take a lot of time to execute. And I think a big piece of that is getting the right stakeholders to buy in as well. We see companies that have these really big goals, and it seems like they get stalled out for a variety of reasons. And I think the big ones, the stakeholders, I'm so curious, you seem to have done this really successfully a number of times, how do you get stakeholder buy in and, and which stakeholders are you working with in a lot of cases when you're getting these big strategies up and off the ground successfully
Tessa: So I think that there's different levels of stakeholders, holders that are all important for this type of work, because as you mentioned, Ben, this is long term we're talking about. We're not talking about, you know, we can implement something next month. And then at the beginning of next year, it'll be done, these are generally multi-year programs and engagements that, that allow for this level of, of impact. So I think that first having teams and other people within the company who are supporters of you and are really in your corner. So that could be, I mean, if you're a one person shop, right, or you are doing another daytime day job, and you've got the opportunity to write a proposal, say for a social impact program, and maybe it'll become your full-time job that we see that all all the time.
Tessa: I think that figuring out who, what partners, maybe even at your level or one level above could be partners with you in it, not only in the, in the strategic thinking about it and the presentation of it, but also the implementation. So maybe it's a human resources department, or maybe you know, the diversity equity, inclusion teams, employee resource groups, all of them can, can be partners in it. And then, or even companies or departments. You may not think of like, if your corporate real estate program or department runs the sustainability work of the company. Right. and then there's the leadership buy-in piece. And I think that this can either come from the bottom up or the top down, or kind of a mix with, with middle management support, depending on the size of the company. Some people have direct access to the CEO.
Tessa: And in that case, I think spending a lot of time on the proposal, making sure it is data driven and you have business connected clearly in there as to here's the community benefit. And here's the business benefit is, is really critical. If, if you're a few levels away and you're trying to, you know, you might not get to the CEO or you're getting to another senior leader. I think all of those things that I just mentioned are really important. And I think too, having some kind of leader leader sponsor or executive sponsor that can support that you can get that buy in from the beginning and also to help inform how it might show up in the broader way of the company wants to, you know, show up in the community. I think that's really important to that perspective because senior leaders have a different view into the company than a actually every, every level has a different view into the company, right? So I think the stakeholder piece is really critical and that does time take time to build those relationships. And hopefully you can also build on relationships that are already existing.
Ben: I wanna double click on something you said, which is when you're doing that return on investment analysis, right. There's that impact component, but there's also that business component. I think so many times we see people come into this role and rightly so, they're focused on the social impact piece, but it's much easier to get things across the line when you're also showcasing the business benefits as well. Like how does this improve bottom line retention costs so on and so forth. There's so many metrics and we have so much more data today now that we did, you know, in the past 10 years to really convey that O Y P so just for folks listening that that can help a lot with stakeholder engagement across the board.
Andy: I was just gonna say, is there one specific piece of data, like I think a lot we see is, you know, brand strength as well as increased revenue through brand awareness, but we also see a lot around retention and hiring. Yeah. Which one of those buckets is most powerful to these high level stakeholders? Or is it a combination of the two?
Tessa: I think it often depends on where the company is in their development and, and their underlying values. I think that right now, given the exchange of employees across companies, that's happening throughout the world throughout the us and the world, I think that the piece about retention is really important. So I think there's an environmental piece keeping in mind then too, what's going on in the broader environment at the time when you're doing this proposal, the brand piece I believe will, will continue to, to be important because I do think that that companies want to make sure that they are showing up in the way that they want to, right? Like they wanna have control over and input into the narrative that is out there about them. And so I think that, that the, that piece will continue to be important as well. So I think it's a, a combination, a combination of both, and there are other smaller stats too. I think if you kind of search around and dig deep in those reports, there are other pieces too, around inclusion or around sense of belonging that are newer kind of ideas on a broad scale, but that really, really matter to some companies or mental health, even, you know, that, that sense of family orientation and your whole self to work. I think all of those are, are really key things that really matter to some companies.
Andy: Yeah. What are some of the biggest mistakes you see companies make or mistakes that happen prior to bringing you in, or what are things that really concern you when you see companies doing these types of things, trying to build these longer term strategies?
Tessa: Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> one thing I think as much as possible is thinking about critically thinking about the impact that you wanna have and how you're gonna measure that. And building that in from the beginning of the program measurement and that the results and the outcomes are often built sort of in chronological order. So there's often towards the end and I haven't, and I think, I think companies can do this really well. And I've seen this done really well. And so it's, it's not necessarily a reflection on any programs that I have seen, but it's more of a, let's all continue to keep this in mind because it's so important to as much as possible build in the impact, build in the, what are, what are you exactly gonna measure? Is it gonna be how many kids that you're reaching with these new computers in this programming?
Tessa: Is it, is it a reduction in carbon footprint? Is it whatever it is? I think as specific as we can be, that helps us benchmark against the sustainable good development goals against other companies and against kind of what is possible, right? Like what, what could be being done and how are we in including ourselves in that. So I think that that is the major piece that I continue to hope, and this is my nerd side coming out for sure. I continue to hope it continues to like, to build and go in that direction in terms of not only the outputs of this is how many kids we've served, but the outcomes of that, what did that matter? What was the impact on the kids? How were they changed because of this intervention?
Andy: Yeah. Makes ton of sense. You know, one, one other thing I think comes up when we talk to companies is they, they agree with this approach, but their big concern is, Hey, maybe our employees aren't totally bought into our company mission, you know, would it be better to offer a variety of different solutions that maybe are more focused on what they're interested in? You know, maybe they don't care so much about digital equity. They kind of treat this as a job. Maybe they really care about homelessness. Should we offer things like that? So I'd be really curious on how companies handle that and if you've seen data around difference in participation or, or how do you think about that challenge?
Tessa: I'm so glad you brought this up because I think this is a really, really important piece in that employees, particularly now, as we're seeing over the past handful of years, employees wanna give back where they have choice to give back and where they, where they feel drawn to. I think that that's a, that's a core value of volunteerism and giving particularly showing up more. Now that employees will be more present, they will wanna engage more. They will wanna step into leadership roles more in the community if they have that choice. And if they can, for example, nominate their animal welfare, nonprofit for one of these engagements or their kids' school that they really want to wanna see get, you know, a few bucks and a couple more volunteers once a year or something like that. I think that there needs to be both.
Tessa: I think there needs there, it both is the way to do it because some employees will be oriented toward these core causes, which is possibly part of the reason why they work for that particular company. Others will not, and maybe they work in the human resources department or the tech department and their passionate about tech, even though their company is passionate about homelessness or want, or, you know, they're, they, they're showing up in the community as focusing on homelessness. So I think that as much as possible to engage employee voice and, and community voice, by the way too, we haven't really talked about that, but including community voice as well. And these programs is so critical and including, including employee voice in the creation of these programs, even if it's a small committee of just varied team members from, from, from different departments.
Tessa: And then also allowing them allowing particular times of year or particular benefits that that are for employee selected causes. So whether it's one time of year that is focused on that, or, you know, they can give and they'll get their match doubled to any particular cause to any cause that they want things like that. I mean, employees feel more connected and will feel that sense of community with the company, even if in the sense of belonging with the company, even if they're not participating in the long term program, but they're participating. So that's why I think there needs to be both.
Andy: Yeah. Ben, any other good questions? I know we're running up on time here a little bit, and I feel like I've just gotten a download of incredible information. So any questions you have Ben,
Ben: I have like 12 to 16, so we'll book a separate call and have a, have a round two of this, but no, I'm just thinking to your point, Tessa, just about like the balance and how important that is and, and hoping that more companies can do that more successfully. I think Tessa, you're such a wealth of knowledge for us and every time we get on the phone with you, we always learn so much. What're the best ways that folks can get ahold of you to ask you, add on questions to get your advice and take on things. Cuz I think we see a lot of companies trying to get to your point of long term and true impact and that deep impact work, but there's a lot of struggles and every company's a little bit different. Curious if you're open at having folks reach out to you and what's a good way to get ahold of you.
Tessa: Definitely. I love connecting with people. My kind of philosophy around connecting too, is that the whole field is uplifted when we can learn and connect with each other. So my email is open Tessa, Tessa, J edwards.com and my website is under construction, but it will be up soon. So you can check, check me out there or on, on LinkedIn too, but happy to have conversations with folks. I love talking about this stuff so glad always to make new connections and a as much as we can work together to, towards these goals. I think that's, that's the way we make a real difference.
Andy: Yeah. Awesome. Well, we'll include all of that information, the contact information, the website, the email LinkedIn in our show notes here. And Tessa, thank you so much for coming on. It's always great chatting with you and look forward to the next one.
Tessa: Thank you, Andy. Thanks Ben.
Ben: Thanks, Tessa. Appreciate it.

Your Hosts

Andy VandenBerg
Andy VandenBerg is the co-founder and COO of WeHero where he works closely with hundreds of companies to help them reach their social impact goals. Andy speaks actively about the importance of aligning strategy with social responsibility and how companies can pursue both purpose and profit. Andy’s past experience includes private equity and family office investing. If he’s not in front of his computer, you can find him in the Pacific Ocean or Lake Michigan.
Ben Sampson
Ben Sampson is the co-founder and CEO of WeHero where he works closely with hundreds of companies to help them reach their social impact goals. Ben speaks actively about corporate social responsibility, volunteerism, sustainability, and how companies united with activism drive powerful change. Ben’s past experience includes leading product teams, building startups, and studying sustainable business strategy at Harvard. In his free time, he’s an avid outdoor enthusiast focused on skiing, surfing, and mountain biking.

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