Conventional wisdom says for-profit employees work for paychecks, and nonprofit employees want to make a difference.
Two Atlanta companies have turned that wisdom on its head. They made philanthropy a part of their business model and found it has paid off.
Above the shops of Ponce City Market are the offices of MailChimp. Its business is helping companies email customers more effectively, but it also has a mission. MailChimp donates money to dozens of nonprofit organizations each year, and it lets workers volunteer for nonprofits while on the clock.
The company commissioned local artists to decorate its office, so just off the elevator is a Tiny Doors ATL display in MailChimp's foyer. Around the corner is a pillar Atlanta's Knitterati group has decorated with yarn. A mural covers the wall behind the front desk.
MailChimp employee Chimére Faison Barnard says MailChimp's collaboration with nonprofits is part of why she loves her job.
“When you bring yourself to work and you bring your talent to work, you're bringing a piece of yourself,” Faison Barnard explains. “When your company is encouraging you to share that piece of yourself outside of the company? I have no plans of going anywhere."
She says MailChimp lets her tutor and serve as a mentor at a local elementary school.
MailChimp needs to keep employees like Faison Barnard happy. It competes with Silicon Valley for workers, and it has to hire a lot of people to keep up with its own growth. The company has increased its staff by more than 50 percent each of the last two years. It helps that MailChimp employees stick around. Its turnover rate is only about a third of the national average.
Nonprofit Work Pays Off
Glowing recruitment and retention numbers can mean money, says Tom Smith of Emory's Goizueta Business School. He says it might seem counterintuitive that a for-profit company spends so much energy on nonprofit work, but for MailChimp, he says, it's a great business strategy.
“Companies spend so much of their resources trying to attract talent and trying to keep talent,” he says.
Smith also says employees who like their jobs can be more productive, and, "if you can make your workers more productive by engaging in nonprofit works that makes them more attracted to your company, then basically you've won."
Another Atlanta company that has "won" in this regard is the marketing firm BARK BARK.
The company actually has an office dog named George, but Bark Bark needs more than the terrier's charms to attract staff who might otherwise work in larger cities.
Founder Brian Tolleson says, each year, the company does a pro bono project. For instance, it developed an augmented reality app for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Tolleson says the chance to give back draws workers to the company: “For employees, I think, what motivates them in our work with nonprofits is just that we stand for something."
He says charitable projects also help staff to be creative. When the High Museum of Art hosted a traveling exhibit of Vermeer's famous "Girl with a Pearl Earring" painting, BARK BARK produced a television ad to promote it. It envisioned the girl as a modern celebrity, dashing through Atlanta to avoid admirers and paparazzi. That ad won BARK BARK an award and new businesses.
"At that award show, a client came up to us and said, 'Oh, I saw what you did. We'd love to work with you on something very similar to that,'" Tolleson says.
BARK BARK now has so much business, it's doubling the size of its office space. It's also increasing its staff, so its ability to attract workers should come in handy.
A note of disclosure: MailChimp is a WABE underwriter.