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Employee-Inspired Giving: A Conversation with Laura Coy and Paige LaCour of William Blair

Chicago-based global investment banking and wealth management firm William Blair gives back through grants, sponsorships, employee matching gifts, volunteering and nonprofit board development. And, just last year, the firm donated $3.5 million to more than 900 charities. Director of Philanthropy Strategy Laura Coy and Senior Philanthropy Strategy Associate Paige LaCour recently joined Greater Horizons’ Corporate Services Specialist NaTika Rowles to discuss their corporate giving and how they’ve pivoted their philanthropy strategy in the last year.

Listen to NaTika, Laura and Paige’s conversation online, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. A transcription of this episode can be found below.

All episodes of the Grow Your Giving podcast can be found at greaterhorizons.org/podcast.

Authored by: Ashley Hawkins, Content Specialist


Episode Transcription

Introduction:
Welcome to The Grow Your Giving podcast, powered by the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and our national entity Greater Horizons. We aim to make giving convenient and efficient for our donors through donor-advised funds and other charitable giving tools. The Grow Your Giving podcast, discusses philanthropic topics to help you enjoy giving more. Find us online at greaterhorizons.org.

NaTika Rowles:
Hello, I’m NaTika Rowles, today’s host for this episode of The Grow Your Giving podcast. I currently work as the Corporate Services Specialist at Greater Horizons. In my role as Corporate Services Secialist, I get to help companies across the country achieve their charitable goals. Today, I’m thrilled to have two guests join me on the podcast from William Blair. William Blair is a Chicago-based investment banking and wealth management firm. Director of Philanthropy Strategy, Laura Coy and Senior Philanthropy Strategy Associate, Paige LaCour are here with me today, virtually. William Blair has always been committed to civic responsibility since its founding in 1935. And in just 2020 alone, the firm gave more than $3.5 million to over 900 charities. I’m excited for you to hear about how they give back and how the firm leaned further into its philanthropic efforts over the last year. Welcome to the podcast, Laura and Paige.

Laura Coy:
We are happy to be here and proud to be a part of this podcast, NaTika, thanks for having us.

Paige LaCour:
Thank you very much for having us, very thrilled to be here.

NaTika Rowles:
Awesome. Let’s just start our conversation. Can you give us a high-level overview of William Blair’s philanthropic efforts and what that looks like in the day-to-day lives of your employees?

Laura Coy:
Absolutely. Well, I think what you alluded to so nicely was just how philanthropy has been part of our culture since its founding, 85 years ago. It’s a value that was proudly instilled upon us from our founders and that we carry on today. It’s part of our mission. So the mission of William Blair is to engage in our communities, to empower colleagues and to deliver client success. And from that mission, it really transcends into our employees and how they engage. I think what’s interesting about our programs is that a hundred percent of our philanthropy is somehow employee-inspired. So it truly is the activation and engagement of our employees that fuels our philanthropy. The mission of the William Blair & Company Foundation is to inspire the next generation of philanthropists, which is why our partnership with Greater Horizons is so important because having the infrastructure of matching is really the impetus for our philanthropic programs.

Laura Coy:
So to your question around what this looks like on a day-to-day basis for our employees, we’ve tried to create programs that meet our employees, where they’re at, and then helps them take their philanthropic journey to the next level. So that could be something as simple as offering a paid day off to volunteer, to adding to that, Dollars for Doers our volunteer grant program, helping our employees find and serve on nonprofit boards. We have an additional match for employees who serve on boards. And then every two years we have a global competitive grants program through which we invest very significant capital, human capital, financial capital dollars into organizations that our employees have been engaged with. So on the day-to-day lives of our employees, Paige and I are really here to support our employee pursuits. We’re very proud. We’ll talk a little bit about last year and both the challenges and opportunities that our culture and communities face, but we were able to achieve a 54% participation from our employees in our match programs. So to me, that’s a good sign that it is part of our day-to-day culture and their experience at William Blair.

NaTika Rowles:
Yeah. And it’s amazing. Your participation rate is extremely huge in this area. I’m really wanting to know a little bit about the day-to-day of your employees. Last year in 2020, as we noted before, you gave over $3.5 million to 900 charities, how has your philanthropic strategy shifted in the last year? And can you share a bit about your broader philanthropic roles?

Paige LaCour:
I’m happy to speak to that NaTika. As Laura mentioned, 100% of our charitable contributions are funded by our employees and inspired by our employees. And so what that means is our funding follows our employees and where they are giving, we are here to increase the impact of their contributions and support. And so last year, when many of the organizations that we had typically sponsored events or galas, tables, that sort of thing, when COVID hit and those events were canceled, we immediately unrestricted all of our grant dollars to ensure that those organizations were still receiving the funding that they more desperately needed last year than perhaps they had anticipated at any other year before. We also pivoted a few of our internal volunteer programs to become more inclusive of the environment that we were in. So we offer a volunteer paid day off program where every employee gets one day a year to go volunteer in their community.

Paige LaCour:
We included virtual volunteerism options in that last year, and that will be an ongoing component going forward. What I would say, as far as the broader philanthropy goal is to really create that catalytic capital and the impact for the organizations in which we support. And so if that looks more like funding for healthcare and human services, last year, as you can imagine, most of the employee donations that we saw a significant uptake in, did provide funding for healthcare and human services. And so a lot of our foundation and firm Dollars went to support that as well, which means that shifts the focus area of William Blair’s philanthropy a little bit, but we are nimble and agile in that, because as we said, we want to follow where our employees, they’re going. And so if they’re inspired to support a particular type of cause whether that’s food insecurity, healthcare needs in under-resourced populations, et cetera, then we’re here to increase that impact.

Laura Coy:
Yeah. And I think a lot of companies last year, we’re literally about 12 months from those phone calls when employees are calling, your executives are calling, what do we do? How do we do it? I think what was special was that we had the infrastructure in place to really do what Paige is talking about, to catalyze giving through the programs that we have in the match. Some of the terminology that we’ve been using this past year beyond just pivot has been place-based philanthropy, has been trust-based philanthropy. And I think that just to get under those terms a little bit, place-based was so important during COVID. So we had some broad programs to support COVID relief, but we also made sure that each of our offices had funds to support their local community. They wanted to support their food bank. They wanted to support the children in their communities that didn’t have access to computers when it was time to participate in virtual education.

Laura Coy:
So what was interesting was to see, while we are a global company and we have offices across the world, that place-based thing, it really resonated with our employees, that have shifted a bit to not just think of ourselves as grant makers, to organizations that are making global scale change, that place-based was really vital. And then I think the other piece of that on the trust-based Paige touched upon is just unrestricting those dollars and letting those organizations know that we’re here for them this year and next year and beyond. A lot of non-profit fiscal years end at June 30 and start in July 1, very different than a calendar year for a lot of companies that do our budgeting process per calendar year. So it was interesting to really see how some of those trends transcended into actual deployment of capital last year. And it makes us think more broadly about those themes and how they’re going to influence our philanthropy this year and beyond.

NaTika Rowles:
Yeah. I was very privileged to be a part of that when those pivots came about and being able to just help you with the platform to do that for the employees. So the other uptake that we did see with William Blair that was so exciting was the focus not only on COVID response and relief, but racial equity and social justice. And a question for you right now is in those areas that you’ve had to pivot last year, can you tell us about how you plan to sustain your commitment to the work of racial equity or to the work of COVID relief and response and to the work of food insecurity?

Laura Coy:
Yeah. And I’ll let Paige talk about a few of those initiatives, because I think as you build those programs, you have to think very much about the programs and the partnerships, as well as the investments, that they’re not just one time. But the other thing I would just say too, NaTika, part of this was, we tend to think of ourselves as grant makers and as enablers of grant making. But I think what really struck me last year was that we’re also fundraisers. So we can have a matching gift program and we can support one employee utilizing that matching gift program. But we can also hold that up as an example to others who might want to join with and support the same type of causes and to fundraise from others to participate. So I just share that little nugget, because I do think sometimes we tend to get a bit transactional in the types of work that we do in response, but we are empowered to also fundraise and we’re empowered to lift up our employees who are doing great things to get others inspired.

Laura Coy:
And just to kick that off, and I’ll kick it over to Paige, but we had some leaders step up at the beginning of the issues around social justice, inspired by George Floyd’s death and said, “I want to give, I’m going to make a donation of $50,000 to the NAACP. I’m going to make a donation of $50,000 to the YWCA. I’m going to make a donation of $25,000 to a Southside of Chicago male mentoring organization. And let’s use that as an opportunity to raise more money and challenge our employees.” And it was just really rewarding and inspiring to see that again, we’re not just grant makers, that we’re fundraisers and can make collective impact.

Paige LaCour:
I would say that one of the primary ways, which William Blair commits to our sustainability of racial equity in the work that we’re doing would be through our signature community partners program. So every two years employees have the ability to nominate organizations in all of our offices, for us to significantly partner with, through volunteerism and grant making over the coming two years. Right now we have partnerships in Chicago, just as an example with an organization called the Greenwood Project, which works to get Black and Latinx youth into the financial services industry. And so creating that pipeline of talent for students that can eventually become employees of William Blair, or really helping them build their own financial acumen and building blocks for their own personal financial literacy. So perhaps they, one day, could be a client of William Blair’s is, I think, one of the ways that we look at the sustainability of our racial equity work.

Paige LaCour:
We also partner very closely with our employee-led business resource groups. Each of our business resource groups work with us to provide community engagement funding to the organizations that are important and vital to their constituents. As an example, we have partnered with the YWCA Until Justice Just Is campaign, all of the resource groups that are collaborating together on that initiative to raise awareness about how we can educate ourselves and others to take a stand against racism, and also take the pledge against racism. And trying to create actionable items for our colleagues to carry this work forward into the future.

NaTika Rowles:
Thank you, Paige and Laura, I really enjoy listening to how you say that sometimes this can be transactional and that you are in definite proximity with those organizations that you are funding. So we see that William Blair has done a great job at pivoting and listening to the community and what the needs are. We’re interested in knowing how you engage employees and at the same time, how do you accomplish those goals and how they align with your mission for the business?

Laura Coy:
It’s a great question NaTika. I think there’s a couple of interesting components to that. One is, we’re a professional services firm, in the financial services realm. Our people are everything to us. This is a relational business and therefore making sure and providing opportunities that our employees are engaged, this last year in particular, in a virtual setting, areas that we hadn’t talked about yet, but we had to pivot were in volunteerism. Volunteerism is a great source of individual fulfillment, but a lot of times employees are volunteering for comradery to meet people in different departments that they haven’t had a chance to interact with, or wouldn’t in a normal setting. So for us, I think the business goal is to have a differentiating experience at William Blair, engaging in the community that you’re not going to get at another organization.

Laura Coy:
And then through that, also have our employees bring what they’re good at doing. We call it doing good with what you’re good at doing. So some of the areas this past year that we also pivoted in our engagement with charities was an organization that perhaps we would have just written a check to support a program, we found ourselves providing coaching and mentoring to youth who were looking at pursuing different types of careers. Hosting career days, starting and initiating mentoring programs with our nonprofit partners and hosting virtual financial literacy sessions to help teams and their families think through everything from how to secure financial aid for college, to opening up checking accounts, to saving for retirement and investing in the market. So that’s a direct extension of who we are as a business. And really the silver lining, I think, was challenging ourselves to come up with ways that we could engage virtually and add value to audiences and organizations that we care about to get through these times.

Laura Coy:
And a couple of donations I’m particularly proud of, Paige, you mentioned the YWCA, Until Justice Just Is initiative, which isn’t just an initiative and that’s not just a grant. That’s a commitment. That is a commitment that we want everyone at our firm to subscribe to and all of the resources for workplace and individual training and commitment to anti-racism. The other one was an investment in 1871, which is a local entrepreneurship incubator to launch their Black accelerator program. Which is a program that’s going to bring Black entrepreneurs into the marketplace through an intense educational and mentoring program. So to me, that tied directly into our corporate finance expertise, then helping companies raise venture capital and series funding as well as help us to solve some various systemic social issues. So that’s a huge tie to our business, both as to how we deploy our human capital with what we’re good at doing and how quite honestly we invest in the future customer that we want to see in the marketplace through our expertise in a very significant focus on Black and Brown communities.

Paige LaCour:
And I would just piggyback off of that to speak directly to the employee engagement and how that supports our philanthropic goals. I would say each of our programs have a direct correlation to those goals. As Laura mentioned earlier, the mission of the William Blair Foundation is to inspire the next generation of philanthropists in the communities where we live and work. And so all of our programs do that. The employee match program enables employees to support the organizations with which they support financially and enable the William Blair match, the board match program, we literally place people on boards and then have the financial component there and the volunteer paid day off and the Dollars for Doers programs. Those actually offer tangible incentives to employees who might not have the financial ability to make a contribution. And so wherever the employee is, we want to meet them to ensure that we’re giving them all the tools they need create a philanthropic future that they can be proud of.

NaTika Rowles:
Thank you, ladies. Well, you talked a lot about volunteering as well, and April is volunteer month, national volunteer month. Can you tell us how your employees are plugged into the communities by volunteering and what plans you have for April?

Paige LaCour:
Absolutely. We are always very excited every April. This year is similar to last year and that we’re still working in a virtual environment, but we have a lot to celebrate. We will be hosting a number of internal opportunities to engage our employees. We will be having a get on board with nonprofit board panel, hosted by employees who serve on leadership boards around the world. Where employees can come and learn a little bit more about the personal and professional benefits of board leadership and engagement, how they can get a little bit more plugged in, and also how William Blair can support their efforts. We will be having breakout meetings in that session where employees can take a deeper dive into topics surrounding it, things like international engagement and board opportunities, or how do you even know how to get started? And if someone’s just thinking about joining a board, what would be their next steps?

Paige LaCour:
We are also hosting global volunteer opportunities in all of our offices. The London team is partnering with Ronald McDonald House to host a house-to-house walking challenge, where employees can virtually walk all throughout Europe and tour different Ronald McDonald House locations. We have plans with our Frankfurt and Zurich offices to support the Swiss Red Cross through a English to German translation task. We have champions in many of our global offices who will be leading similar opportunities that anyone can participate in since we are still in that global environment. We are also hosting a global financial literacy planning session for our youth-based education partners. So we have about 25 education-based organizations that we partner with that serve high school students. We will be providing them with an in-depth look from a few of our private wealth advisors on topics that Laura mentioned earlier, everything from creating their own checking and savings account, to thinking about scholarships, learning about initial investment strategies and thinking about their own retirement strategies.

Paige LaCour:
So we are very excited to have those students join us for that session. We will be recording that and sharing with them after the fact as well. So they can take that information and learn from it as much as they would like, as long as they need to. We will also be implementing our Dollars for Doers program. We’ll be doing a very large launch with that. NaTika as you know, you’ve been helping me build out that program. Greater Horizons has been a fantastic thought partner on all of the additional programs that we’ve been creating. And lastly, speaking of that, we are re-initiating our charitable payroll deduction program where employees can opt-in for open enrollment for that as well. And so through the partnership that we’ve had with Greater Horizons, we’ve been able to expand the offerings to our employees, and I think really provide a holistic approach to how our employees can support the communities in which they live.

NaTika Rowles:
Thank you, Paige.

Laura Coy:
And Paige will be taking the month of May off.

Paige LaCour:
No, we launch our community partners nomination in May, we’re very excited about that.

NaTika Rowles:
It would be well-deserved. As I listened to you talk about volunteer month in April, I’m getting excited and you’ve, as I’ve been working with William Blair throughout the years, I’ve known that you maximize on opportunities to increase giving and increase volunteerism within your employees. And one of those opportunities is through Giving Tuesday. And I just, I get excited about your giving Tuesday program on the back end. So I would really like you to talk a little bit about not only your Giving Tuesday program, but you also had a social media match. And I think the listeners would want to hear about that as well.

Paige LaCour:
Absolutely. So the Giving Tuesday initiative, obviously Giving Tuesday is a large day in the philanthropic community, supporting our nonprofit partners. What we have done is expand the idea of a one day Giving Tuesday to a, what has I think evolved into almost a month-long campaign now, Laura. So essentially employees who make a donation to a charity during the month that we run the program, if they make the donation and then submit for the employee match, they are eligible for an additional $50 to every donation on top of that one-to-one match. And so that’s an automatic increase to their contribution. And at this point, we have been running the campaign for so long that employees know it’s coming and get very excited about it. And it maybe even hold off on some of their annual giving until they know that they can have a larger impact with it.

Paige LaCour:
And so that program has been extremely successful. And you mentioned the charity challenge is what we call it, the hashtag charity challenge last year. So 2020 was William Blair’s, 85th anniversary and our mission, vision, values group, which is a group of internal employees who help drive the employee experience, came together and really wanted to find a way to support our global community partners through some kind of social media challenge. And so what we did is we created a post to be shared on William Blair’s, LinkedIn channel, basically celebrating our global community partners. And we encouraged each employee to share that post and then tag one of our prior or current community partners. Every organization that was tagged by an employee received an $85 grant automatically from the William Blair Foundation, which NaTika as you know, you and your team made very easy on the back end for us.

Paige LaCour:
And that resulted in some very significant funding for a few of our, and particularly a few of our smaller community partners. I can think of one organization in Atlanta who received about $5,000 from the posts that were shared, and that was transformational to them because that’s a very large grant to that organization. And so that program and that initiative, the charity challenge was really unique in that employees didn’t have to contribute to that. So all they had to do was share a post on LinkedIn, engage a little bit on social media. And then we were able to raise awareness and a profile of the organization they were supporting in that global capacity and we were also able to provide that additional funding. And so that was something that not only employees, they really enjoyed, but all of our community partners that were involved, thought was a really innovative campaign. And we’re thrilled to be the recipient of.

NaTika Rowles:
That’s awesome. This is a great segue into some terminology that Laura used at our recent Corporate Giving Network event for corporate charitable givers. And I’m going to ask that you tell us a little bit about the four Ts. You talked about this concept, and I was hoping that you could share a little bit for our listeners.

Laura Coy:
Yeah, absolutely time, talent, treasure, and testimony, tend to be the alliteration of Ts that we try to really focus on to help our employees know a few things. One is, it’s not just about the money that you give, which is where the Dollars for Doers programs that we’re initiating with Greater Horizons comes in, that we value people’s time. And now more than ever, time is so valuable. Talent is to some extent, some of that skills-based conversation that we have, what are your talents and how do you authentically and creatively bring them to bear when you’re thinking about philanthropy? It could be something as simple as helping an organization think about their budgeting forecast process because you’re in the financial services realm, to if you’re good at marketing or communications, thinking about how an organization extends their presence and brand. Treasure, of course, is the monetary investments that fuel organizations, that we know that are very important. And how can that treasure be optimized and invested really efficiently and effectively.

Laura Coy:
And then testimony is the newer T, I would say, as we started talking about it a couple of years ago, somewhat related to millennials and social media and this activation that is happening in being an ambassador and an advocate for social causes. And I think we’ve continued to see that escalate as testimony is a very important part of bringing to light what’s happening in this world, whether that be an injustice or representing an up-and-coming nonprofit or charity. And to that extent, I’ll just dovetail a little bit on Paige’s point around that, the campaigns, we’re trying to use testimony a little bit more to lift up the organizations that we care about so that the charity challenge was a great example, but even for women’s history month, this month, if you follow hashtag WB cares, we have a hashtag that captures our community engagement initiatives.

Laura Coy:
We actually did a retrospect for women who serve on nonprofit boards. And we celebrated them, but we also gave women a script to share on social media to give testimony to the experiences that they have, leading nonprofit boards and helping nonprofit boards become more diverse themselves, as well as the charities, organizations and programs to become more diverse. So time, talent, treasure, and testimony are good I think foundational elements of how we can talk about really making a difference.

NaTika Rowles:
Awesome. That’s very encouraging. That stuck out to me when I heard you say it, I’m writing it down because these are… The thing about William Blair that I see is that these are things that not only as donors and folks on my end, but everybody can use these techniques. Everybody can use these goals. So thank you for sharing that. Well, it’s obvious that we can see how William Blair has been so successful in your charitable giving throughout the year. And I’m excited for 2021. I’ve got a sneak peek at your goals.

Laura Coy:
We’re excited too.

NaTika Rowles:
So, I am excited. What else would you want to share about William Blair’s philanthropy efforts?

Laura Coy:
Yeah, I mean, I think we’re always going to push ourselves. I mean, I think the greatest form of competition is self competition, like how do we drive ourselves? How do we set those goals? How do we look at reporting and utilizing data in a way that we can encourage participation, foster healthy competition. We benchmark, we really do. So we do take a look at where our peers are relative to the participation in matching gift program, how much they’re giving as a percentage of revenue or per tax net income. And we’ve got an appetite to exceed those benchmarks and to be in the upper most tier. And that is a really rewarding place to be and a pace to work in. But I think it’s healthy to have a goal and an aspiration for each year, not even just getting more volume, but more creative and more substantive and more feedback. And engaging people who have been at the firm for several decades, as well as our new aspiring leaders who are just walking in for the first time.

Laura Coy:
So we’re excited and we’re going to continue to drive ourselves to be the best and to work with partners like you to make a difference.

NaTika Rowles:
Thank you Laura. Thank you Paige. Thank you both for joining us on today’s episode of the podcast, our team is so proud to support William Blair’s corporate giving. And we’re just in awe of everything that you do, it’s amazing to see companies like yours, walking the walk, inspiring its employees to make a difference in their community. So thank you. Thank you again.

Laura Coy:
Thank you for the partnership.

Paige LaCour:
Thank you. It’s an honor to work with you and we’re excited to see what we can do together next.

NaTika Rowles:
Yes, I am too.

Conclusion:
To hear more from The Grow Your Giving podcast, visit us online at greaterhorizons.org/podcast. Thank you for listening.