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Podcast: The call to care

August 5, 2020
clock 15 MIN READ

In this week’s episode of The Intersection, John Grasso, President of SEI Cares, talks about how community engagement builds a better culture for companies and their employees.

Episode 4: The call to care

In the fourth episode of The Intersection, we’re joined by John Grasso, a member of our Institutional Marketing team and President of SEI Cares.

SEI Cares is our global employee-led group focused on grassroots fundraising and volunteering. This group provides charitable grants to other local 501(c)(3) organizations through the SEI Cares Fund, an employee contribution fund. John sits down with Leslie Wojcik, Head of Global Communications, to talk about the group’s history and mission, and share about some of the work SEI employees have been involved in this year.

Enjoy episode 4.

The organizations we work with are incredible. The work that they do and the passion they bring to that work makes a true difference.


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Megan McCloskey: Hey everyone, I'm Megan McCloskey, and you're listening to the intersection, a podcast that brings you candid conversations with members of our community and leaders in our industry. This week, we're excited to welcome John Grasso a member of our institutional marketing team and president of SEI Cares.

SEI Cares is our global employee lift group focused on grassroots fundraising and volunteering. This group also provides charitable grants to other local 501(c)(3) organizations through the SEI Cares Fund and Employee Contribution Fund. In today's episode, John sits down with Leslie Wojcik. Our head of global communications to discuss everything SEI cares. From the mission and history of the group to the long lasting partnerships with organizations within SEI and the community. Take a listen.

Leslie Wojcik: Thanks for joining us today. Really excited to have you. I know we have a lot to talk about, but I wanted to kick it off by congratulating you and SEI Cares. Last year, SEI was named an outstanding corporation of the year by the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, all for the volunteer efforts of SEI Cares and organized by the organization. So huge congrats to you and the team, that's a huge accomplishment.

John Grasso: Thanks so much, Leslie. Yeah, it was definitely an honor for us to receive that award. We don't do our corporate philanthropy for awards, but it's certainly great to be recognized for giving of our time and with that award, it was something that we were nominated for by one of our charity partners. Two other charity partners had to write letters of support for that nomination. And then a board at the association of fundraising professionals voted on those submissions and chose SEI as the outstanding corporation of the year. So it was a really big honor for us, we were thrilled when we got that news that we had been chosen.

Leslie Wojcik: Well that's definitely certainly something to be proud of John, huge congratulations. So to kick off our conversation today, I was hoping that you could tell our listeners a little bit about how SEI Cares came to be and what the organization's mission is.

John Grasso: Sure, SEI employees wanted to make a statement and respond to the tragedies of September 11, so that is really where SEI Cares got its start. Volunteerism and the introduction of fundraising to the SEI Cares fund enabled our employees to act by helping others through their own philanthropic interest. So we had employees who wanted to give back and the mission of the SEI Cares program is a little different because it really is employee driven, that's the hallmark of the program. As an organization, SEI Cares encourages and supports our community of employees and participating in philanthropic activities. The employees identify charitable causes in which they're passionate about, and we facilitate volunteer events and we solicit for those volunteer events for employees to get involved in. And then through those volunteer events, we also provide grants to these charities that employees are passionate about. And then we have some other kind of awareness events and things where we can have these charity partners come to SEI and share their mission with our employees to just further educate our employees on the great things that these organizations are doing for the community.

Leslie Wojcik: And those employees who support those organizations, we call them champions, right?

John Grasso: That's right. Each of the charity organizations have an employee who's their champion. And the role of the champion is really to be the eyes and ears of the organization inside SEI. The champions are the ones that are rallying your teammates and others to go out and support the organization. So they'll work with the organization, the executive director of the board, whoever they're in contact with at the organization and try to come up with volunteer events and ways that we can support the organization. We'll bring those back to SEI Cares and then SEI Cares we'll work to find employees who are passionate about those same things and want to go out there and help that charity. So it's very important to have a liaison at SEI for each of these organization. It's through that employee's passion for that organization and their mission that the organization winds up getting both volunteer hours and also grants from SEI Cares. Our grant process is not like blindly writing a letter to SEI and soliciting a grant, so that's where the champions play such an important role in developing the relationship between SEI and the charity itself.

Leslie Wojcik: So these champions, given that they're so passionate about these organizations, does it spread throughout our company and gain more participation amongst employees or encourage their involvement in other ways like participating on boards or anything like that?

John Grasso: It does. As the employees get to go and do volunteer events at the organization, and learn a little bit more about the mission of the organization, see it firsthand and actually participate in it. The employees really become passionate about that mission themselves. The may not have known much about the organization or what their policy is really focused on. Once they learn and get to work side-by-side with the organization, they often want to get more involved with the organization and that could be simply attending other events that the organization has, if they do a run, if they do a golf outing, a gala, employees oftentimes will participate in those events outside of SEI. It's not an SEI Cares sponsored initiative or event, it's just something that the employee wants to do to support the organization on their own time. And then we do see sometimes that employees will then join an organizations board and represent the organization. So that's neat to see when employees go from simply volunteering at an event to give back of some of their time to joining a board and then being an advisor to that organization, it's neat to see.

Leslie Wojcik: Yeah, that's certainly amazing to see that type of passion spread throughout our company, amongst the employees. Can you highlight a few of the organizations that we do partner within the community?

John Grasso: Sure, I'll start by discussing some of the five categories of organization that we support, and then I can give you a few examples of what some of the organizations are. We partner with organizations that kind of fall into the buckets of animal rights welfare and services, organizations that just broadly do community services, economically disadvantaged children is a category we support in variety of ways, the environment, and then also health services.

So if you think about the different buckets, animal rights and welfare, there's a Montgomery County SPCA, the Elmwood Park Zoo, these are some organizations that are local to our Oaks office, and that would go out into community and do things with, and that's their mission. You'll have a lot of organizations that support children, whether it's through scholarships or whether it's through camps, like stepping up camps so that during the summer, the students don't slide back academically, there's camps such as that. And the environment, Perkiomen Watershed is a great example. The Perkiomen Watershed runs right behind our Oaks campus and there's many events that we do with Perkiomen Watershed, where we'll go out into that watershed behind us, and we will pull pollution out of that, tires and just all kinds of debris that people have thrown into the watershed, into the creek there. And we'll take that and help clean it and we'll do different tree plantings and things with them. And then the health services, there's an organization that provides free health care in the Phoenixville community called the Clinic and we support them.

So, there's a variety of type of organization and depending on whether an employee is very passionate about animals, children, the broader community, the environment, there's a lot of ways that they can get involved. They can find an organization that aligns with their passions and they can give back to that type of organization.

If there's an organization that they love locally and they don't see it on our list of organizations or that we aren't currently paying attention to maybe, that's what enables employees... that's what's so different about the program is, they can bring that organization into SEI Cares. They can educate the SEI Cares board on what that organization does. They can start setting up volunteer events with that organization and then if employees are out there volunteering with the organization and they have a successful track record of engagement with SEI, they begin to receive grants. And that's how a lot of these organizations started with the SEI Cares program. So that's who we have today and how the program sort of works.

Leslie Wojcik: That's terrific. Philanthropy has that much bigger of an impact when it's a global effort, how does SEI Cares and Oak support our global offices and the groups in London and Toronto?

John Grasso: So the SEI Cares program in the U.S. is sort of like the oldest program. What we wound up doing is when the team in our London office, Canada, and that other satellite offices wanted to give back to the communities in which they work, they mirrored their program after our SEI Cares program. So we had the structure, we have a board, we have bylaws, we have committees, we have all that in place. And so it's easy for an office who wants to replicate what we're doing to kind of follow our best practices. We do, when we have board meetings, we have a member from our London team call into those board meetings and share the activities and the things that they're doing in the London office.

And then we also have the same for our Archway Partners in Indianapolis, a representative calls in and they share with us the things that they're doing. So we get some line of sight, but it's best for them to replicate the program, and then to go about it on their own, because they know what organizations are local to their office that they can give back to. So much of our program is us going out into the community and really working side by side with the organization. And it just makes sense for the London office to do a food bank in close proximity to them or playground that they can work on in close proximity to the office and they can go out there and they can give up their time. And so they identify the organizations they want to work with and use our model and we support them. So it's nice to see that the SEI Cares program has spread globally and that we have representation in all the offices. And people are just as passionate and our other offices about giving back to organizations that are close to them.

Leslie Wojcik: We're four months into this pandemic and recently SEI Cares helped organize fundraising efforts to benefit local food banks. Can you tell us a little bit about that effort and what came out of it?

John Grasso: Sure, well we have a heritage of giving back when there's times of need. And often we called it our catastrophic reaction. It was more geared towards natural disaster, there was Hurricane Katrina, and we did a lot to support that area that had been hit and go down and do some rebuilt trips. When Hurricane Sandy hit the Jersey Shore area, we did rebuild trips, we raised money, and then we brought employees into that area to help do rebuilds. So, we have this catastrophic reaction that we've done, and usually it's a natural disaster event. And you're seeing in the news an area that's in great need and our employees want to do something to help. So they'll donate money, and then sometimes if there is an opportunity to go in and rebuild, we'll donate time and they'll go and they'll help revive that area.

And with COVID-19 and how broad the effects of COVID are, affected everyone, it wasn't just a certain geography. We decided that we needed to do something, we wanted to provide immediate relief to people who would be hit artists. And we thought food insecurity was a great way to kind of tackle the immediate impact of what people were facing with the COVID crisis.

So, what we did was we did an appeal to the employees to say, we know people are struggling in this time and this crisis has hit people hard and we want to give back. If there's a food bank local to you and you want to give to them, SEI Cares will match it and the company also offered to match our match. So what essentially it worked out to be as if an employee gave $10, SEI Cares would give $10, that would be 20 and then the company would match that 20 and the organization would wind up getting $40 in total. That was great, it was very... people were very thankful of the generosity of the company and SEI Cares to help make their dollar worth more to these organizations. And we didn't really put much guardrails around that. We had them choose the organizations that were in their community that they cared about because they wanted their dollar to affect their neighbors.

We did provide some organizations that we knew of, or we already worked with through SEI Cares, that were partners of ours that do provide food bank services. But we allowed employees to donate to who they chose to. And what we saw was over 40 different organizations were selected by employees or money was given to more than 40 different organizations and that money was matched by SEI Cares and SEI. So it amounted to about $200,000 of support to local food banks and so that was a great initiative. Our employees, they actually exceeded our expectations, because initially we set our match at 25,000 and we had to increase that because the response was overwhelming and the generosity was great.

Leslie Wojcik: Well it's certainly a beautiful thing to help so many people during what's been a really tough time for a lot of families. When you look at all the work that SEI cares has done globally, what's your key takeaway from that? What have you learned?

John Grasso: What I learned is that employees of SEI are very generous, both with their time, with their money, with their passion. We support so many different types of organizations.

The organizations themselves, they're just incredible, the work that they do, the passion that they bring to that work, really makes it sure different. And so we're just enabling them to do something that they're already doing. We're just providing them a little bit of support. But they do amazing things for our community and that's what's great about the program is we keep it local. We support organizations in our own community, so these are our neighbors, these are our kids classmates, and that's what is so nice about the program is we see it benefit the communities in which we all live and we work.

These organizations do truly amazing things and because we're there volunteering, because we're there checking in with them, because they come to SEI and share their mission with our employees, we get to see our dollars at work. We get great line of sight into the things that they're doing. We've provided donations to organizations and then when we show back up there, we see a new barn that they put on for animals. We see, a couple additional dogs that they were able to train to be service dogs, because our dollars allowed them to do that. So it's amazing to see the impact that they're making and that we're helping them make.

Leslie Wojcik: Yeah, I think you can put dollars towards that and it means a lot, but the time and the personal investment, I think that's priceless and seeing the impact is huge. We're going to get a little bit personal now, so this is kind of a speed round we'd like to call it this or that. You get two options for every question, you've got to pick one, are you ready?

John Grasso: I'm ready.

Leslie Wojcik: Let's start, breakfast or dinner?

John Grasso: Breakfast

Leslie Wojcik: Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?

John Grasso: Starbucks.

Leslie Wojcik: Comedy or drama?

John Grasso: Comedy.

Leslie Wojcik: Fruits or veggies?

John Grasso: Fruits, probably dipped in chocolate.

Leslie Wojcik: That's a good one. I like them in chocolate too. Not so much the veggies though, but I can do the fruit. Last one, movie or concert?

John Grasso: I'll go movie.

Leslie Wojcik: It's hard to imagine going to a concert these days, right? Sure do miss that. Well John thanks again for joining us today. It was definitely... I know that our listeners, whether it's employees, community partners, clients they're going to learn a lot about SEI Cares and all the great work that you and the team does, and our employees do in the community. Personally, I'm honored to work with you. You're inspirational and motivational. I've learned a lot in our time together, working together about the great things that we're doing and I think it's great to keep getting employees involved in what we're doing in the community.

John Grasso: Thanks so much Leslie, it was my pleasure.

Megan McCloskey: Thanks for joining us again. Stay tuned for more conversations with members of our community. Until next time stay well and of course we hope you'll meet us back at The Intersection soon.

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