Earlier this summer Excella Consulting was recognized at the Apollo Awards for their incredible commitment to community service, winning the Harmonia Award. We had the opportunity to talk to Co-Founder and Partner, Burton White who shared just exactly how his team developed their award winning, high-impact community investment program, ImpaX.
Helios: What’s your leadership story? How did you decide what your leadership style would be?
Burton: Throughout my career, I have been privileged to work with a lot of really great people who have inspired me. However, the way my parents raised me has probably influenced my leadership style more than anyone else. My dad was a psychiatrist and understood that there was usually more to a story than what is on the surface. He taught me to ask a lot of questions to see what’s really going on and get a better understanding of where people are coming from. My mother was, and still is, incredibly strong in the community. She was constantly volunteering, running off to a board meeting, finding ways to give back. My sisters and I all saw her doing this growing up and she’s instilled that community engagement should always be a big part of our lives.
Helios: Tell us about your partnership with Homestretch and how you engage your employees in giving back.
Burton: I’ve always felt that community involvement should be a part of every organization. In the early days, Excella did light community service activities such as walk-a-thons, raised money for disasters, collected for drives… I’m glad that we did it, but it certainly wasn’t inspiring nor did it create any type of accomplishment at Excella. I was determined to create a program that would have a lot of impact. I wanted it to be a great learning experience for Excellians and make a huge impact on the community.
About 5 years ago, Excella decided to redefine what our CSR program would be and the end result was ImpaX. During the development of ImpaX, we worked with what used to be known as Greater DC Cares, to define our program and they really enlightened us on the kind of value and impact a company could have. They really emphasized employee engagement and shared input on best practices.
We then went to our team of Excellians and asked what causes they care about, what skills they want to use, to narrow our focus to one primary CSR initiative. In doing so, we realized that the one organization we would choose to support would need to be extraordinary.
Homestretch was the ideal match for us because they were (and still are) a remarkable organization that would do great things with our investment. It’s a more diverse cause than just homelessness; Homestretch also focuses on health, education, family dynamics, women’s issues and children’s issues. With this wide range of services, Homestretch gave Excellians many different opportunities to engage such as fixing up an apartment that’s going to have a Homestretch family moving in, tutoring to help their clients receive their GED, programs for kids, and consulting help in improving their information technology system. So we really have the opportunity to help them with everything from getting our hands dirty, to helping with their programs to pro bono consulting.
By focusing on one organization, we see extremely valuable impact. The more we see, the more we all want to do more. It’s a cycle of goodness. The other great thing about it is that Homestretch is learning more about Excella and we are learning more about Homestretch. Learning about each other helps us improve the program and increases our impact. For example, there have been occasions when we’ve done events with Homestretch and the results were just ok. Maybe there wasn’t enough work for Excellians to do or it simply wasn’t inspiring enough. Because of our relationship with Homestretch, we were able to work together to come up something more powerful the next time. A great example of this was the idea to put on a carnival with the Homestretch families. This has become the annual eXtravaganza and it’s gotten better and better every year. If we worked with multiple organizations, we wouldn’t have known each other well enough to learn and improve the program over time.
We truly have a culture of employee engagement which may distinguish our company more than anything. We are very much a bottom up culture. It is the coolest thing, how Excellians come up with ideas on how they want to contribute. They bring their creativity and passion to what we do and how we do it. From improving our services, to identifying fun activities we do together, all of the programs are driven by Excellians. That’s especially true with ImpaX. There are so many examples of Excellians bringing their passion and creativity to the program. One of our employees is a great piano player and wanted to teach piano lessons to the children of Homestretch, another Excellian wanted to do a summer program, and one wanted to become a program manager to hone those skills. Often times we are able to connect somebody’s passion with Homestretch’s need, to make something really impactful and inspiring.
Helios: What advice do you have for other organizations looking to implement a CSR program?
Burton: To focus. For the size that we are, it made sense for Excella to focus on one organization. Larger organizations could maybe focus on a cause or a region. Having a focus that everyone can rally around will make the biggest impact. Another thing we learned along the way is that your community investment program is meant to have certain benefits and should provide value to you too. The programs that are aligned to the strategic vision of the organization are the most successful and most impactful internally. It will also be more sustainable over the long term. Be clear about the particular benefits that your organization wants and design the program to get them. When you get those benefits, you will also be giving huge benefits on the community.
I’d like to see more companies be more deliberate about their community investment. I welcome the opportunity to talk to other leaders to share our experience doing so.
Interested in learning more? Join us on Wednesday, August 21st to hear fellow Excellian Jeff Gallimore, Co-Founder & Partner share their employee development and engagement practices at our Apollo Workshop: Learning to Create a Competitive Advantage.