This summer I received an amazing email. Earlene Tang, Account Director for Edelman, a global PR firm, wrote me to ask if the Shoebox Project for Shelters would be interested in being one of their partners in its corporate social responsibility program called the "Little Give."
Inspired by Oprah Winfrey's Big Give, Edelman executives in their Vancouver office inaugurated their Little Give four years ago. For a period of 48 hours, their company divides its employees into teams -- each staffed at all levels from interns to the most senior executives -- partners each team with a charity or non-profit and then tasks the group with helping its partner resolve one or a few of its organization's challenges. Edelman provides seed money to the organization and each team dedicates two days of its time, expertise and corporate rolodex to help overcome the challenge(s) presented to it.
Would we be interested in being part of the Little Give? I wondered, does anyone ever turn this down? Of course we want to be part of it! I was beyond thrilled. Earlene's email could not have come at a better time for the Shoebox Project.
Last year, I posted my first blog on the Huffington Post. It was a great opportunity for the Shoebox Project to expand its reach and tell people that women in shelters are often forgotten during the holidays and that a small gesture, such as filling a shoebox with little luxuries that is then delivered to a shelter, can bring happiness. At the time, we were running a holiday drive in Toronto for the second year and we had hopes to reach more than four shelters. We had just recently partnered with the team in Montreal that had coordinated the original shoebox project and we hoped to get people in both communities to make contributions to our respective drives.
By noon on the day I posted the blog, a woman in Vancouver wrote to me to ask if she could start a Shoebox Project in her city. From there, we grew with more volunteer coordinators setting up local drives in Moncton, Halifax, Calgary and in many communities in Ontario. Large companies like Holt Renfew and Dundee Realty invited their employees, as part of their own corporate social responsibility initiatives, to participate in the Shoebox Project and donate gifts in their communities. The result? By Christmas, we delivered 2,700 gift boxes to 2,700 women in 10 cities across the country.
We have not stopped growing since then. As we prepare for this year's holiday drive, we already had drives in 2013 in honour of Valentines Day, Mother's Day and Nelson Mandela Day and we have 18 locations preparing for this year's holiday season.
For the organizers of the Shoebox Project, it is a more than a dream come true. We certainly had not expected such amazing growth. We hope that we will be able to deliver gifts to even more women this year and to raise awareness about shelters in our communities at the same time.
Managing this incredible growth did pose a significant challenge for our organization, however, as we are still a very small grass-roots initiative.
Enter Edelman and the Little Give.
Edelman's Toronto office chose to focus on poverty and on women this year. The other lucky Little Give Partners were Dress for Success, Sistering, Children's Book Bank, Toronto Community Hostel, Homes First, Margaret's, Furniture Bank and Blessings in a Backpack. We were in great company - these amazing organizations provide a range of services from shelter, food and other essentials of life, to counseling, books, and, in our case, gifts to those in shelters.
At the end of the 48 hours, we gathered at the Beer Academy in Toronto and watched the various teams present their work product to the partners, their colleagues and a panel of three judges there to pick a winner. Every single presentation was incredible. Edelman employees did not stop working for 48 hours and did everything from raise funds on the street to reach out to clients for sponsorships and other support, to planning events and devising media strategies. Dress for Success won the challenge -- their team did an HGTV makeover on their storefront and change rooms (mobilizing friends and family in the process) and also scanned hundreds of pages of spreadsheets and data and created essential computer databases for the organization.
Our team may not have won but they hit it out of the park for the Shoebox Project. We received the benefit of their expertise in how to manage all aspects of our exceptional growth and how to use and leverage social media within our existing network. They even packaged their work in shoeboxes for us. Edelman also reached out to their clients, Rexall and Unilever, who will contribute products to our shoeboxes. The team even created a video for us to help tell our story. You can watch it here.
Lisa Kimel at Edelman hopes that other companies will start similar corporate giveback programs. "It means so much to Edelman employees as individuals and the company on the whole and I wholeheartedly encourage other companies to adopt their own Little Give. Not only is it an opportunity for our employees to use their unique skills to make a positive impact, but it also provides another outlet for creativity and a chance to strengthen relationships with their colleagues."
Edelman's Little Give is a lot like the Shoebox Project. The donor receives a benefit as well as the recipient and it is a model that can be replicated anywhere.
In all we received thousands of dollars in consulting services and in-kind donations, which we could not have afforded otherwise. The product of the Little Give will help our grass-roots organization meet the incredible demand of generous Canadians who give back in their community during the holidays and throughout the year. This will help us brighten the days of more women in even more communities across the country.
Thank you Edelman, #LittleGiveTO.