A few weeks ago we wrote about Corporate Social Responsibility for smaller companies. In that article we talked about how companies of any size can benefit from CSR efforts, provided goals are clear and employees are involved. Stacy Phillips, Managing Principal at Phillips Lerner, has a near-perfect example of a CSR program that gets maximum impact for her family law firm of 20 employees.
The “Adopt-A-Center” program began in 1999, when Phillips wanted to bring her individual passion for volunteering to her whole company, “When I started my own firm I decided that personally I should start giving back more to the community. Rather than writing little checks, I decided to commit deeper and to sit on a board. When my firm was 9 years old I thought it was time the firm did that.”
Each year, Phillips Lerner adopts one non-profit organization that serves children and families. In partnership with the organization, the company sponsors an activity, event, or project that has direct impact on families. In addition to the event, the firm helps raise funds for and the profile of the organization.
The program began with the goals of giving back to the local community, making an impact in one area, and leveraging company resources. The first project was a partnership with Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services. Phillips remembers employees being very involved for that year, “Two people from the firm went over to help celebrate kids’ birthdays every month; we had a beautification ceremony for them; and we invited friends, family, clients and our referral sources to join us in supporting the organization. That was the foundation of the Adopt-A-Center program.” Over the years, the company has hosted art auctions, manned booths at carnivals, taken 300 kids to a Dodgers game, and stuffed and distributed back-to-school backpacks for over 5,000 children in need.
According to Phillips, the partnerships with local charities involve everyone at the firm. “When you hear about the impact with the kids, that interaction means something. You walk away feeling good. We volunteered at the Fred Jordan Mission, because one of our secretaries grew up volunteering at the Fred Jordan mission as a child and she saw the backpack program on the news. So we closed the office, stuffed backpacks and handed them out in our area.”
Over time, the selection process has become more formalized, with an RFP issued yearly. From there the applicants are narrowed down to a field of eight and presented to the Board who narrows the list to three finalists. Finalists are then invited to make presentations to Phillips Lerner. Phillips says the organizations that stand out are those that think creatively about partnering with the firm and that understand this is not a typical grant process where the organization receives a check and reports back. “[When it first started] one of my partners said, ‘why not just write a check?’ But I said you’re missing the point, it’s about far more than that.”
One of the biggest successes for the Adopt-A-Center program is the continuing involvement of Phillips Lerner employees. Phillips talks proudly about one attorney, “she started with two boards and became a chair of [an advisory] board and is now is on the big board. I’m so proud of her because of that.”
For more information on the Phillips Lerner Adopt-A-Center program, click here.