08/14/2010 08:41 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Little Give: Can Your Job Help You Make a Difference?

Thinking of your job as a way to simply make a living is so last week. The smartest organizations have cottoned onto the fact that people like us want meaning along with money.

I've been writing about what I call New Radicals -- men and women of all ages, from every field and each sector across the planet who are putting the skills acquired in their careers to work on the world's greatest challenges. And more and more of them are doing it inside the world's leading organizations -- they're New Radical Innovators (for more, please see archived New Radical columns).

Shane Dolgin, senior vice president, Edelman Canada -- Edelman is a global public relations firm -- popped up on my radar recently and we had a great talk about what his firm is doing, something they call their "Little Give."

This is an edited version of our conversation.

What is Edelman's Little Give?

Our entire team gathers to do what we do best -- develop innovative public relations campaigns. With the Little Give, we're doing it for a group of charitable organizations. And we give ourselves just 48 hours to pull it off.

Why did you launch this program?

We realized that the pro bono files we were working on, while important, engaged too few people in the organization. In an office of 100 people, you might have 8 or 10 working on a pro bono account. The feedback we heard was, "I feel better seeing us do this, but it's not engaging me or forging my connection to the community." We knew we needed to create a program that would engage every single person in our offices across the country.

What did it involve?

The Little Give selects 10 local not-for-profits that need help. We asked our team to come up with suggestions, based on three criteria. That the charities be aligned with Edelman's international cause, youth. That the organizations be smaller, without the resources to do what they need. And that their "ask" would be something we could reasonably accomplish within 48 hours. We put together a list, and team members voted. Our final list had some pretty terrific organizations on it, addressing poverty alleviation, employment and education.

How did it go?

We met on a Thursday night for the brief. I'll be candid: not all of the staff were 100 percent committed at that point. Some of them told us afterward that they were thinking it sounded too much like work, and that they figured they'd put in an appearance and then hit the gym.

But even the initially skeptical quickly got on board once they were in that room. People stayed until two in the morning talking. Throughout the two days, the energy, creativity and commitment was incredible.

What's a great example of an outcome?

The winning campaign -- we made it competitive, just like Oprah's Big Give -- was Kids Understand Practically Everything (KUPE), a program that offers free music education to kids between 7 and 13 in a low-income neighborhood in Toronto. They needed to raise funds to find a home for the charity, and to develop some promotional materials.

On Friday morning, this Little Give team came up with the idea of a concert with local musicians in the heart of the neighborhood. By 4:00 p.m. that day, it was all arranged. The team also contacted the local business improvement association to help find a space, and set in motion a micro-finance fundraising model -- local businesses are now contributing $25 a month to help KUPE pay the rent.

One of the people on that team, someone who's been with us for seven years, came to me at the end. Through her tears she said, "This is a career highlight."

How did your clients respond?

A couple of weeks in advance, we sent out a note to our clients, letting them know that we'd all be out of the office on this particular Friday, and the feedback was swift and uniformly positive. They said that they really appreciated our commitment and desire to make a difference. In fact, one client, Labatt, came forward with an offer to host a party for all the participants at the end of the 48 hours.

Will you do it again?

Yes! We had really enthusiastic feedback from staff, and we're talking about how to do it even better next year. We're also going to submit the Little Give to Edelman's global awards program, with the hopes that it will be introduced across the company.

Let's check back in December to see how your Little Give clients are doing and hear about your plans for 2011.


Special thanks to Richard Derham for suggesting this column. Richard left a lucrative career to found Turnaround Couriers, which only hires at-risk youth (their tagline is, "delivering more than packages").

Now it's your turn. Is your organization doing anything like this? Have you heard of other great examples? Are you an employer who's thinking that it's time?

Sneak peek at a video to be released in September. A beautiful, uplifting song about childhood cancer, "Will to Survive". Warning: will make you cry.

Julia Moulden is an author, speaker, and columnist. Follow Julia Moulden on Twitter to keep track of the New Radicals, and to hear more about her new book.