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Sowing seeds, Part 2

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jacob’s Ladder Job Center, a Charlotte nonprofit that helps unemployed people with little wealth find and keep jobs, received $12,000 from the second small-business team at SEED Charlotte to support an incentives program.

Jacob’s Ladder’s job-retention program offers modest financial rewards for clients who stay employed and attend seminars on topics such as conflict resolution and grievance procedures.

“We try to deal with struggles they’re actually dealing with,’ says Steffi Travis, executive director.

In addition to its grant, the SEED team provided 22 volunteers who contributed 230 hours of their time, more than twice what the team had promised.

Volunteers coached and mentored job-seekers on their interviewing skills, and built the organization’s resume-writing service into a formal program, Travis says.

And Jeff Jones, a manager at Exervio Consulting, recruited volunteers from his firm, organized and coordinated a board retreat for Jacob’s Ladder, and has agreed to join the nonprofit’s board.

“The SEED program gave us a great opportunity to evaluate a whole range of organizations,” he says, “and understand where our contributions, both the grant we were giving from the SEED fund, and the volunteer hours, could be most impactful.”

Fine-tuning

After a meeting last fall at which participants talked about what worked well, and what might be improved, the SEED program likely will make some adjustments, says Don Jonas, senior vice president for community philanthropy at Foundation for the Carolinas.

A common concern, he says, is the need for greater flexibility in the times when people volunteer.

Small firms, he says, “have a small number of employees and have to respond quickly to market changes during the year, and that makes it very difficult for them to commit” to specific times for their volunteers to work.

The fund also is likely to consolidate into a single half-day session its Philanthropy 101 and Grantmaking 101 classes that were offered on separate days.

And in addition to requiring participating firms to contribute $1,000 each to the grantmaking pool, to be matched by the foundation and Charlotte Business Journal, he says, the program will ask each firm to donate $250 to the fund.

Including contributions from Duke Energy, IBM, RBC Centura and the Rotary Club of Charlotte, the fund now totals roughly $10,000.

The program also is considering adding a third team that would select its own focus area, such as the arts or the elderly.

SEED Charlotte held a luncheon in November at the Charlotte Convention Center to celebrate and examine its inaugural year.

Lessons learned

By connecting small businesses with charities needing money and know-how, SEED helped strengthen local philanthropy participants say.

Firms in the first class “really understood the need to do more than just write checks,” says Jeannie Falknor, publisher of the Charlotte Business Journal. “That’s great because our goal was to have a sustainable investment by these companies in the nonprofits.”

Phelps Sprinkle, president and CEO of Topics Education, a small firm that works with groups serving the education market, says the program helped give his employees “a sense of purpose” and involved them more in the community.

By pooling their philanthropic resources, says Laura Meyer, executive vice president at Foundation for the Carolinas, small businesses that may lack the market clout of large corporations “automatically become part of something larger, and thus can have some tangible impact more quickly.”

Jonas says that aggregation of time and talent represents the future.

“We are in the middle of a transformation,” he says, “of the way people give and come together to make a difference.”


Other story in the series:

Part 1: Small businesses pool giving, expertise.

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