Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

November 6, 2013

Collaborating with employees, Red Hat becomes passionate corporate giver

A Red Hat volunteer team
DeLisa Alexander

Community contributions have long been an important topic at Red Hat. Our company was built on the open-source software development model. We work collaboratively with developers around the world to create software, sharing code and contributing it both upstream and downstream as part of the open source community. As Red Hat grew into a successful company, we recognized that our responsibility as a corporate citizen needed to mature beyond contributing software code to the open-source community.

For many years, Red Hat supported nonprofits with donations from our modest charitable giving fund. This allowed us to contribute to the community in a way that was appropriate to our size, while meeting our commitments to our stakeholders.

Developing our corporate citizenship program

Six years ago, we were maturing as a company and wanted to expand our contributions into a more robust corporate citizenship program. Luckily, we had a group of associates who were passionate about, and experienced in, corporate citizenship. We asked them to form a committee and develop a corporate citizenship roadmap for our company.

The corporate citizenship committee set out to determine how Red Hat could better serve our communities while funding these efforts at a level befitting a company our size. As Red Hatters, they opted to answer this question using the same open-source principles we use to grow our business. They got the whole company involved.
First, they surveyed our U.S. associates, asking them to identify the areas of need where they would like Red Hat to focus our efforts. And they promised to keep them involved and informed. They also asked associates to identify causes that were personally important to them (rather than what they felt the company should support) to see if their answers differed.

Associates identified a broad range of causes, from the environment to animal welfare to domestic violence prevention, as causes they personally supported. But when they stated what they thought Red Hat should support, Red Hatters clearly identified four areas of focus for corporate giving efforts:
  • •    basic needs 
  • •    education 
  • •    technology
  • •    health
Associates also indicated strong interest in volunteer events and in a matching gifts program. Armed with this data, the committee prepared a three-year roadmap and went to work implementing the plan. We narrowed the focus of our giving program to the funding priorities identified by the associates and created a process by which associates could nominate charities for a donation from Red Hat. After creating guidelines and a simple application process for nonprofits, the committee focused on the matching gifts program because that was the most frequently requested charitable program by associates.

Many companies conduct a concerted workplace-giving campaign for only a few charities or limit the numbers or types of charities eligible for their matching gifts program. However, as the committee reviewed the survey responses, we realized this would be one area where Red Hat could easily support associates in the causes that mattered to them, beyond the causes prioritized by the company. So when we established our matching gifts program in 2010, Red Hat’s guidelines allowed a matching contribution to any 501(c)(3) nonprofit, school or house of worship (provided the donation went to a social outreach program). Allowing maximum flexibility in our program has been key, because as a company, we have a strong commitment to promoting freedom and choice.

Around the same time, our volunteer committee formalized. From time to time, our associates supported a variety of volunteer projects. A team of Red Hatters went to New Orleans to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; others conducted a toy drive for Toys for Tots around the holidays. Before the committee, though, there was a lot of confusion over what was an official Red Hat volunteer activity or simply a group of colleagues getting together and deciding to ride in a charity bike ride wearing Red Hat t-shirts. This is a common dynamic for young companies.

Again, our committee focused Red Hat’s volunteer activities on the priorities identified through the survey. They gathered data on area nonprofits that needed groups of volunteers and created internal processes to help managers find projects for team-building activities. They started organizing company-wide volunteer events several times a year, including during our annual Red Hat Summit conference when we engage customers, partners and employees in volunteer activities to benefit the community. We also conduct volunteer events during We Are Red Hat Week, an annual celebration of our brand, culture and people, and these events have benefited communities around the world.

All Red Hatters have the opportunity to participate on the volunteer committee to help organize events. If they don’t have the time, there are still opportunities for involvement; for example, all associates were recently invited to vote for their favorite Red Hat Volunteers t-shirt design. Our volunteer efforts focus on communities where we have offices, but they also are a great opportunity for collaboration across the company.

A new perspective

Before implementing any of these programs, just as we were evaluating our place in the community as a corporate citizen, the world changed. Around October of 2008, at a time when we usually started our holiday party planning, the economy began to unravel. Although Red Hat had the good fortune of enjoying continued growth, most Red Hat associates had friends and family members touched by the recession. Some began to question whether we should spend money on merriment for ourselves when so many people around us were suffering. We considered the question: “What should the Red Hat way of celebrating the holidays be during times of economic hardship?” We concluded that we needed to tap into our open-source roots and focus on community contributions.

So we took this idea to the company and received a variety of reactions. Some people expressed great pride in the company for suggesting this change, while others viewed the party as a much-needed celebration and an opportunity for the company to thank employees and their families for their support throughout the year.

We took their feedback and reworked the plan. Instead of contributing all of the holiday party funds, we decided to use most of the funds for charity but still provide a token amount per associate per U.S. office to be used for small-scale in-the-office parties or in other ways as each office saw fit. In Raleigh, for example, we decided to have a small party held right after work. A team of volunteers offered to decorate for the event and take turns serving their fellow associates.

Next, we asked associates to nominate organizations, from the four areas of focus, for our new holiday donation. We collected a large list of worthy organizations. Given the tough economic situation, we decided that we should focus on organizations that covered basic needs, and the associates voted and chose Feeding America for our first-ever holiday donation.

Feeding America is the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, which supports a network of food banks across the United States. In addition to our substantial national donation to the organization (which paid for about 800,000 meals, or approximately 1 million pounds of food), many of our offices around the United States held their own canned food drives to benefit local food banks.

Afterward, the reaction within Red Hat and the community was extremely positive. For years, when someone learned that I work at Red Hat, especially around the holiday season, they often mentioned hearing about Red Hat giving its holiday party budget away to charity. It has become a point of pride internally for Red Hat that we not only give away our software code, but we also give in other meaningful ways.

In the years since, we have continued our new tradition and made a substantial holiday donation to a national nonprofit chosen by our associates, including Meals on Wheels, the Alzheimer’s Association, Habitat for Humanity and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Going global

Although we started with a focus on U.S. nonprofits, we have now expanded our giving beyond the United States. We have local committees in our Raleigh corporate headquarters and our Westford, MA, engineering headquarters and another committee for the rest of North America contributions. Our first committee outside the United States was for our offices in Europe, and we now have a committee in Asia-Pacific, too. We have encouraged each local committee to survey their own associates to determine priorities that resonate best with associates in each region. While we strive for a certain level of consistency, we also want to give as much flexibility as we can to each program so that it has meaning for associates around the world. The best part about the committees is that they all consist of Red Hatters who are volunteering extra time to be part of our corporate citizenship efforts. Their passion drives everything that we do.

The corporate citizenship program within Red Hat has become something we care about deeply. Because our associates are actively involved in the decisions made and organizations selected, they feel a sense of ownership and pride in our contributions.
DeLisa Alexander is executive vice president and chief people officer for Red Hat.

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