Why community investment is important for your business: How to get started

In today's episode, we discuss the importance of community investment for your business and how to get started. We chat with Leeatt Rothschild, Founder and CEO of Packed with Purpose on how to choose which communities to investment, how to shift priorities and measuring success.

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:          

So we got two special guests today.

My first guest, who is my co-host, her name is Erica Graham Jordan. She is the regional vice president here at Benevity, and our special guest [00:00:30] today, her name is Leeatt Rothschild.

She is the CEO of Packed with Purpose. So thank you very much for being on our show today.

Leeatt Rothschild:  Thank you so much for having me.

Karl Yeh:              

So Leeatt, let's begin with, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and

How did you get started with Purpose?

Leeatt Rothschild:

Sure. I like to say that my background has been a dance between the worlds of social impact and business.

So a few stops along my way. I was a peace corps volunteer [00:01:00] in Paraguay years ago. I also went to business school.

I worked in marketing strategy consulting, and then right before I founded Packed with Purpose, I was actually advising chief sustainability officers and marketing executives, helping them figure out how to take their CSR funds and invest them to have a societal gain and a financial return on the business.

And so I was really working closely.

Karl Yeh:              

Can you, I guess, tell us [00:01:30] a little bit more of anything specific in corporate purpose or corporate social responsibility that really drew you?

Leeatt Rothschild:

Well, I'd probably go back to of all places, Paraguay.

As a peace corps volunteer, I was working with a group of farmers and helping them come up with alternative sources of income through farming.

And basically one of my biggest takeaways through that experience was [00:02:00] I wanted to find a way to scale impact into scale purpose. So I was in a village of around 124 homes.

And while it felt really rewarding to help this group of farmers do good and to have an alternative to being subsistence farmers, I was really interested in finding a way to take some of those insights and learning and to scale doing good on a larger and in a more systemic area.

And so that obviously took me through [00:02:30] what I found an interesting if but circuitous path.

But to me, it always felt like the points were, how do I use business? How do I use storytelling, and use that in a way to create a greater impact in society?

Karl Yeh:              

And transitioning into the majority of our conversation here today is about, which is community investment. It sounds like your past and the reason why you got into Purpose really ties in. [00:03:00]

And so can you tell us why do you think community investment is so important, both from a business level and a personal level?

Why is community investment important, both personal and for business?


Leeatt Rothschild:

We are all an extension of our own communities.

We thrive because of our communities. We have businesses because it is supported by people that work within a community.

Also, those individuals are patrons. And so they are actually financing the increase in [00:03:30] revenue that a company or an organization might have.

So for me thinking of community investment, a community investment, it's important because

it's what creates the entire infrastructure of an employee base, of a consumer base, of individuals that are supporters of your brand or your company purpose.

Erica Graham Jordan: 

And then even as we shift here, I love that story about the background that is a dance, right?

The straddling line between profit and purpose. [00:04:00] I think Karl and I live that at our organization every day.

We definitely see that come true.

And especially as you worked across so many of these five fortune 500 companies too, maybe share a bit more about on this community investment side, straddling this dance for so long, what are some of the changes and the trends that you've witnessed just in this space during the last call it decade or so?

What changes and trends in community investment have you witnessed in the past decade?


Leeatt Rothschild:

Well, I would say if you think of this in terms of corporate social responsibility, I think years ago the trend was you had someone [00:04:30] at the helm, whether it was a CEO, whether it was the head of corporate citizenship, or the head of CSR, it might have been a small team, but you had someone at the helm of a corporation that was deciding what the focus should be, right?

Like we x company are going to focus on this thing.

Maybe it's on literacy or on reducing childhood obesity, or it wasn't even on a topic or an outcome, but it was we're going [00:05:00] to double down partnering with this nonprofit because I personally care about that organization, or because it's convenient, it's in my hometown. I think now historically looking at it, that seems so simplistic.


And I think now when we think of what does community investment actually look like?

It is much more complex.

It is no longer an individual who is deciding what this is, it is likely [00:05:30] not even one department called corporate social responsibility.

Maybe corporate social responsibility is championing this, but they are working in tandem and collaborating with other departments and other executives within a company.

And they are thinking about a lot of things in a much more strategic manner.

Who are the various stakeholders or individuals that might be positively impacted by our community involvement?

Maybe it's our [00:06:00] customer base.

It could be also our employee base. It could be other stakeholders, whether it is board members or whether it's suppliers.

And so I just think that there's a much more complex way in which this is thought about.

And as a positive benefit, there's a lot of positive ROI benefits that can result from this community involvement.

You know, and it's not as simplistic as writing a check to one organization or deciding that there's one [00:06:30] singular focus of cause that a company wants to stand behind.

Erica Graham Jordan:

You know, in preparation for the interview, I was reading one of your publications, or not publications, but one of your writings online, and I was struck by your focus on ERGs.

And you were saying exactly this, right?

And so the concept that what used to be a top down model of really leveraging employees to have grassroots and bottom up and ERGs is one method to do so.

And in this case, I think it was [00:07:00] a company who identified and said, we all want to be part of the pledge 1% movement.

And it came from the bottom up, which is really magical when you think about trends and how significant that is.

I loved that example actually as a way to say how we actually can do things as an organization that don't have to always start at the top and really can start at the people level.

Leeatt Rothschild:


And just building on that, as a founder and CEO myself, the only way that ideas can really spread, it's not [00:07:30] when it's top down, right?

Like you might have a vision for whatever it might be and it could be that in the lens of corporate social responsibility, someone has a vision for how a company can stand behind a cause or a particular societal outcome, but the only way that really flies within the organization and starts to become much more than an idea is when you have much more support and excitement and innovation, and that comes from an entire company.

And so oftentimes [00:08:00] when the employees themselves have ideas, they just take root and start to blossom in a way that I think is much more fantastic and it's much more exciting than when it is one person with an idea.

Erica Graham Jordan:

And even touching on what you said, you are a founder, right?

So what advice do you have for companies who are just getting started on this journey? Maybe they want to start investing under resource communities or starting social impact journeys.

What would you say that should look like for them?

Advice for companies just starting their community investment and social impact journey


Leeatt Rothschild:

My feedback and my thought would be ask questions and listen to what some suggestions or ideas might be, right?

So you can be asking questions... As the founder and CEO, you might be thinking about what makes sense for my company or my organization, even if you're just someone in leadership.

And so I would be asking these questions to your employees, because if part of it is how do you galvanize your employee base to stand behind and to be excited about a particular cause or a social mission, then you're going to want them to be invested [00:09:30] and excited and to want to give their time and their energy and their collaborative ideas.

And so asking employees what their thoughts might be on either various topics or organizations to partner with, or how to even make it easier for employees to be involved, that you're probably going to get great ideas and feedback, you don't have to have all the answers and you never will.

And so if you start to ask good questions and you listen to the responses, that will probably be the best recipe for success.

Karl Yeh:              

So you mentioned employees having that contribution.

So how does companies actually choose which communities to invest in?

And is it a combination of employees giving their input or should the businesses determine which ones and then go from there?

How should companies choose which communities to invest in?


Leeatt Rothschild:

Great question. I think it's a combination of both.

It can't be just [00:10:30] employee driven, but it also can't just be leadership stated and then everyone marches to those orders.

So I think if leadership puts together a vision for what they're trying to achieve and what success looks like, even in its broadest form, ask questions to employees on are there certain organizations, or are there certain societal outcomes or causes that we care about or different types of community involvement that we might want to see there's going to be tremendous ideas.

 And then it's really meeting in the middle and finding something that serves both of those goals, because the employees might not have all of the strategic purview with which to connect the dots that leadership does, but leadership themselves are not going to have all of the ideas and all of the opportunities to think about the various ways in which community involvement can be strongest.

[00:11:30] Whether it's the methods like the type of activities or programs that might be put in place, nor will they have a good sense of all of the organizations and all of the causes that are important to employees and/or to a company's clients and customer base, because that's another set of stakeholders that also could be providing great ideas.

Karl Yeh:              

What I'd really like to know your thoughts on as well, just related to this is as you know [00:12:00] throughout the past couple of years, different causes or different things change and employees come and go too, so how should businesses really evolve or adapt to the communities or causes they start investing in when things are changing around them?

So for example, like there's a community or something that you're invested in, but something in the world happens.

How do you make that change, [00:12:30] or how do you include that as part of your program?

How to shift community investment priorities?


Leeatt Rothschild

Yeah, that's a great question.

And I would say the first part of it is you don't want to anchor an organization or a cause just to one person within the organization, right?

Because then you don't have the full support and excitement and momentum of the entire company.

And when I say entire that doesn't necessarily mean each and every employee, but there should be a robust [00:13:00] number of individuals that stand behind the decision of either a set of organizations or a set of societal goals that the company wants to be working towards or working with.

And at the same time, I think while you want to put a stake in the ground and say, as a technology company, we want to take all of the tech know-how that our employees have and provide that to under-resourced [00:13:30] communities, through one-on-one tutorials or through workshops, through an organization that can really help individuals within these communities upscale their skills and their ability to integrate into society.

Let's say that is a hypothetical example.

You want to leave room to modify that based on changes in societal needs or changes in how a company is structured.

So [00:14:00] I think any good company, we always say flexibility is the sign of maturity, and so every company needs to both put a stake in the ground to know what they want to stand behind, but then to be flexible enough to shift based on current events.

If there's something very pressing that's happening where the company believes that it's important and that it is within its mission and values to get involved for there to be enough room to do so.

Karl Yeh:              

I think one of the dangers [00:14:30] of having multiple programs is not knowing what's working or what's not.

So in your opinion, how would you measure the success of a community investment?

How to measure community investment success?


Leeatt Rothschild: 

So I would say there is a danger to having too many programs.

And so just like any business model, you have to understand what are the pillars for what you are striving to create.

So there could be multiple programs, but maybe [00:15:00] let's say there's a marque program, or there's a particular focus area that is the most important one.

That doesn't mean that there can't be other ones that the organization works towards because if part of a company's strategy is to engage its entire employee base, then it could be really important to not just pinpoint one as the only way in which employees can be involved, because this way you can have different either organizations or different causes [00:15:30] that speak to different employees.

So that's just one side note that I think is important.


In terms of success, this starts off with why are we creating this particular community investment or community involvement?

  • You know, what are our goals internally?
  • Is it to benefit the business by increased awareness?
  • Is it to benefit the business through partnerships and stronger relationships? 
  • As well as to increase employee engagement or to increase employee retention?

Because of the connections that employees are getting through the shared experiences with their colleagues and the satisfaction and happiness that they are internalizing because of the partnership.

And so I think the first question is:

What are you trying to achieve?

And it doesn't have to be mutually exclusive, right?

There can be a benefit to the business, there likely should be [00:16:30] if you're doing this using business resources and there should also be a benefit to the community.

And the question is, have you gone through the steps to figure out what those are and define those?

Once you've done that, the markers for success will fall in place relatively easily.

I think the hardest thing is that first step and being very transparent, right?

As a business, you should be looking for some kind of business return and you just have to figure [00:17:00] out what that is.

Is it in terms of increased revenue? Is it in terms of potential partnerships with clients and increased awareness?

Does it have to do with employee satisfaction, retention, engagement? Does it have to do with productivity and cross-collaboration across departments?

Is it some kind of specific benefit to the community in terms of dollars raised for an organization or activities that the organization can put [00:17:30] on? So brainstorming out loud, there's so many forms.

And I think that a company that goes through enough of the steps in the beginning, those metrics will fall into place.

Erica Graham Jordan:

If we shift gears and talk about your business.

So in terms of Packed with Purpose, tell us more about it.

You know, what is it? How'd you get the idea? Yeah. Share a little bit more with us today.


Leeatt Rothschild:

So I'll take you back to a cold day in Chicago in December, as I mentioned, I was advising [00:18:00] chief sustainability officers on their CSR funds, helping them figure out how to take hundreds of millions of dollars and invest it in doing good.

And it was a cold day in December, our office, as it was very typical in the holiday period was riddled with the ubiquitous corporate gift.

So tins of popcorn, baskets of baked goods, boxes of fruit, and it just dawned on me that this mechanism to strengthen relationships [00:18:30] and to say thank you while very lovely was devoid of any kind of social impact.

And I just had this moment where I realized the currency to say thank you is through a gift.

And in the business world, these gifts are being exchanged between companies and clients, between companies and employees. And I wanted to find a better way to embed doing good in the gifts that we give.

Erica Graham Jordan:

Tell us more about how you source those. Right? I've taken a look, I've identified [00:19:00] there's these kind of packages and there are these types of goods. What does that look like? How do you find this, there's quite a range of selection, but how do you go about finding the right partners? And it's probably constantly changing. So tell us more about that piece as well.

Leeatt Rothschild:

Yeah, absolutely. And what I'll say is my former job, although I was working for companies, corporations, I had a lot of colleagues that were working directly with non-profits and social enterprises.

And so I was exposed to social enterprises through that experience. [00:19:30] And through that, I started to learn of several social enterprises across the United States and beyond.

And so initially, those conversations were ones where I would reach out to them, ask them about their organizations, how they're doing good, the various products that they were creating, which was really their method of creating something and providing either job skills or workforce development training to a population oftentimes in under-resourced [00:20:00] population and then reinvesting the proceeds of those sales, whether it was granola bytes, whether it was notebooks, whether it was honey, back into the nonprofit, a lot has evolved in the five or so years of our business existence.

And so now we have a lot of purpose-driven companies that come to us and that showcase who they are and their products.

And so they basically want to let us know that they exist so that we might consider using them [00:20:30] in our gifts. We do a lot of our own discovery looking for different impact partners.

That's the affectionate term we give to our product suppliers based on either the types of products that we know that companies want to be gifting at various price points, whether it's a consumable or a durable.

And obviously, we're looking to make sure that the product is high-quality and exceptional absolutely in terms of the impact, but also in terms of the product itself, in terms of the packaging, the way [00:21:00] in which it articulates and shares its impact, and just to make sure that it's a product that would be coveted in a gift.

Karl Yeh:              

What's the plan for Packed with Purpose over the next, I know, three to five years?

Are you planning to scale from completely national perspective, start going international as well?

Packed with Purpose Growth

Leeatt Rothschild:

Yeah, great. So actually, we're a national brand now.

So our clients come from across the country. We also have international clients, but really our clients that come from across the country, we've shipped [00:21:30] our gifts across all states, but also internationally.

And really our goal is to be the foremost purpose gifting company in the world. And so we are well on that journey. It's been an absolute joy to work with our impact partners, supporting them in their own growth, putting their products and our gifts and showcasing their stories.

Because the Packed with Purpose brand is all about investing in our communities.

The way in which we invest in our communities [00:22:00] is by sourcing unique products from our impact partners that are located across the states and then sharing those incredible stories with our gift recipients, because after all, that's why our clients are purchasing a Packed with Purpose gift. It's the stories of impact that each of those products produce.

Karl Yeh:              

So this has been an amazing conversation. I think we could stay here for another couple of hours, but if our audience wants to connect with you and/or connect, [00:22:30] learn more about Packed with Purpose, how can they reach you?

Leeatt Rothschild:

Sure. So you could go to our website, packedwithpurpose.gifts, G-I-F-T-S.

You can also follow us on LinkedIn and you can follow me personally, Leeatt Rothschild at LinkedIn as well.

Question of the Day:

How would you change or adapt your employee engagement strategies today?