Social Impact Strategy: Winning tactics from LegalZoom
In today's episode, we discuss developing a successful social impact strategy with LegalZoom. We explore the pandemic's impact on legal services, and how LegalZoom successfully creates social impact from strategy to implementation. We also look at the alignments between an IPO and ESG. Finally, we chat about Catherine Davie's career journey to social impact and the key learnings along the way.
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What we discussed:
My first guest who you probably know is my co-host. Her name is Erica Graham Jordan. She is the regional vice president here at Benevity and our special guest today is Catherine Davie, who is the Head of Social Impact with Legal Zoom. Thank you very much, Catherine, for joining us today.
Erica Graham Jordan:
Catherine, we're so excited to jump in here. We know that Legal Zoom has a purpose driven strategy and drives [00:01:00] for people first culture.
So what does that look like as you take that high level strategy to the brass tacks?
We often get clients and perspective clients coming to us and saying, how do we shift from this great strategy to the tactics? What does it look like?
How LegalZoom moves from strategy to implementation with their social impact program
Yeah, it's a great question.
And way to call out one of our values, which is people first.
So it is a really good question because oftentimes it's easy you to stay in strategy land.
Strategy is hard and I think executing and being tactical can be even harder.
So, let me share with you [00:01:30] how we came about doing what we're doing today.
We are a purpose driven organization, as you said, our mission is to democratize law.
That's a really big statement to try to achieve.
So how do we actually start doing stuff in the space that isn't overwhelming, but starts to make an impact and make a difference?
So the first place we looked was let's find a nonprofit partner who is serving a similar audience, that's complimentary to our business, and that was Accion Opportunity Fund and they are a wonderful [00:02:00] organization.
And one of the reasons why I love them so much is actually have a product.
They issue loans to small business owners who may not have access to loans otherwise. And it's very similar to what we do.
We provide legal services and make that more accessible.
So really, our products really compliment each other really well. And I really believe you have strategy that start with entrepreneurs.
We also know that just legal services in this country.
So many people don't have access to them beyond [00:02:30] what we sell in small business products, 86% of legal needs go unmet every year.
And so we also feel a larger responsibility of how can we take our business and what we know about legal services and make pro-bono assistance available to people.
That is a huge undertaking.
It's bigger than us.
We need to work with government agencies.
We need to work with other for-profit companies, law firms to make this happen, but we're starting to make steps in doing that.
And so when you start [00:03:00] just making movements in that, so starting with our nonprofit partnership with Opportunity Fund, it starts a conversation there's this energy that goes into it.
We were able to help fund their small business relief fund, which helps small business owners who may be defaulting on loans due to the pandemic.
86% of legal needs go unmet every year
And then it's just grown from there.
And we'll talk about this in a little bit, but they're also involved in our MBA partnership.
And so the main takeaway is hone your strategy, start looking [00:03:30] for partners who can help you achieve those goals.
And also making sure that you're tracking the impact of who you're trying to help the most.
So, Catherine, just one really quick question regarding the... You mentioned the pandemic, how has that impacted, I guess, people who are looking for legal services and how has that changed over the past couple years?
How has the pandemic impacted those who need legal services?
Yeah, it's a really great question in many ways.
I mean, certainly [00:04:00] in our core business, which are small business owners, I think it's no surprise that so many small business owners have taken a hit and the inequities that existed, they existed long before the pandemic.
Those continue, right?
It's not a new problem, but those were exacerbated by the pandemic minority owned small business owners, women, female owned business owners, LGBTQ owned business owners who face a variety of hurdles due to discrimination, or just access to services, education face additional, [00:04:30] additional hurdles.
Legal services in general, when the pandemic started we thought, okay, how can we just make legal services across the board available?
We partnered with a company called Paladin, which is B corporation who built a portal that connects attorneys who are willing to raise their hand and donate their time with people who need legal help.
And those cases are found through legal nonprofits all over the country.
So [00:05:00] we helped fund along with another for-profit company called Cleo in this space, a disaster relief portal, and there were hotlines set up and it still exists today that sadly there were a lot of domestic violence cases.
Those went up during the pandemic as more people were home and a variety of different legal needs.
And so we were able to help fund that portal so people could get access to the help they needed. And that portal still exists.
And it's activated whenever there is a disaster, [00:05:30] be it something like COVID, hopefully that doesn't happen again, or Hurricane Ida or other natural disasters as well.
So, when you're talking about your strategies, can you tell us a little bit more how you map your social impact strategies, both internal and external.
So for example, you're giving, your volunteering, or even your partnership with the NBA, WNBA.
How LegalZoom maps their internal and external social impact strategies
Yeah. That's a great question. I think, to put it simply, it comes down to three things, purpose, people, and product.
And purpose [00:06:00] it's how can we always make sure we're living our mission of democratizing law and always keeping that in mind and everything that we do.
People, and that's both customers and internal Zoomers.
So what are the needs of our customers?
How can we apply, take our business strategy and making sure that what is the cause aspect of that, and that we're keeping that in mind and also product.
So what we sell we can make available for free for people.
And also how can we evolve it to [00:06:30] serve the needs of those we serve every day and especially those in underrepresented communities.
And those are our three pillars.
And when we think about internal programs and external programs and internally, and the people bucket our Zoomers, that's what we call our employees.
And that helps impact our social impact strategy as well, because you have our small business strategy, but also there are things that we want to do that might not have anything to do with our business [00:07:00] that are reflective of things our Zoomers care about the most, for example, DEI is something we're talking about a lot with our employee resource groups and our DEI team.
Mental health and wellness is something we're talking about.
That's not necessarily tied to our business or those we serve are small business owners, however, it's an important company initiative.
So that makes us think about, okay, what can we do from an impact perspective there as well?
Whether it's internal fundraising [00:07:30] nonprofits we might want to partner with, or just be more vocal in the space externally.
Erica Graham Jordan:
I love how you talked about the Zoomers, we at Benevity call our employees Benevites, it just helps you even connect with your people a little more, right?
When you name everyone. And as I think about that, I think about your first impact week.
So first off, congratulations, it's always big to do the first.
Many folks either listening or watching this later, they're thinking how they would bring [00:08:00] their version of an impact week to life.
So what kind of tips do you have, maybe what prompted you from the first one, especially maybe perhaps on a virtual environment, maybe a hybrid and what are some of the key learnings you might want to share?
LegalZoom Impact Week: Learning and advice
Yeah, it is something I know a lot of companies talk about and they want to do, especially social teams would tend to be small.
I hear a lot. It's just me. I'm trying to do enough as it is.
How can we have a day or a week that's dedicated to impact.
And so same thing at the time, [00:08:30] it was just me.
Find people: Tap the passions in your business
We've grown our team a little bit since then. So first you need people. And so it's really tap the passion of your organization.
It wasn't hard to form a committee, reached out to people saying, "Hey, we're planning this type of week where we want to do fundraising.
We want to do volunteerism.
We want to raise awareness about different causes and issues have speakers." Really quickly we had a committee and if it weren't for that committee, it wouldn't have been successful.
And everyone had a different responsibility, [00:09:00] organizing volunteer events, both virtual and in person engaging our employee resource groups to talk about different causes that they care about to do fundraising for different organizations of their choosing.
We were able to get speakers through our nonprofit relationships that we have now.
And also the head of our PR firm runs their social impact practice.
So he was kind enough to donate his time and come talk to the organization about impact and volunteerism. [00:09:30] And then it's really, get the support of your most senior leadership.
I'm very fortunate in that our senior leadership is incredibly supportive of social impact in general and understands that it's good for culture.
It's good for impact. It's good for business.
Don't be afraid to ask for budget and resources
And so ask for the budget, ask for what you need to make it successful.
Because you do need a budget.
You don't need a lot, but you do need to think about things like we sent everyone impact week t-shirts for example, and things to [00:10:00] generate buzz.
So, we broke records in terms of volunteer hours, fundraising.
We had great turnouts at all of our in-person volunteer events, which were limited.
It was super challenging in a pandemic to try to keep people connected and also limit in person, given that there's a pandemic.
So, but the conversation was really vibrant on our slack channels on our intranet.
And we got a lot of feedback and also [00:10:30] we did a survey afterward, which was really helpful because it helped us assess what we could improve next year.
And also give us an opportunity to ask what kinds of causes our Zoomers care about most, to help inform other activities we do either internal or external.
That's amazing, the success that you've had with that week.
Have you had any learnings or insights that you want to apply for the next impact week?
Absolutely. I think, more in person, [00:11:00] which obviously we were constrained this year.
So thinking about ways we can organize more in person events.
Also, our employee base has grown and they're in more locations than before. So how can we coordinate there?
Again, the importance of having a committee and people taking responsibility for I'll handle Austin or I'll handle LA.
And then also, I think going back to asking the question of what causes you care about most? It's helping not only inform our next impact week, but we have an end of year giving campaign coming up where people [00:11:30] can vote for a nonprofit organization that we'll donate to and using that as an input.
So we're truly being reflective of the past of our employee base.
Awesome. So I want to shift a little bit to the success that Legal Zoom has had.
And so oftentimes we hear about companies that go public, have a focus on social impact and oftentimes, the latter's the conversation with stakeholder impact.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the alignment with Legal [00:12:00] Zoom's IPO and your social impact strategies?
Alignments between LegalZoom's IPO and its focus on ESG / social impact?
Yeah, it was really natural. I mean, we went public in June of this year, which was an incredible milestone and moment and there was just so much excitement around it.
Cause has always been part of what we are, it's inherent to our business.
And over the past years we've established this practice internally.
It's just all felt very natural.
So of course we need to help the [00:12:30] community we serve beyond what we sell beyond our product.
And in going public and IPOs, you get asked questions, certainly like, what else do you do for the community, for the environment?
They're all of those questions.
And we were able to answer those because we had already established a framework, a strategy.
We had our first nonprofit partnership in place already and it's really just responding to... It's one thing to think about it through the lens of an IPO.
[00:13:00] I look at it bigger than that because it really goes back to people expect this of companies now.
People want to work for companies that participate in CSR initiatives. People want to do business and actually it affects purchase intent when they see companies are doing things beyond the for profit products.
And so it was just a natural thing and easier questions for us to ask that said, we're not done.
I mean, we're just getting started in many ways.
We've formed two nonprofit [00:13:30] partnerships this year, we launched the MBA and WNBA partnership, which huge, but we still have a lot to operationalize.
We still have a lot of conversations and reports and research that we want to do to show thought leadership.
So it's just a natural progression and really just a response to what the public really asks for and expects.
Erica Graham Jordan:
And especially when you think about, you started really so truly from the inside out, it's [00:14:00] not artificial, it's not fabricated.
So the minute any of your stakeholders go to learn more, you've already been doing this.
And so you have a wide history that captures that not like you started two weeks before you went public.
And so I think that that carries a lot of weight with the audience and our listeners.
I think just knowing you're doing the right thing and sustain dedication and not the flash and the pan.
And it's not all about the marketing.
The marketing is a great part of it. And it's an opportunity for brand awareness.
It's [00:14:30] an opportunity for people to know about who you are and what you sell.
And I always say this, it always goes back to the intention of why you're doing this in the first place and the intention of this.
And I'll use the NBA and WNBA partnership as an example, we started these conversations internally, back in last winter when small businesses were, they were hurting and we said, "How can we help? Can we put funds towards this?"
And this is before we went public, how can [00:15:00] we put funds and help businesses are hurting.
Can we have a grant program? How can we do our part?
And this is something we could have done on our own.
Sure, we could have started our own and grant program.
But as we talked more, say, "How can we amplify this?"
And the NBA and WNBA have a history of doing so much in social justice. In 2020 and 2021, they've really stepped up with their new foundation.
The NBA Cares and all the activities they're doing there.
And so we thought, what if we partnered with them [00:15:30] and it could really amplify this and create even more impact which is more than if we just did it ourselves.
And we started those conversations with them and all of it was rooted in helping.
And yes, we get the additional marketing benefits and awareness benefits, but it's still really about the cause and making people aware of the cause.
And being able to issue grants and free Legal Zoom services to small businesses all over the country.
And it's a multi-year partnership. We've committed six million dollars. [00:16:00] I'm determined to make that pot bigger.
We can get fans involved and do more fundraising around there.
But again, it really goes back to the intention and why are you doing it in the first place?
And if it's for marketing, if it's for awareness, then chances are it'll feel that way.
But when it's really rooted in doing good and coming from the heart, it'll feel that way.
So, it's really important to keep in mind, first stick to the cause.
Remember why you're in this in the first place. [00:16:30]
Absolutely, think about the marketing benefit and the stories you can tell and the opportunities you have, not just to talk about your business, but the cause itself to bring more people on board and make others aware and also fundraise for the causes you care about.
Erica Graham Jordan:
So smart to partner with other organizations, right?
You don't have to have the ego to be the only one, the first one is that it's how do we collectively, make the biggest impact?
I think that's a great testament to your brand, to you as a team and just approach to partnership.
Thank you for saying that one thing.
And I'll add to that is one of the things that was really interesting about the NBA partnership specifically was, we don't have a foundation yet.
We're not set up to issue grants. We haven't done that before. And so we thought, how can we do this?
And how can we administratively do this?
And that's when we reached out to Opportunity Fund who does this all day long when [00:17:30] it comes to loans and we got on the phone and said, "We're thinking about this partnership, we need to be able to issue grants. Is this something you could do?"
And they're like, "Well, I don't know. Let's think about it." And here they are. We're able to bring them into the partnership with the NBA.
They are administrating all the grants and brought on their loan team to evaluate all the applications and make sure that we're buttoned up about how we're distributing this.
And they've seen an uptick in their business [00:18:00] and loan applications have doubled since the launch of this.
They've seen more site traffic, more awareness, which it makes me feel so good because it's another way for our partnership to make an impact and help them beyond supporting them financially.
Do you see that sometimes in organizations you see, I guess, instead of having that focus and I've heard this having a focus so many times.
Maybe you've diversified yourself too much that [00:18:30] you've lost what the niche is or what you're trying to do. It's more of like, "We're going to support every single one of these causes."
Will supporting too many causes impact your social impact program?
Yeah. It happens.
And you're so right. I think because the emotion is there, you want to help and you get a lot of questions.
I get a lot of questions, "Hey, Catherine, have you thought about we should do this. This would be great. We should do this."
And yes, it all makes sense.
And you could check the boxes, it's on our strategy. It's reflective of our people. And so I think it's really important [00:19:00] to have an evaluating criteria.
And also just be willing to say no, as hard as that might be, but I really believe if you can pick one or two things, especially if you have a really small team to be really good at, you're going to create more impact there versus try to spread yourself to thin, and do a lot of different things.
And so I really recommend it's, having criteria you can evaluate, and it's not saying, "No, we don't want to, but no, maybe later."
Maybe that's something you can evolve into [00:19:30] and not everything has to be this massive thing. You have your core nonprofit partnerships, for example, core initiatives.
And it doesn't mean you can't have a voice or support other causes. Sometimes it might be supporting it financially.
Sometimes it might be doing a social media campaign to help raise awareness for an organization. It might be skills based volunteering with a nonprofit you're making impact there.
So there's a lot [00:20:00] of different ways to make an impact, and that is a low lift, but it's really important, I think, to maintain focus on where you really want to put your time and making impact with the causes you care about most.
And you know this better than anyone having a platform to be able to manage all of this is key. And that was another learning we had with impact week.
It was a very manual process, and I'm sure you hear this all the time.
And so it was a lot of extra work for our employees. So to be able to have a platform [00:20:30] where we can serve up volunteer opportunities, have nonprofits available so people can donate and make it really easy versus have Excel Docs and manual documents to send to finance.
And it takes twice as long and three times as many hours as it would, otherwise is key in a huge learning for us as well.
Erica Graham Jordan:
You packaged that so nicely, just in terms of the scalability, the efficiency, that's perfect.
Shifting gears a little bit, and talking about you personally, [00:21:00] you followed a couple different roles at Legal Zoom before shifting to focus on social impact.
We hear this all the time.
People are like, "I work in marketing, I work operations. I work in finance. I have this passion."
Can you share how you navigated this career shift? I think folks always want to know, and they're really nervous to ask.
How have you navigated your career and eventual shift to social impact?
Yeah, it's a great question.
I'm really glad you're asking it.
It's a combination of things. I think one of the things I love most about this space is that the people who are in it have such diverse backgrounds from marketing [00:21:30] to nonprofit, to foundations, to product. And there's so many different types of people.
And I really believe it takes so many different types of people to make the social impact world really operate.
My background is in brand strategy.
I've worked in agencies most of my life. I've had the pleasure of working on social impact projects as a consultant with like the Elizabeth Taylor AIDs Foundation being one of them.
I worked at the Los Angeles, LGBT [00:22:00] Center. I ran the marketing department there.
So I have nonprofit experience. I've done pro-bono volunteer work for Brandi and Catherine Carlile, the grammy award-winning musician and their foundation.
And it's really about if you're passionate about it, just start doing things, talk to people in this space, get involved in communities like engage for good.
For example, watching shows like this, reaching out to other people in this space.
And then if there's an opportunity in your current company have [00:22:30] the conversations.
It's really important I think for companies who aren't making this part of their business to really start thinking about it, because I truly believe it's not going to be this other thing that companies do.
It's the future.
It's here now in many ways, it's just part of business, social impact.
So I think, it usually does fall within a marketing and HR bucket.
And I report into our CMO.
So social impact falls under marketing in our [00:23:00] company.
And I have a dotted line into our HR organization because there's a lot of internal initiatives.
But having my brand strategy background really helped put together our strategy, tie it to our business, tie it to our brand, making sure I have all the different inputs into what social impact could look like.
Very similar to what I would do if putting together a brand strategy and also having a communications background, really being able to work with our communications team, [00:23:30] put together effective messaging to make our programs known is really helpful.
But that's just my background.
And then I think, people in this space, I don't think you have to have worked in social impact to get into social impact full time.
There's so many opportunities to give back in this world and ways to learn that and bringing that experience to a company.
And that's what I look forward to when I'm hiring. I don't want everyone else to have the same background [00:24:00] I did.
And being able to work with people who have various backgrounds to make this program and our initiatives really diverse and bringing in different points of view is incredibly important.
So in your career, really, it's really interesting to me because I'm pretty new to this space too.
Are you seeing a lot of people who because I know we're getting a lot of comments, like where do I start my career and it's really early on.
So are you seeing [00:24:30] a lot more people coming in right out of school or very early versus the people who maybe shifted from HR or communications or marketing or another field?
How are people entering the social impact field?
I think it's both, I think certainly, I mean research shows time and time again, people, younger generations, it's not even a conversation, if they go to work in the court world it has to be purpose driven.
It's why USC here in Southern [00:25:00] California, they have the only masters program in the country that's dedicated to social enterprise and we support them at Legal Zoom.
And I think there's going to be much more of that coming out of business schools across the country.
So it's part of curriculum now and people are seeking jobs in that space.
And then, yeah, I think as companies are starting to wake up to we need to do more than sell stuff. We need to make it impact in the world.
And that's true social impact is when what you [00:25:30] sell is helping solve world problems. And when companies start seeing that more, you need people that are dedicated to that.
So I think more jobs are opening up in that space and you're getting people raising their hand saying, "Well, I have this background or I have experience in that." Maybe just in their personal lives or maybe in different backgrounds.
And you're just starting to see more jobs there.
Very cool. I know we could probably have a conversation with you for at least another couple hours, but if our audience, our listeners [00:26:00] and watchers want to connect with you, what's the best place to reach you.
Yeah, of course. Find me on LinkedIn. You can send me a which there,
And I really believe that's another key to success in this space is connect with others who are doing this.
You'll find that most people are willing to help and [00:26:30] lend a hand, have a conversation about success, get involved in organizations.
And that's certainly been a huge part of my success is connecting with others in the space who have been in this longer than I have. So please feel free to reach out anytime.