November 01, 2011
Philanthropy Through Flexibility
by Barbara Seale
It Works! Global believes in flexible philanthropy—the kind of generosity that lets people donate time, money or both as they are able and contribute to causes that touch their hearts. The company’s charitable-giving program, It Works! Gives Back, provides opportunities to give, and it encourages the company’s distributors to start where they can and then expand their giving as their incomes increase through the It Works! opportunity.
Kindsey Neeson, Director of It Works! Gives Back, explains that the company’s founders infused charitable giving into the company culture from its earliest days. She says that she simply gave the program a title and started getting more people involved.
After finishing college and having a brief career in social work, Neeson joined the It Works! customer service department. She later left the company, but in 2007 was rehired as Director of Customer Service.
“When I came back, I knew that the company was already giving back, but there was no formally established program,” she recalls. “I was leaving social work, but I still wanted to be involved with giving back. They let me be in charge of the program because of my passion for it.”
She picked up the reins on a fledgling philanthropy program and gave it even more fuel. Eventually she transformed it into her full-time job. Today It Works! Gives Back strives to enhance the lives of others in its communities by touching the lives of those in need financially, practically and emotionally. Its charitable outreach efforts lean toward children and women but may encompass anyone in need of a helping hand. It Works! started its philanthropic efforts in its original hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., and expanded south when the company relocated its headquarters last year to Bradenton, Fla.
Close to Home
One of the programs that stretched its reach after the move was the company’s Walk for MPS, which supports the National MPS Society. The company hosted the walk for 10 years in Michigan and sponsored its first walk in Florida this October. MPS, or mucopolysaccharidoses, is a group of related genetic diseases caused by the body’s inability to produce specific enzymes. Normally, the body uses these enzymes to process unneeded materials into substances that cells can use. In individuals with MPS and related diseases, the missing or insufficient enzyme prevents that process, resulting in the storage of unnecessary substances in virtually every cell of the body. As a result, cells do not perform properly and may cause progressive damage throughout the body, including to the heart, bones, joints, respiratory system and central nervous system.
“This one really hits home and is near and dear to our hearts,” says Kate Martin, the company’s Public Relations Specialist and Co-Coordinator for It Works! Gives Back. “Our Director of IT Steve Radius has two sons who are affected by Hunter’s syndrome [one of the MPS diseases]. Steve lost one of his sons at age 15 this past March. He still has a son who is battling the disease. Our CEO Mark Pentecost instills in us that we are a family, so we try to show our support by participating in this walk.” The company’s new Florida headquarters includes a golf course, which shut down for a morning to host the MPS walk.
2011 is the second year It Works! has supported another worthy cause, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which seeks a cure for breast cancer. Support started when distributors had a brainstorm: They wanted to host a Wrap for the Cure party, donating a portion of their proceeds from the sale of the company’s Ultimate Body Applicators to the organization. It Works! jumped onboard, even matching the donation.
“This October we encouraged distributors to host Passionately Pink parties [one of the Susan G. Komen programs],” Martin notes. “We were excited because Susan G. Komen for the Cure is an amazing organization—the biggest organization we have donated to. So this is one way we’re giving back on a larger scale. Plus, breast cancer affects so many of our distributors in one way or another.”
In addition to national organizations, It Works! Gives Back searched for local organizations it could help near its new Florida headquarters. One that stood out was HOPE Family Services, which provides services to survivors of domestic violence. Before its final decision to support HOPE, It Works! Gives Back decided to do some hands-on research. So it gathered a group together and painted the organization’s walls.
“We wanted to learn about them, but we also wanted to help them,” Neeson explains. “We could make a difference while we were learning. That’s the way our company works—by word-of-mouth—and that’s how we like to give back too.”
Part of the Community
It Works! Gives Back also supports an organization that’s closely related to HOPE, the Women’s Resource Center of Manatee County. The Resource Center is committed to providing a welcoming environment where all women can participate in programs and services that enrich, educate and empower them to realize their full potential.
Since It Works! Gives Back promotes giving in any way its employees and distributors can contribute, it sometimes runs non-financial philanthropic drives. It has run a clothing drive, collected food for the Mel Trotter homeless shelter, hosted a sock drive that supported the homeless, housed a “giving tree” on which ornaments were hung that listed items requested by families in need, waged a penny war to raise money to buy gifts for a homeless-youth graduation party, and teamed up with other business partners in Grand Rapids to raise money for the shelters and food banks in West Michigan, as well as in Central America and Africa. Both employees and distributors have been involved.
“Our goal is primarily to inspire and encourage others to give back, no matter where they are in life,” Neeson says. “Our distributors are at every different level of our business, and we want people to give back at every level, whether through their time or their finances. We do events where we open it to the public, like wrap-a-thons that produce funds for various organizations. The corporation tries to have ways that let distributors be involved if they want, but also we try to be an example and just show them how they can get involved in their community.”
The It Works! Global Miles for MPS Walk in Michigan, featuring the Radius family and the It Works! Global corporate family.
Encouragement Through Recognition
Some of that encouragement comes in the form of recognition. The company’s Spirit Magazine routinely highlights what distributors are doing around the world to give back to their communities. But the recognition doesn’t stop on the printed page. One of the awards It Works! presents at its annual conference is the Gives Back Award. When the program was conceived, the company asked distributors to nominate themselves or another distributor or team for significant philanthropic activities by sending their stories to Neeson. The plan was that she would remove the names and distribute the stories among the It Works! Global staff, and the staff would vote for the story that touched them the most. The problem: About 90 percent of the people who submitted stories didn’t actually want to be nominated for the award. So the staff developed a slide show that demonstrated the range of charitable work that distributors did and showed it at the conference. With so many heartwarming works, a winner is always chosen whose work is inspiring and encouraging.
Empowerment is a recurring word at It Works! Gives Back. It’s the backbone of the program, as well as the opportunity, and it’s the philosophy behind the international expansion of It Works! Gives Back. For example, one of the company’s customer service representatives had been in Chile and had seen firsthand the destruction from a tsunami. It Works! Global doesn’t do business in Chile, but that didn’t keep it from throwing its weight behind the employee’s desire to help those in need. With It Works! support, she sold T-Shirts to raise money to send to Chile.
“We try to get behind people who want to lend a helping hand,” Neeson says. “We love to help wherever people are in need.”
Neeson credits It Works! Global owners Mark and Cindy Pentecost for setting an example through their own philanthropy and for allowing employees and distributors to seek out ways to help. She says that the founders’ values permeate the company and are being handed down to younger generations.
“They’ve passed on their values,” she says. “They are people who believe that’s what we’re supposed to do with our lives: Give back. We’ll be blessed by giving back to others. It’s incredible that every time we do an event, so many people show up and bring their children [to teach them how to give].”
It Works! already does business in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Australia. Neeson’s vision is for the company’s philanthropic influence to change as many lives as the business opportunity does.
“We’re very goal oriented, so if we see a need, we can help,” she notes. “This is what we believe we’re supposed to do. Our team of distributors has grown so much in the past year. I look at it and think, ‘Wow, how we can affect the world!’ I get excited to think about the lives we can change. The bigger our company grows, the more we can impact the world.”