616 Development practices philanthropic culture
Real estate developer and tenants annually select list of holiday charities.
It’s October, which means philanthropic buildups leading up to the holiday season — now only weeks away — have already begun.
That rollout preparation is certainly true at Grand Rapids-based 616 Development, said Jenna Morton, office manager. Mid-October is when 616, which is acclaimed for its role in developing residential projects throughout West Michigan, begins to put together a new list of nonprofits deemed worthy of donations. During the December buzz, 616 posts that list to its blog, making sure to add links so readers can make donations.
In 2012, the list was titled “Eight West Michigan charities you should be giving to,” and featured the Wealthy Theatre Sustainability Campaign, Awesome Foundation GR, The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, GR Creative Youth Center, Catholic Charities of West Michigan, The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Kids’ Food Basket.
In 2013, 616 created a well-rounded list of 10 that featured the Creative Youth Center, Well House, the American Red Cross Greater Grand Rapids Chapter, YWCA West Central Michigan, The Rapidian, Oxfam International, Dégagé Ministries, West Michigan Environmental Action Council, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and Grand Rapids Whitewater.
So, what will make 616’s “nice list” this year? Morton said the 616 “tribe” makes the decision by getting together and sharing the charities that overlap between each individual’s personal passions and 616’s mission to build Grand Rapids. Either way, it’s nice to give each nonprofit its moment in the spotlight, which is why 616 always adds a synopsis of what each nonprofit is and what it does, Morton said.
“I can’t say there’s much of a strategy behind it, other than that’s where our minds are, and people have presented opportunities to us,” she said.
“We play upon who the movers and shakers are. … It’s not anything we’re playing favorites with, so to speak. It’s just people we see in the community that are current and relevant and we want to bring to the attention of our viewers.”
Although 616 doesn’t keep track of how much money its blog posts actually channel into the nonprofits, Morton said they have seen appreciation from the nonprofits. Dégagé Ministries, for example, sent flowers as a thank you for mentioning its work, she said.
“I really like our model. Everyone is busy these days and time is limited. The last thing on a lot of people’s minds is being involved in a charity, but I do think that (it is still) really something to get involved in,” Morton said. “Even if just one of us was getting involved in a charity … they can do little things to help, and that word of mouth translates very well.”
The December lists are just one part of 616’s corporate model of organic charitable giving, and the whole process goes back to that word “tribe,” Morton said. It’s an idea 616’s founder and managing director, Derek Coppess, developed from the 2008 New York Times bestselling book, “Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization,” by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright. The book explores the idea of looking at a corporate entity as a tribe to enhance productivity and profitability.
That concept is what 616 aspires to, Morton said, meaning that since members of the company are involved in nonprofits in one way or another in their free time, 616 should be involved as a company, too. Almost once a month, the 616 team comes together as a tribe to volunteer in some capacity, she said.
“Last month we participated in a restoration project with Habitat For Humanity on the west side. This month we’re going to be helping plant trees at Riverside Park,” she said.
“On a month-to-month basis, we take a few hours at the end of the day to pack lunches (for Kids’ Food Basket) … and every year we host a golf outing with all the proceeds going to a charity of our choice.”
Morton said this volunteering format creates an office culture unlike any in which she has worked. Although some might consider the volunteering as cutting into company hours, she said it actually helps increase productivity and company morale.
“You don’t feel like you’re going to work. You feel like there’s a greater purpose,” she said.
“We do see this as a beneficial use of our time because we’re not just in the business of 616. We’re in the business of Grand Rapids and seeing our community thrive.”
616 also extends this model to its vendors and tenants by trying to get them involved in nonprofits, as well, Morton said. At the end of the day, it’s up to them if they want to participate, but if they do, she hopes the model of companies getting more involved with nonprofits as part of group activities sticks.
“It’s not just about crunching numbers,” Morton said. “There are long-term goals that we need to accomplish together, and if you feel you’re a part of those in other ways, it’s pretty gratifying and can increase your work ethic. … It gives you a greater sense of purpose.”
Part of the reason volunteering is so important to 616 is because local collaboration is part of the genetic makeup of what 616 essentially is, she said. Without it, 616 couldn’t thrive to begin with.
“Being a small company in Grand Rapids, we could not do it without friends and partners, and we could not thank them enough for all their help,” she said. “If we’re all growing and thriving, that is the most we could ever ask for, for-profit or nonprofit.”