December 30, 2014
BOSTON — When you have a successful model for a volunteer organization that fosters community involvement by bringing non-profits and causes directly to the workplace, tinkering with the formula might seem a bit risky, but for Building Impact founder and board chair Kevin McCall, taking such an approach made all the sense in the world—and is paying off, says the Paradigm Properties president, especially in the hiring of Diana Brennan to take the cause to its next level as its CEO.
Despite being an innovative model that has provided more than 20,000 people at nearly 600 companies in 53 buildings an opportunity to volunteer, donate and connect to the communities in which they work, the brain trust at Building Impact deemed that fundamental changes were needed to help the organization realize its full potential, and brought non-profit veteran Brennan to incorporate those changes, utilizing skills from having spent the past decade-plus with the YMCA, managing membership experience, branding and strategy for facilities in Massachusetts and Michigan.
In her last position there, she served as executive director of the Melrose YMCA, leading the revitalization of the $5-million, four facility entity by streamlining operations, repositioning the brand and building both strategic and supportive community partnerships while overseeing a staff of 150. Brennan also completed her MBA at the MIT Sloan School of Management just prior to coming to Building Impact, and was brimming with ideas to strengthen and grow the organization when she arrived this summer.
“Before I came on board, we were really focused on getting into the individual companies in the building, and were solely focused on the tenants,” Brennan explains to Real Reporter. “As a result, we were bypassing the property manager, and we weren’t really helping them increase the sense of community within their properties. So we took a hard look at who our relatinships were with and how we were serving our key stakeholders, and realized that we had some serious misalignments.”
Brennan and her staff began to change the focus from serving as a conduit helping tenants provide a philanthropic outlet for their employees (and in turn benefit the nonprofits in the area), to creating an actual amenity that helps landlords attract and retain tenants. Building Impact aims to do so by helping property managers provide a framework for community involvement within the building, which in turn will help companies attract top talent by offering a corporate culture embracing community engagement—something that supposedly resonates with the highly sought after millennials.
“(Millennials’) expectations of their workplace are unlike any other generation. They are motivated by purpose,” Brennan asserts. “So for property managers, this is a very socially responsible platform to manage their tenant relationships and their owner relationships. This is very much like strategic philanthropy for the owners of the property in a way that’s going to create positive building brand to differentiate their property and help them to attract and retain top tenants.”
Even with the shift in focus from individual tenants to the properties as small communities within the community, Building Impact will continue to arrange in-office activities with individual companies within a building, but far less frequently than before (from monthly events to a handful of times per year). But the primary target will now be on building-wide events that meet in the lobbies or communal space at lunchtime or after work, a kind of helping-hand happy hour. “We (put events together) that feature several area nonprofits,” says Brennan. “It’s an opportunity for everyone in the building to come together and participate in a volunteer activity. It’s also a great educational opportunity to learn about the nonprofits that they may not be aware of as well as a great social and networking opportunity.”
Building Impact offers “Seven Ways to Serve” in its rebranded literature: Blood and donation drives; community or lobby events; corporate days of service; one-off donations of furniture and technology; and the aforementioned in-office activities for individual companies. Upcoming examples include: a blood drive for MGH at the Davenport Building in Cambridge on Jan 6th; lobby events on Jan 23rd at 33/41 Farnsworth and Jan 24th at Boston’s One Financial Center that will benefit Meals on Wheels and also feature local non-profits such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters Mass Bay; and an ongoing canned food drive at all properties through March.
“We weren’t doing a great job helping the property build positive building brand and community within the property (previously), but now we engage more volunteers and make more attractive programming for the tenant, but also really showcase the property manager as a primary sponsor of this program,” Brennan affirms.
And McCall is clearly pleased with his CEO choice. “Diana has really integrated herself into the Boston real estate community,” he says. “She has revamped the program offerings so that it better meets the needs of our building owners and managers so the program is active, and she has been tireless on the new business end, making presentations to the building owners and managers to bring the program into their buildings.
Dorrian Cohen Fragola, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development for Janitronics Building Services and a Building Impact board member, was also effusive in her praise. “She really understands the total model of what we’re trying to do, and all of the different constituencies that have to be satisfied—from the developers and ownersto the property managers to the tenants to the nonprofit partners—that are so important to the mission,” says Cohen Fragola, whose firm provides janitorial services to the region’s real estate sector.