Brightly colored bears, monkeys, puppies, alligators and giraffes line tables at Ellie Mae’s Experience conference, ready to be delivered to five separate children’s charities in Las Vegas. The mobile Build-a-Bear workshop is part of the company’s volunteer program, EllieCares, and will benefit Ronald McDonald House of Greater Las Vegas, Community Outreach of Nevada, CIS (Communities in Schools) Nevada, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, and The Foundation for Positively Kids.
Conference-goers helped stuff 300 Build-a-Bear animals for the charities, a project that is just one part of a much bigger initiative at Ellie Mae. Jonas Moe, vice president of market strategy, explained the company’s desire to include giving back in their annual conference.
“At Ellie Mae we feel really lucky to be where we are and work for this company, and giving back is one of our core values,” Moe said. “This week we’re part of the Las Vegas community and we want to impact that community during the time that we’re here.”
Moe was the original catalyst for EllieCares, pitching the idea about 10 years ago to then-CEO Sig Anderman and the current CEO, Jonathan Corr. Moe had a whole presentation set to go, with stats and data to sell the benefits to the corporation for letting employees volunteer time during work days. But he didn’t need to get past the first slide before Anderman made his decision.
“Whatever you need — you have carte blanche,” Anderman said.
Moe took that to heart and Ellie Mae’s charitable program soon expanded to quarterly events at its corporate headquarters in Pleasanton, California, and its six satellite offices. Employees can choose to participate in those corporate events or spend a day every quarter helping the charity of their choice. But what started as a centralized investment in giving back to local communities has taken on a life of its own, Moe said.
“The most rewarding part for me is that I get pictures every month from all over the country where people are volunteering their time in small groups that they form on their own initiative,” Moe said.
Ellie employees don’t have to be in town very long to want to spread the love to local communities. One employee group in New Orleans for a sales training program volunteered during their trip, and Moe regularly gets updates from employees who have taken the time to give back to a variety of charities.
Ellie Mae didn’t decide to give back to reap any benefits for itself, but Moe sees advantages for companies who encourage this kind of giving. “We see a great cross-melding at these events, with engineers working with marketing working with tech support. We are now a 1,200-person company, so it is more important than ever for our employees to get outside their office space and talk to people they don’t ever even see.”
And employees have gotten creative in how they can participate. When the company looked to replace 55 desktop computers for newer laptops, an employee came up with the idea for an internal auction. What followed was a large-scale effort that included home-brewed beer, hand-crafted jewelry and even an extensive DVD collection from a movie buff. Employees enthusiastically bid on the items and raised a total of $26,000. Ellie Mae matched that amount, and the total was donated.
“Every effort is employee-based, not an order from the executives,” Moe said. “Giving employees the latitude to make an impact in their communities is very liberating, and its intrinsic to who we are as a company.”