our social impact story
Social impact is an important priority for every business, including Embolden. As Laura and I continue to develop the Social Impact Platform as part of our commitment to community engagement, I think of my role as a leader in the early days at Embolden, and what I would have loved to have known during its growth phases about my team’s Social Impact Personality Types and the resources I would have liked to have had to embolden my own company to do more good. I also think about today’s talented professionals and their heightened desire to make a difference and be part of something larger than themselves. That’s really important because fulfilling a company’s mission for success begins with its people. What's really exciting is for Laura and me to be pursuing our ventures through our company, One Celebrations LLC, under the Embolden brand!
I started Embolden in 1998 because I could not resist the window of opportunity to help companies and organizations access the power of the Web to grow their enterprises. I was inspired to make the new technology of the Web accessible and empowering. This meant cutting through the mystery and confusion that always surrounds anything new.
First, I had to learn the technology, from the ground up. Deconstructing a problem was not new to me. I’d never had any formal design training, but I’d always been interested in art, composition, and color. Painting and printmaking were my favorites. I was also trained as a social worker, which meant I’d spent a lot of time figuring out human motivations and behavior. How things work is fascinating to me, from the gadgetry to the communication necessary to explain to others how it works. Left brain plus right brain is how I work best.
In the ’90s, when the Web was just taking off, there was no formal training available for building websites. So I taught myself. Companies and organizations needed websites! Embolden began as a web design and digital communications company especially for nonprofit clients and high-growth small businesses. Through the websites we built at Embolden, our clients were instantly empowered to magnify the good they were doing for their customers, employees, and the community as a whole.
With so much demand for websites, Embolden grew rapidly. For seventeen years, we created online platforms of influence so nonprofits could engage donors and for-profit businesses could connect with their customers. Our mantra was “Think. Feel. Do.” That is, every website we created was successful if it made visitors think a certain way, feel good about it, and, most importantly, do something. Take action! Whether it was making a gift to a charity or purchasing a product, the action was critical. If a website did not result in action, we had not done our jobs.
Embolden thrived. In 2014, I sold Embolden to Crown Philanthropic Solutions, a provider of cloud-based donor engagement software, where I joined the executive leadership team. Two years later, the owners of Crown sold the company to RenPSG, North America’s largest independent provider of philanthropic solutions.
Throughout the entire journey, a single thread kept my attention. From the very beginning at Embolden, our staff enjoyed spending time with charities and making a difference, or what’s now known as “social impact.” So it was a no-brainer for me to incorporate “doing good” into our business model. Happy staff equals happy clients equals productive workplace equals making more money. It was a natural part of building a successful business.
As the company grew, however, it became tougher to figure out how to implement a social impact culture (though I didn’t know at the time that’s what it was called). We were giving a lot of cash to various nonprofits, but it just didn’t feel strategic. I was trying to get the staff involved in the decision-making about sponsorships. This was my way of ensuring the dollars were coming full-circle and making a positive difference in our corporate culture, as well as in the community. That was easier said than done. I knew we were doing good, but we weren’t capturing it or building on it as well as we could.
Little did I know, halfway across the country, Laura McKnight had left her position as CEO of the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation because she was seeing this trend, too—companies and people wanting to do good but getting stuck on how to recognize and celebrate social impact and keep the momentum going. She saw what I was experiencing with our clients and employees repeated again and again…how the increasing demands of work and life can make it difficult for people to feel like they’re making a difference in their personal lives and their companies.
Laura hired a team of researchers to gather data, perform dozens of focus groups, and scour the literature. After years of research, Laura ultimately developed the Social Impact Personality Type diagnostic tool (for individuals), and the Social Impact Culture Type diagnostic tool (for businesses). These are methods to uncover the ways you or your company find the most meaning and enjoyment in doing good. By learning about the different ways to do good and what about them resonates with you or a company as a whole, you (or your company) fall into one of three Types: Activator, Investor, or Connector. Just like with any personality type—there’s no right or wrong! The idea is that you discover what works—and what doesn’t—so you can focus on the right things and get, well, unstuck.
I met Laura when she was CEO of Crown Philanthropic Solutions, on the day I signed the papers to sell Embolden to Crown. We were co-presenting at a Council on Foundations conference in October 2014. The topic was donor engagement. With no time to prepare in person, we had relied on digital communication to gear up for the conference and pull together a professional focus to our meeting agenda! Digital had taken off in philanthropy as well as everywhere else, and we both loved testing ways technology could work harder to further the goals of nonprofits, businesses, and each one of us in doing good, or creating “social impact.” When I learned about the Social Impact Personality/Culture Types, everything clicked for me. I really could have used that knowledge at Embolden!
In getting to know Laura and her team’s work, I realized how far they’d taken the idea. They knew that just like with any sort of discovery, understanding and naming it is really just the first step. They wanted to inspire people and companies to use their Type to build habits and programs and make the most of their “doing good.” She was developing a Social Impact Platform service for companies to do just that, and she wondered whether I might like to help.
I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I’d always believed in empowering people to do well by doing good. The Social Impact Platform is about giving people a tool so they can reach their potentials and maximize success. It’s about giving people a boost. There is no greater thrill for me than building something that actually works. Something works when an organization or business gets more out of it than what it paid for it, whether that something is an Embolden website or, today, a social impact culture roadmap.
Embolden is about you. It's about doing good, the contemporary employee mindset, the heart and the head, workplace performance, personal success, and a whole lot more. Embolden means thriving in your life, work, and community. By learning what drives your own performance and the performance of those around you, the good just grows—along with all the positive feelings that come with knowing you’re changing the world, adding meaning, making a social impact, and, most of all, building on your own success.
Providence, Rhode Island, October 30, 2016