My View

Using ‘Powerful Institutions to Drive Social Good’

Helping with homework and hoops, and simply talking about the choices facing at-risk boys, allows a D.C. corporate volunteer strategist to give back — year-round.

Graham McLaughlin is the director of community impact at The Advisory Board Co. 
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Graham Mclaughlin
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Graham McLaughlin
Dec. 20, 2013, 4:18 a.m.

Ed­it­or’s note: Dav­id Brad­ley, own­er of At­lantic Me­dia, which pub­lishes Na­tion­al Journ­al, foun­ded the Ad­vis­ory Board in 1979 and sold it in 1997.

Loosely, Gra­ham McLaugh­lin, 32, is paid to vo­lun­teer and to help oth­er em­ploy­ees do the same. As dir­ect­or of com­munity im­pact at The Ad­vis­ory Board, a D.C.-based tech­no­logy, re­search, and con­sult­ing firm fo­cused on im­prov­ing high­er edu­ca­tion and health, he over­sees pro­pos­als and pro­jects in­volving staff vo­lun­teer­ism. On Tues­days af­ter­noons, though, he ment­ors twin teen­age boys in the Edge­wood Ter­race hous­ing pro­ject through Beacon House. On Sat­urdays, he plays bas­ket­ball with kids at a ju­ven­ile de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity.

A Uni­versity of North Car­o­lina gradu­ate who double-ma­jored in psy­cho­logy and man­age­ment and who has worked at the Ad­vis­ory Board since 2007, McLaugh­lin ac­know­ledges he’s lucky to blend his work­place re­spons­ib­il­ity with his per­son­al ex­pect­a­tion to help oth­ers.

Here he also ex­plains the com­pany’s strategy for vo­lun­teer­ism, which in­cludes ap­proaches ad­voc­ated by the Com­mit­tee En­cour­aging Cor­por­ate Phil­an­thropy and the Points of Light Cor­por­ate In­sti­tute.

This in­ter­view, con­duc­ted by Jody Bran­non, has been ed­ited for length and clar­ity.

I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in how to use power­ful in­sti­tu­tions to drive so­cial good. In the non­profit space, you’re lim­ited by con­strained re­sources. At the gov­ern­ment level it’s more about policy than dir­ect ac­tion. At a found­a­tion, you’re provid­ing re­sources but don’t al­ways get to en­sure their ef­fi­cient de­ploy­ment. All of those three sec­tors are im­port­ant, but cor­por­a­tions are in the unique po­s­i­tion to drive im­pact in a myri­ad of ways — through their mar­ket power and eth­ic­al busi­ness prac­tices, and also by im­buing a sense of re­spons­ib­il­ity and pur­pose in em­ploy­ees’ daily jobs and through mean­ing­ful vo­lun­teer op­por­tun­it­ies. By en­cour­aging an at­ti­tude of stew­ard­ship that blends the head and heart you en­able people to util­ize their unique per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al skills in a way that’s truly mean­ing­ful. The po­ten­tial to de­vel­op this type of im­pact-en­abling en­vir­on­ment is what mo­tiv­ates me in my own work.

I’m blessed in a num­ber of ways, both with work and per­son­ally. I hit the ge­net­ic lot­tery be­ing born in­to a lov­ing and caring en­vir­on­ment, so I con­sider it my re­spons­ib­il­ity to sup­port those who were not as lucky.

Teen­agers are at a really in­ter­est­ing point in their lives be­cause the de­cisions they’re go­ing to make in the next couple years will have a pro­found im­pact on their lives. Start­ing in high school, your aca­dem­ic de­cisions de­term­ine wheth­er you will go to col­lege, drop out, or learn a trade that can build a sol­id eco­nom­ic fu­ture. Your life de­cisions can lead you to be­come a par­ent be­fore you may be ready or to have a crim­in­al re­cord, but they can also set you up for pos­it­ive life out­comes and re­la­tion­ships you will have forever. I en­joy work­ing with teen­agers who have not had aca­dem­ic, fam­ily, and/or eco­nom­ic sup­port in or­der to provide them needed sup­port as they enter this crit­ic­al time in their lives. What we dis­cuss may not al­ter what hap­pens, but I hope it does provide them at least a bet­ter frame­work for their on­go­ing de­cision-mak­ing.

Work­ing dir­ectly with teens is the “heart” part. The head part is chair­ing the board of DC Al­li­ance of Youth Ad­voc­ates. In my role on the DCAYA board, we fo­cus on re­search­ing and ad­voc­at­ing for the right policies and fund­ing struc­tures to best sup­port youth. For in­stance, just this week the D.C. City Coun­cil voted to provide free trans­port­a­tion to youth up to, I think, 24 years old, a huge boost for kids try­ing to im­prove their fu­tures but hav­ing to take a bus cross-town to their in­tern­ship or school. I’m grate­ful to the coun­cil for listen­ing to this re­com­mend­a­tion. Some of these things that don’t seem like a big deal can have a trans­form­at­ive ef­fect on these kids’ lives, and this is a good ex­ample.

The Ad­vis­ory Board has the most gen­er­ous leave policy in the na­tion, 10 hours of paid day­time leave per month, en­abling me to ment­or the boys, make board meet­ings, etc.

Ob­vi­ously en­abling your em­ploy­ees to have the time to make an im­pact is crit­ic­al to de­vel­op­ing a great vo­lun­teer pro­gram, but you also have to de­vel­op this de­sire to make a dif­fer­ence in your staff. To do this, you need to show staff how their skills and time will make a mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ence, and then en­sure every op­por­tun­ity truly does make an im­pact. For our firm, this is fo­cus­ing on our unique skill sets in health and edu­ca­tion, and us­ing this know­ledge along with our tech­no­logy and re­search skills to im­prove pub­lic health and edu­ca­tion­al out­comes by part­ner­ing with high qual­ity non­profits where we have com­ple­ment­ary skill sets.

For in­stance, 58 per­cent of people would take a 15 per­cent pay cut to work at an or­gan­iz­a­tion with val­ues like their own. “Mean­ing­ful work” was the No. 1 an­swer in a Real­ized Worth study with mil­len­ni­als to the ques­tion, “What do you want from your job?” People clearly want to make a dif­fer­ence in their work, so the key is how do you do so in a way that im­proves the world and your busi­ness.

For in­stance, our tech team wanted to im­prove their tech skills but also be­come bet­ter in in­ter­act­ing with cli­ents and in­tern­al part­ners. We were do­ing a data-min­ing pro­ject for an anti-hu­man-traf­fick­ing part­ner. Each mem­ber of the team had sep­ar­ate skills, but they came to­geth­er to teach each oth­er.

We work to en­sure every in­ter­ac­tion is truly mean­ing­ful — to show how you can use your head and your heart. We had people come in — a so­cial work­er, policy ex­perts — to show that in D.C. five miles can be a world of demo­graph­ic dif­fer­ence in edu­ca­tion and life op­por­tun­it­ies between Ward 8 and Ward 3.

At our firm, we take our stew­ard­ship of the share­hold­ers’ money ser­i­ously, so we don’t give away their money lightly. Every dol­lar is seen as an in­vest­ment in our people and our busi­ness, as well as an in­vest­ment in the com­munity, so any grants we make are to or­gan­iz­a­tions where our people are de­vel­op­ing per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally in ad­di­tion to mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.

We’re a com­pany with about a $2 bil­lion mar­ket cap and 2,600 em­ploy­ees. At that size, we’re not GE or Wal-Mart — we’re not go­ing to change the world by switch­ing sup­pli­ers or ad­opt­ing a new policy. But we’re not a 50-per­son firm that should prob­ably fo­cus on just help­ing one or­gan­iz­a­tion. There­fore, we look to trans­form the com­munit­ies we’re based by util­iz­ing our unique skill sets as a firm. If I had to give one piece of ad­vice to oth­er vo­lun­teer pro­grams it would be to do the same thing — fig­ure out the scope of your pro­gram where you can have a truly trans­form­at­ive dif­fer­ence, and then fo­cus your unique gifts on mak­ing a pos­it­ive dif­fer­ence in that area.

Ad­mit­tedly though, I have it easy. I pinch my­self every day to work here. This is a place that really cares. People come here be­cause they’re ideal­ist­ic — they want to im­prove edu­ca­tion and health care; our core val­ues state this, and our ex­ecs are on board, so it’s an easy lift. And then per­son­ally for me I love hav­ing that time to be so in­ves­ted in this city that I love. I’m really lucky pro­fes­sion­ally.


Jody Brannon contributed to this article.
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