Three years ago, executives at Box, the cloud content management company, were eager to ramp up the company’s social impact. They launched Box.org, a group dedicated to working with nonprofits. By locating the new venture alongside strategic business units, they sought to ensure that social impact would be in the conversation at every turn and become core to the entire organization.
Today, Box.org has more than 6,000 partners around the world—nonprofits using the Box platform to aid with everything from refugee resettlement to foster care. Here, Bryan Breckenridge, executive director of Box.org, shares the benefits of the initiative and what other companies can learn from it.
FastCo.Works: How does Box.org work within the larger organization?
Bryan Breckenridge: We’re a social enterprise within the business. We provide our technology on a donated or heavily discounted basis to nonprofits using the Box platform. We mobilize the skills and energy of our employees who want to volunteer. Take the International Rescue Committee (IRC). They’re such a vital force right now in the lives of refugees. At a hackathon this month, we’ll surround IRC, as well as Oxfam and Save the Children, with our engineers and customer success managers and other experts. We’ll assess what their field teams need to better manage field assessments after emergencies for the people they serve. Then, we’ll build a minimally viable app called FACT (Field Assessment Content Tool) that will be available online for the rest of the NGO community to use and build on.
FCW: So you operate much as Box does with corporate clients—solving an operational problem?
BB: Exactly. We conceptualized and helped launch an alliance of cloud providers called ImpactCloud last year, which aims to accelerate cross-cloud innovation for nonprofits, initially for those in the disaster response community. The ImpactCloud community has collaborated to advance program efficiency innovations with nonprofits like Team Rubicon and PATH. If you go to ImpactCloud.org, you can see the full list of partners on that project.
FCW: How does a humanitarian effort like this align with your business goals?
BB: First and foremost, we drive up engagement with our technology. But we also learn a lot. This gives us wonderful ideas for innovation. Within the foster care movement is an amazing nonprofit called Think of Us. Using the Box platform, it built a digital locker for foster youth to keep their important documents, like their birth certificate, secure. Now you have our team doing pro bono consulting on the digital locker, which will potentially be used by hundreds of thousands of foster youth, but which also represents an innovation that helps Box advance its platform with our government and corporate customers.
FCW: What’s the impact of the work on the company itself?
BB: A lot of people come to work at Box in part because of Box.org. It also helps us because many of our largest commercial customers care greatly about social impact. For us to get to partner with them not just on the business side, but also on the philanthropic front creates more texture in those relationships, and those relationships become more enduring.
FCW: How did Box.org get started?
BB: There’s always been organic interest in the work, with employees forming groups to volunteer and create social impact in their communities. It just took a while for this to become a formal part of the business plan. The cofounders were battling the battles that every startup faces to get to a sustainable place. But they also saw what peers in Silicon Valley were doing to make social impact and community stakeholders a vital and viable part of their business models.
FCW: What advice do you have for companies exploring how to have a social impact?
BB:The first thing to do is a gut check to understand your core competencies. If you bring your values and your purpose in very close proximity to your core competencies, the ability for those programs to endure or scale is more possible than if the philanthropic effort is separated from the business or set up in a disjointed way. If we were a different kind of company, we wouldn’t be doing hackathons. We’d be doing whatever it is that we’re good at.
You also need to keep your nonprofit stakeholder’s mission at the top of the priority list. This only works when it’s authentic. It’s very easy to start doing business the way you always have. If you consider social impact another element of return, then you’re going to keep your priorities appropriate and that’s going to lead to more success for everybody involved.
To learn more and apply for donated access to Box, visit Box.org/apply.
Bryan Breckenridge is the executive director of Box.org. Previously, he founded the nonprofit-facing pillar of LinkedIn for Good and served as director of nonprofits and education at Salesforce.org.
This article was created for and commissioned by Box.