The willingness to share is literally what allowed the human species to survive – and that concept has evolved along with our species. But a question inevitably arises: What’s the most effective and mutually beneficial way to share, or give?
The founders of what was then Elliott Associates, Lou and Moe Elliott, spent years working in the Peace Corps; service work was essential to their natures. When they started the company, they maintained their ethos and contributed generously to many causes they and their employees believed in.
When their son Jordan came on board in 2016 as the company’s president, he brought a background working in nonprofits and sought to bring elements of that structure to the company’s ad hoc giving. While the existing efforts were beneficial to many people and organizations, they weren’t leading to in-depth relationships—like the deep business relationships the company thrives on.
Solution: more intentional involvement
It was that inevitable question: Are we doing this the best way? How can we increase meaningful impact in line with our company mission and goals? Jordan pondered this and gathered input from the entire team. And they decided to change things up—to be more intentional.
The short version: Every fall, employees can nominate organizations to be NAI Elliott’s designated giving partner for the following year. The nomination process is detailed, and the nominated organizations are thoroughly vetted on their values and practices. The entire staff can vote, fostering involvement and buy-in, and at the annual Holiday Party the most-voted-for organization is announced. The entire staff’s donations to the annual holiday raffle comprise the seed funding for helping the new partner.
But, once again: What’s the best way to help?
“We were looking for something more than just giving money,” Jordan explains. “We want a true partnership with the organization and the work they’re doing. It’s much more rewarding to reach out to an organization and say both ‘We have some money for you’ and ‘How else can we help you?’”
The company’s giving partner for 2022 was Taking Ownership PDX, a nonprofit that works with Black homeowners who request help to revive their properties when they can’t. Portland’s explicit history of redlining and other segregationist, discriminatory behaviors, combined with the current gentrification of Black legacy neighborhoods, means many Black homeowners are susceptible to losing their homes over relatively minor, fixable issues. Taking Ownership PDX (TO) helps with home renovation and repairs, landscaping and myriad other challenges to help families keep their homes.
The cause resonated with the NAI Elliott team. “Working in real estate, we know that generational wealth is most often built and passed down through owning property,” Jordan says. “When Black families lose their homes, that path is cut off for succeeding generations.”
Starting a relationship the right way
It’s a cause the entire NAI Elliott team can relate to and get behind. Ash Mitchell, the company’s Chief of Staff, who coordinates the company’s giving program, connected with TO to initiate the relationship.
“The first step was to get on a call with Jed Overly, TO’s Volunteer Director, to find out what support they needed, and then design how we would work together,” Ash says. “To work with them, all anyone has to do is reach out and say, ‘How can we help?’ From that question, the rest will follow.”
Ash and Jed laid out a plan for NAI Elliott volunteers to work on specific projects for homeowners—“workdays” where they show up at a home and tackle a pre-arranged set of tasks.
“They needed work parties to go to the houses, where a TO rep would supervise a half-day of work, mostly on weekends but sometimes during work hours,” Jordan says. “We paid the team members for their time either way, which is a tangible way we can support the program.”
The response from NAI Elliott’s people was strong.
“When NAI Elliott reached out to us about collaborating on five volunteer projects over a six-month window, I could sense a very palpable desire for change,” Jed says. “And not only did NAI Elliott’s number of volunteer commitments surpass all other groups, but the determination and quality of care was next-level.”
An extra layer of resources—and on-site help
“There was one project where NAI Elliott identified a specific need to cut some trees, and they called in their landscaping associates over at Crystal Greens,” Jed recalls. “The end result was a full yard transformation, and it didn’t cost the homeowner a dime. The accumulating nuisance complaints ceased, and now there’s one more esteemed member of our community whose needs have been noticed and met.”
“Crystal Greens really stepped up,” Jordan confirms. “They donated the arborists’ time—thousands of dollars' worth—to help out. That’s one of the coolest things about having an ongoing giving partner: We can really learn the organization and identify their needs, and then connect them to additional resources that can help. It’s way more than writing a check.”
“My favorite part of that story is that NAI Elliott literally took ownership over this project,” Jed says. “It was a response to a need, which is the very way Taking Ownership PDX started. We didn’t have a business plan. We did not yet fully realize where it was going, but we saw what had to be done and we did something. That’s exactly what NAI Elliott did that day.”
An organized plan that achieves mutual benefit
The partnership produced some impressive results, but it also involved a lot of elements and moving parts. It started with an organized effort. “It’s key to have one or two people in your company on point to be present at events and coordinate with the partner’s rep,” Ash says. “I guarantee they have more on their plate than you do, and your efforts to organize your staff volunteers goes a long way in creating a big impact.”
“You have to really get to know the organization and convey that to your team,” Jordan adds. “Explain exactly what they’re doing, and why, and people will say ‘Yeah, totally makes sense. How can I help?’ We had a really high number of participants who rolled up their sleeves and got to work.”
And that kind of on-the-ground involvement illuminated one of the best parts of a giving partnership: the reward of knowing you helped, you shared, you made something better. “We had one team member say after a long shift working in the dirt, ‘I didn’t understand how important and valuable the experience would be for me, too,’” Jordan says.
The benefit was mutual, in more ways than just the tangible results of the workdays. “Taking Ownership PDX’s partnership with NAI Elliott greatly informed the way we now work with agencies for volunteer projects,” Jed says. “And it made us a more efficient and impactful presence in our community.”
To begin your partnership with Taking Ownership PDX, reach out HERE.