Alex Yastrebenetsky is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Cincinnati and founder of InfoTrust, a digital analytics consulting and technology company helping marketers use data to make smarter decisions. The company started its own Basket Brigade program to give back to their local community at Thanksgiving, and is expanding internationally this year. We asked Alex to tell us about the program he started. Here's what he shared.
How did the Basket Brigade begin?
AY/ Inspiration for our Basket Brigade came from two people: Tony Robbins, who started the Anthony Robbins Foundation, which feeds an estimated two million people annually; and Verne Harnish, who started Entrepreneurs' Organization and said that the best way to scale a business is to find something that you absolutely, 100% believe in and then commit resources to it. That resonates with me: Once you make a promise, you will find a way to make it happen.
We started our Basket Brigade in 2013, providing 33 baskets filled with all the trimmings for a Thanksgiving meal to local families in Cincinnati. By 2016, our program had grown considerably: We delivered a total of 161 baskets to local Cincinnati families, veterans and those in shelters; a women's shelter in Seattle; and an organization in San Diego that helps people transition home after hospital stays. We aim to keep growing the program!
What's in the baskets?
AY/ We provide everything a family needs to make a delicious, traditional Thanksgiving dinner:
- Green Beans
- Mashed Potatoes
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Granola Bars
- Turkey, or a gift card for perishable items
Many baskets are delivered through Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Since privacy rules prohibit us from delivering to those families personally, we can't include perishables, thus the gift cards.
What's the process?
AY/ As autumn approaches, we hang index cards listing items we need on our company bulletin board. For example, "10 boxes of macaroni and cheese" or "20 boxes of gravy." Employees decide if they want to purchase specific items or donate money.
We don't monitor employee contributions, but low-cost options encourage everyone to participate. Our employees' generosity is amazing--some have purchased a full 10 baskets out of their family budget while others have written large checks to contribute.
In mid-November, we take inventory and compile a master list of items we need from Amazon, Costco and Jet.com.
Our packing party is the Friday before Thanksgiving. We invite everybody who donated to help pack boxes and baskets. Then we coordinate with families and organizations that receive deliveries, split into teams based on who has a truck or SUV, and make the deliveries on Saturday or early in Thanksgiving week.
How will you expand internationally?
AY/ We have employees from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and India. These Basket Brigade programs will function a little differently. For example, in Sri Lanka, we will support a women's shelter where cleaning supplies are very expensive and in high demand. Instead of food, we'll send money to an employee's family member locally to purchase and deliver the much-needed cleaning supplies.
Is social entrepreneurship contagious?
AY/ We believe it is. Part of our mission is to get more and more small business owners involved. EO provides a great network of committed social entrepreneurs to make that happen. Last year, a fellow EO member, Guy O'Gara, and his team donated money for 10 baskets, came to our office to put them together and delivered them. It was a great moment when Guy proudly showed his son the thank-you card display that they contributed to. He plans to participate again this year, and we're putting the word out so more entrepreneurs will also join us.
As a father, one of the most rewarding experiences was taking my 4-year-old son and his two friends to Costco to purchase Basket Brigade items. I explained that we were buying food for little boys and girls who might not have a Thanksgiving dinner without our help, which is an eye-opening lesson at that age. I can't wait to take them again this year!
How do employees and clients react?
AY/ The most important question any entrepreneur must answer is "Why?" To run a successful company, you must have a compelling Why for yourself and your team.
There's nothing wrong with being successful and making money. But in my mind, you can't grow a business if the motivation of the owner and the team aren't aligned. Why should the team care about growth? Why should they have to put up with the stress and uncertainty that comes with growth? Why should they care in general?
On the surface, we help big corporations sell more stuff. But that's not our Why. Our true Why is being able to answer:
- What will we give as we grow?
- Who will we become?
- Whom are we helping?
Our team realizes that, as a result of their work, we as a company can now accomplish wonderful things. Basket Brigade is just one of many activities that we are formalizing under our InfoTrust Foundation.
We believe in the social entrepreneur's mission of giving back to our community. As the quote on our wall from Jeff Hoffman, our mentor and co-founder of Priceline.com says: "Our success is someone else's miracle."
Our clients appreciate our efforts, too. Last year, instead of a holiday card, I sent a personal letter thanking each client for the opportunity to teach my son about giving. I thanked our clients for providing us with the resources to give 121 baskets to the hematology/oncology department at Cincinnati Children's Hospital―because if not us, then who? I explained that this is who we are, this is what's important to us, and we will provide them with excellent client care so we will continue to have the resources to take care of the families that we support.
That letter made a big impact. Many clients sent thank-you cards and for the first two weeks in January, our consultants were being thanked for what we've done--and continue to do.
Putting resources toward our Basket Brigade shows employees in a very hands-on way how their hard work directly benefits our community. Their work truly matters, and they realize it. That's our Why.