Ben Kirshner, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in New York, is founder and CEO of Elite SEM, an award-winning, performance-driven digital marketing agency. The company was named Bing's 2018 Philanthropist of the Year for its work with underserved children and their families in Nicaragua. We asked Ben about his company's propensity for philanthropy. Here's what he shared.

How did you grow your company's social consciousness?

Our company's mission is to create "great lives for great people." For me, success is knowing that our company is providing employees, clients, partners and the underprivileged with opportunities to live better lives.

We established our philanthropic arm in 2010 because we believe that it's critical to give back to the communities where we operate that have embraced us and contributed to our success.

We started by providing pro-bono digital marketing services to non-profit organizations through Google Grants. It feels great to help organizations and charities improve (or establish) their digital presence, get the word out about the work they accomplish and hopefully grow their donor base.

In 2011, one of the organizations we began helping with search engine optimization services was Fabretto, a US-based organization with a mission to empower underserved children and their families in Nicaragua so they can take advantage of economic opportunity through education. We partnered with Fabretto to honor the philanthropic spirit and memory of a beloved former employee, Zachary Ciperski, who passed away in 2011. Since then, our work with them has become much more hands-on.

Also in Zach's honor, we established an employee volunteer board called "Get Up and Live," which organizes food drives, fundraising walks and donations. We choose which organizations to support based on the personal connections of employees, so they are meaningful to our company. In total, we give an average of 600+ hours of service each year.

In 2014 we started an annual Week of Kindness, during which we encourage employees in our nine locations across the country to perform random acts of kindness. Employees enjoy sharing the ways they've been able to contribute to their local communities during companywide video conference huddles, and hopefully, we're inspiring others as well!

In my experience, if you put good karma out in the world, it will come back to you in many ways. When I look around at our team of dynamic problem-solvers who passionately support social causes and give from their hearts, I'm pretty sure that's karma at work.

Your company was named Bing's 2018 Philanthropist of the Year. What led to that honor?

One of our agency's most important projects with Fabretto was building the Zachary Ciperski Library in San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua in 2016. It holds more than 3,000 books and provides over 150 children and 15 teachers with the resources they need to ignite a new world of possibility and education in their community.

This video provides more context about the project: 

Every year, a group of about 10 employees travels to Nicaragua for a week to continue ongoing volunteer projects. This past year, our group built an outdoor pavilion, poured concrete, painted beams, and dug a trench for an irrigation system. Our goal is to add a playground next year.

It's an honor to be recognized by Microsoft. Making the world a better place for future generations is a core value we share with them, and I think it's great that they celebrate their partners' philanthropic efforts.

How have employees reacted to your company's philanthropy?

The partnership has inspired a genuine passion for community and charity among employees; the program continues to scale with little involvement on my part. I think that's because our employees feel a personal connection to the Nicaraguan community, and vice versa. In addition to our annual trip to Nicaragua, our employees sponsor over 100 children through Fabretto.

It's one thing to see a donation come out of your paycheck every other week, but the experience becomes much more profound when you meet the children and families whose lives your donation is changing. This partnership has been empowering for all of our employees.

What work do you hope to do in the future?

I hope to continually build our partnership with Fabretto and watch our sponsored kids grow up and reach their life goals.

In addition, I hope to continue helping employees and the communities we work in realize the importance of giving back. For us, using our existing staff and expertise to help a non-profit improve its digital presence is an easy thing to do, but the impact it has can be priceless to the people that non-profit supports.

Our company isn't huge--we've got 330 employees across the country. What we lack in size and financial resources, we try to make up for by giving from the bottom of our hearts.

What will you share with other entrepreneurs looking to make their mark beyond their businesses?

Make giving back one of your company's core values and use community service opportunities to reward employees.

In our company, core values are our driving force. Each year, we select five employees as winners of our Core Values awards--those who live, breathe and share our core values to benefit the company, our clients and associates. Each winner receives a paid trip to Nicaragua to work on the service project of the year. 

The goal is to make community service something your employees take pride and honor in doing. If you can turn employees onto the idea of giving back and philanthropy, you've done your job as a leader.

Published on: Oct 5, 2018