Community contribution has long been an important topic at Red Hat. After all, our company was built on the open source software development model and much of the code our software developers write is contributed back to the open source community. For many years, Red Hat also funded a modest US charitable giving fund--appropriate for our size, while allowing us meet our commitments to our stakeholders.
Then in 2008, a contrasting set of events changed our entire approach to charitable giving. Namely, the economic recession and the good fortune of Red Hat.
By way of background, during 2007 and 2008, as we started maturing as a company, we began to consider how to round out our corporate giving. We wanted to turn our contributions into a more robust corporate citizenship program. Luckily for us, we had a group of associates who were passionate about, and experienced in, corporate citizenship, so we turned it over to the team to come up with a plan of action. The team was led by Melanie Chernoff (also a frequent contributor on opensource.com).
Melanie and the team began to consider the question: How could Red Hat better serve our communities while funding these efforts at a level befitting a company our size? We decided to try to answer this question using the same open source principles we use to grow our business. That means we got the whole company involved.
First, we surveyed all of our US associates, asking for their input. We asked associates to identify the areas of need where they would like us to focus our efforts. And we promised to keep them involved and informed.
Our associates identified four areas of focus for our giving efforts:
- basic needs
Associates also indicated strong interest in volunteer events and in a matching gifts program. Melanie and the team then prepared a three-year roadmap and went to work implementing the plan.
Then, around October of 2008, the time when we usually started our holiday party planning, the economy began to unravel. Although Red Hat had the good fortune of enjoying continued growth at that time, most Red Hat associates had friends and family members touched by the recession. Some of us began to question whether we should spend money on merriment for ourselves when so many people around us were suffering. We considered the question: “What should the Red Hat way of celebrating the holidays be during times of economic strife?” We concluded that we needed to go back to our open source roots and focus on community contributions.
So we took this idea to the company and received a variety of reactions. Some people expressed great pride in the company for suggesting this change, while others viewed the party as a much-needed celebration and an opportunity for the company to thank employees and their families for their support throughout the year.
So we took the feedback and reworked the plan. Instead of contributing all of the US funds, we decided to use most of the funds for charity but still provide a token amount per associate per office to allow for small-scale in-the-office parties--or to be used in other ways as each office saw fit. In Raleigh, for example, we decided to have a small party, held right after work. A team of volunteers offered to decorate for the event and to take turns serving their fellow associates.
Next, we asked associates to nominate organizations (from the four areas of focus) for our new holiday donation. We collected a large list of worthy organizations. Given the tough economic situation, we decided that we should focus on organizations that covered basic needs, and we eventually chose Feeding America for our 2008 donation.
Feeding America runs food banks all across the United States. In addition to our substantial national donation to the organization (which paid for about 800,000 meals, approximately one million pounds of food), many of our offices around the United States held their own canned food drives to benefit local food banks.
Here is a picture from the holiday party we held in our Raleigh, NC headquarters, showing the food we collected the first year.
The story of how we cancelled our big holiday parties and instead gave the money we would have used as a donation to people in need was covered in the news locally and then picked up nationally as well.
Afterward, the reaction within Red Hat was extremely positive. And now, when I mention I work at Red Hat to people I meet, especially around the holiday season, they often mention hearing about Red Hat giving its holiday party budget away to charity. It has become a point of pride internally for Red Hat, that we not only give away our software code, but we also give in other meaningful ways as well.
With our holiday party donation as a focal point, the charitable giving program within Red Hat has become something we care about deeply. I believe a large part of the strength of the program is that it our associates choose and therefore feel personal pride in the choice.
Will Red Hat ever go back to having big holiday parties? Honestly, I doubt it. The holiday donation is now a part of our culture of giving back and I personally hope it always stays that way.