Discovery Sounds Off on Creating Change in Local Communities

November 7, 2012

I recently interviewed Michelle Russo, Senior VP of Corporate Affairs & Communications at Discovery Communications. During our interview we talked about one of Discovery's signature employee volunteer programs - Creating Change, the effects of corporate volunteering on the local community, and the increased trend of corporate volunteer programs over the years.

BCLC: What is Creating Change and how does it align with Discovery’s mission statement?

Michelle Russo: The Discovery Impact: Creating Change initiative is our annual pro-bono creative marathon and conference that utilizes the power of the company’s greatest assets – our talented employees – to give back to nonprofit organizations through skills-based services. Creating Change is a natural extension of Discovery’s Founder and Chairman John Hendricks’ original vision – to make a difference by giving back to the world that has given Discovery so much. It embraces his philosophy by donating our employees’ talents to create a better community and a better world.

On November 15, Discovery’s offices in Silver Spring, Maryland and London will host the third annual event, which sees the scope of our efforts expanded outside the U.S. for the first time, and includes the implementation of new technologies and a “train the trainer” session for our Discover Your Skills initiative. This year, over 200 employee volunteers will take on 25 projects during the 12-hour marathon to complete nearly 3,000 volunteer hours donated to fulfill myriad projects encompassing the design, marketing, video, technology and communications needs of our nonprofit partners. We will again host a conference that runs in tandem with the marathon featuring a variety of Discovery speakers who will share knowledge and best practices in the areas of social media, corporate partnerships, public relations and effective storytelling methods.

BCLC: Many companies now engage in skills-based volunteerism programs. What do you think has accounted for the growing importance of skills-based volunteering?

Michelle Russo: The Discovery Impact portfolio includes skills-based and traditional volunteering opportunities. While our employees love to volunteer in many capacities – landscaping, rebuilding houses, cleaning parks, helping the homeless – when we capitalize on the talents they employ in the workplace, it’s amazing to see how skills-based volunteerism, like Creating Change, inspires and invigorates their creative potential in their day jobs.

Externally, we have found many nonprofits requesting services from Discovery (PSA development, photography, production, etc.), so we merged the two ideas and started a day dedicated to celebrating skills-based volunteerism. Discovery Communications has some of the most talented and generous employees in the media business, so adding a skills-based volunteerism program to our Discovery Impact portfolio was a natural fit to fulfill the desires of our employees and meet the demand of the marketplace.

BCLC: What are some of the highlights from previous Creating Change campaigns?

Michelle Russo: One of the best parts of Creating Change is presenting the completed projects to representatives from our nonprofit partner organizations. Nothing compares to witnessing their reactions! Many people – the nonprofit representatives and employees alike -- are brought to tears by the quality and thoughtfulness put into their campaigns and share that the work created is a turning point for their organizations.

At the first Creating Change event, the D.C. affiliate for Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN) received a PSA from our volunteer team. Before watching the new PSA, the KEEN Executive Director noted that she’s worked in her role for 20 years and it’s hard for a campaign to impact her. After watching the PSA, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room! Last year, one of our teams developed a brochure and poster for Silver Spring-based Shepherd’s Table, an organization that provides meals for the homeless community in Discovery headquarter’s backyard. The Executive Director beamed with joy when she saw the materials and couldn’t contain her thanks. It’s moments like this that highlight why Discovery makes it a priority to give back … we have such talented employees whose generous spirit truly betters the community.

BCLC: Since its inception how has Creating Change impacted the local community?

Michelle Russo: The immediate impact Creating Change has on the community is evident in the feedback we receive from the participating organizations and their quick utilization of the materials created for them. The services our employees provide to our nonprofit partners help them communicate their message, increase brand awareness, and raise funds. The impact doesn’t just stop with the greater community – it also has a direct impact within Discovery’s walls. Creating Change reinvigorates our employees in their daily work and helps broaden their creative reach. That’s the beauty about Creating Change -- it helps the community and inspires employees.

BCLC: Where do you see Creating Change in the next 5 years?

Michelle Russo: Creating Change continues to evolve from year to year, and we couldn’t be happier with where we are with this program. As we move forward, our three major goals are: to have Creating Change continue to enhance its offerings based on the needs of our nonprofit partners; expand the program to more of Discovery’s U.S. and international offices; and continue to encourage the spirit of giving back, having fun, and being creative at Discovery!