4 Chicago tech companies making philanthropy a cornerstone of culture

Sam Dewey

Technology has the power (and perhaps the responsibility) to be an impetus for positive social change in the world. The crux of innovation, after all, is to unlock the solutions to a spectrum of problems ranging from the most paramount to the most banal.

But that doesn’t mean technology should replace philanthropy. And as it turns out, there’s a whole catalogue of Chicago tech companies committed to altruism both in and out of the office. 

As the holiday season begins to rear its festive head, here are four Chicago tech companies committed to giving back — and the reasons why their causes are close to heart.

At Solstice, giving back to the community — both locally and globally — has become a cornerstone of the company’s culture. Empowering employees to get involved in the community outside of work is important to them, and that’s why they partner with a number of organizations — from Chicago Dance Marathon and i.c.stars to international organizations like Shining Hope For Communities and Eneza Education — to weave philanthropy into every thread of their identity.

For instance, this Saturday and Sunday, Solstice is teaming up with Internet of Elephants to host a 24-hour hackathon to benefit wildlife awareness and conservation. Over 120 people from various tech backgrounds will participate in order to reach their end goal: developing tech-powered, innovative ways to engage a worldwide audience with the natural world.

“One of Solstice's guiding principles is to always search for new ways to use technology to make a difference,” said Solstice Mobile founder and CEO J Schwan. “The wildlife cause desperately needs the scale that technology can provide to create an emotional connection between people and endangered wildlife thousands of miles away. Working with the Internet of Elephants provides us a unique opportunity to use our UX and engineering expertise to directly service social and environmental change. We're excited and honored to help sponsor this event."

 

G2 Crowd, a Highland Park software review platform, this week launched its first major nonprofit initiative. The program, called G2 gives, marries G2’s value of transparency with the company’s commitment to supporting nonprofits.

It works like this: nonprofits get G2 Crowd’s Grid reports for free and can additionally raise funds for their organizations by encouraging their network to submit reviews on G2 Crowd’s platform. On top of that, revenue generated by nonprofit software categories is put aside in a fund for employee matching.

“Our program demonstrates that giving back doesn't need to depend on organizational similarities,” said Adrienne Weissman, G2 Crowd’s CMO. “We had a hard time choosing the type of organization we wanted to support, since there are so many great ones out there. So, instead of choosing just one, we chose all of them. It doesn't matter if the organization is software-related or not. Philanthropic efforts are dependent on where there's a need and where there are helping hands. We are proud to have the flexibility to help out organizations that need the support.”

Weissman said the G2 gives program is a first step the company looks forward to building upon as they scale. In addition to the formal program, she said the startup’s “Culture Team” is hard at work organizing a community project the team will work on together this holiday season.

 

ParkWhiz is a Chicago-based parking app that’s busy racing to the top of its vertical. Nonetheless, the company still finds time to put on the brakes in order to spend time with their favorite charity in the city.

Meet Envision, a local organization that runs a studio arts program for artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities. ParkWhiz has commissioned a handful of art pieces from the charity that will adorn the walls of their newly expanded office.

In fact, the office’s open house in February will double as an exhibit for the artists at Envision to display their work. And this winter, Envision workspace in West Town will play host to ParkWhiz’s holiday party, where ParkWhiz employees will work alongside Envision’s artists to produce additional pieces for their new space.

"At ParkWhiz, we believe that great ideas and inspiration can come from anywhere," said Brandy Kemp, Vice President of Marketing. "Working with Envision inspires our own creativity and challenges us to see the world through the varied perspectives of the community we serve."

 

For a company like GiveForward, philanthropy seems like a pretty patent undercurrent of their day-to-day work. Still, the crowdfunding and donation platform (which was built on the idea that there are better ways to support friends and family going through major life events) goes above and beyond when it comes to enabling altruism in the community.

One of the initiatives GiveForward instituted that celebrates its philanthropic spirit is the Create Unexpected Joy (CUJ) fund. The fund exists as an employee perk that workers can draw upon to donate to causes they uncover while they’re at work.

“My favorite example was from this summer where a mother had started a fundraiser due to her pre-school age daughter having severe epilepsy,” said Josh Chapman, GiveForward CEO. “Violet was having to undergo a lot of tests and procedures and Elyse, her Coach at GiveForward, decided to send her a few princess gifts (with Mom's permission and suggestions on what she likes) that included a castle small kids can play inside as well as princess accessories like a crown and cape. The best thing was that the package was signed by her Fairy Godmother, based on another suggestion from Mom. Being able to bring sunshine into what is often a dark time in someone's life is exactly why we created CUJ.”

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