Photo courtesy of Melissa MacDonnell
Melissa MacDonnell, President of Liberty Mutual Foundation, knows a thing or two about what it’s like to work for a company that prioritizes its social responsibility. In fact, as part of the company’s annual Give with Liberty program, Liberty Mutual employees have donated more than $100 million to local nonprofit partners over the past decade.
As Liberty kicks off this year’s campaign, Fairygodboss spoke to MacDonnell to find out what inspires her most about her job and what advice she has for people who want to give back to their communities.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I joined Liberty Mutual in 2000 to run its charitable giving and to assist on executive speechwriting. A few months prior, I had earned my Masters in Public Administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School. Before attending graduate school full-time, I had wrapped up a part-time MBA program at Boston College while serving as a vice president at Fleet Financial Group (now part of Bank of America) in philanthropy.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of Liberty Mutual?
I am constantly inspired by the executive directors and staff leading the partner organizations Liberty supports. Their vision and deep dedication on behalf of others energizes my team and me. We see firsthand how their service is changing lives.
What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about Liberty Mutual that you think they should?
Wow, it’s tough to narrow down to one thing, so I’ll share two. First, most people don’t know that in any given year, Liberty Mutual is one of — if not the — most generous corporate citizen in Boston. This has been both an honor and an awesome responsibility.
Second, over the past four years, Liberty Mutual has become a significant champion in the fight to reduce and ultimately eliminate the hidden epidemic of youth and young adult homelessness.
Liberty Mutual strives to amplify the voices of young people experiencing homelessness, increase resources to address it, support research, convene providers and offer direct grants (which have totaled $4 million over the last two years) to help eradicate youth homelessness. Liberty has strategically sought out and supported world-class organizations that offer an array of wrap-around services to youth, including housing, job training, healthcare, legal services, counseling and rental subsidies, to ensure that youth homelessness is rare, episodic and brief.
What do you love most about Liberty Mutual?
I love Liberty’s culture of philanthropy and the inspiring commitment our employees have to their communities.
Liberty Mutual’s commitment to philanthropy runs deep. To start, the company’s giving has increased by 10% annually on average since 2011. David Long, our CEO, often speaks of a philanthropic principle by which we operate, that as the company grows, the community will benefit. Equally exciting is how we have begun to put the full strength and leadership of Liberty Mutual behind the causes we care about most, such as lending our voice on youth homelessness, convening nonprofit partners working toward similar ends, or hosting expert speakers for our grantees.
Through our annual employee giving program – Give with Liberty – more than 60 percent of employees pledged their support to 7,837 charities during our annual campaign. The 2018 campaign kicks off this month and I can’t wait to see how many more lives we are able to touch.
Another leg of our community of caring is our annual Serve with Liberty campaign. A few months ago, nearly 27,000 employees from 19 countries around the world served during the first two weeks of May. Both Give with Liberty and Serve with Liberty are now part of Liberty Torchbearers, a recently-launched platform that extends our community service programs and impact, while celebrating and recognizing the causes employees care about most. It is designed to celebrate and support employees’ participation in volunteer activities that improve the health and well-being of the people experiencing vulnerability in the communities where they live and work. The generosity of our employees, who enthusiastically donate their time, talent, and treasures through Liberty Torchbearers is inspiring.
In fact, as a result, we have been expanding this programming to include other ways employees engage with their communities, including rolling out a board service program, service activities for our Employee Resource Groups, skills-based volunteering and individual volunteering opportunities and recognition.
There are so many nonprofits doing such great work. How does one choose which ones to support?
From a technical perspective, there are agencies that help evaluate and rate nonprofit organizations. These sites, such as Guidestar and Charity Navigator, can be very helpful resources. Ultimately however, most people give to organizations that resonate with them for deeply personal reasons — they may have a child who is sick so they support a local children’s hospital, or they experienced food insecurity at one point so they donate to a local food bank. There is so much need in this world that it can get overwhelming to decide where to put your resources. It’s worth noting that finding the right match to invest in has an element of trial and error. But when you get it right, you can change the world in a way which you alone are able. It’s a beautiful experience.
Who inspires you?
One of my important mentors is Rev. Gloria E. White-Hammond, M.D. Co-Pastor of Bethel AME Church, Boston, MA and the Swartz Resident Practitioner in Ministry Studies at Harvard Divinity School (HDS). Reverend Hammond has been extremely generous to me with her time and counsel for many years, meeting regularly to talk through professional and personal opportunities and challenges. In fact, she was the one who introduced me to my volunteer work with the South Sudanese community. She has modeled for me what it’s like to commit your entire career and self toward a greater calling and purpose.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
My dad is always reminding me to be an expert, to never stop learning, and to know my business inside and out.
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