An Agency That Does Good

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Peter Levitan
Peter Levitan



As I’ve travelled around the world of agency websites on my Pinterest agency directory, I occasionally land on an agency that is doing something different on its home page. In the case of Portland’s Grady Britton, it is doing different by doing good for the soul.

2013 represents the fifth year of the Grady Britton Grant. The Grady Britton Grant offers $25,000 of in-kind creative services to an Oregon non-profit. I interviewed Andy Askren, Grady Britton’s creative director and partner, on what the grant is and why the agency runs the program.

Grady Britton

What is the Grady Britton Grant?

The GB Grant ($25,000 of in-kind creative services) is our way of putting some resources behind a non-profit that’s out there in our community doing good everyday. It is big-time good — life-changing and life-affirming good. Often, it's the nonprofits you don't hear about or don't always make the news. There are simply so many of these around us, and we found ourselves wanting to help so many that we had to give ourselves some rails and rationale to focus our attention. We needed a standard way these opportunities could come in to us to evaluate how to best serve them. This is how the GB Grant was born. It actually helps us plan out our resources and manage ourselves better to give back the most good we can (And yes, it's still hard to limit it to "just" $25,000).

How long have you been running the program?

This is our fifth year formally doing it. You could say we've been doing it informally for a whole lot longer.

How many proposals have you received this year and overall?

It's interesting how much it fluctuates. Our first year we had 12 proposals, and that first year was during the recession. This year we had eight. The most we've ever had is 18. Over the years, there have been about 60 nonprofits vying for the help.

How do you get the word out to the nonprofits?

It's been very easy. It’s such a close-knit community that word of an opportunity like this will travel fast. Plus, the nonprofit community — as well as Portland in general — is so inclusive and supportive of each other that word spreads among them that way. So, word of mouth is how we started it. Non-profits that didn't receive the grant in previously ask if they can come back again for another shot.

Grady Britton Winners

What's the process for selecting a winner?

That's been one of the more difficult parts. Aside from a few early applicants who maybe didn't read some of our (very loose) "requirements," any one of them could be the winner. But what we look at and judge by are some hard characteristics like:

  • Is their mission fully realized and organized so that they are effective in the community?
  • Do they have proof of concept or a strong sense of how they are serving their community?
  • How "into" it are they? We don't want to be a cog in their machine, so how bad do they want it?
  • Do they have matching funds or other in-kind services to help promote our company?

And then we look at ourselves: Are we equipped to truly help these people? This is not about us at all. It's inspiring for us to be a little freer with what we're doing.

So we have an entry portal of sorts on our website; those applications are stored, gathered, then reviewed by a small group of our own. They narrow the entries down to a select three to five non-profits, which get reviewed by our agency president, Paige Campbell, and myself. We ask the team to make a case for each one on the short list. Then, Paige and I ask ourselves the hard questions. Sometimes we will go visit the finalists in person, though I have to say, that is dangerous for us. It actually makes it harder! We can’t say, "OK everyone, this year's grant is going to five groups! Go nuts!" It can't happen that way unfortunately. Not yet.

Why do you do this?

It's a big part of our culture that came from our founder, Frank Grady. We do it for the love of being in Portland and for the love of doing something pure and human. Yes, we use the tools of commerce, but we're using them to communicate and connect with people and groups to have that human effect and maybe change the course for someone. If you ask enough people in a creative company why they do what they do, most will answer that they get the biggest reward when they are able to put someone on the radar or affect a lasting change that had never been there before.

The grant program is on your home page. Is it a part of your new business program?

It's not a part of our new business program right now. We are proud of it and highlight it so that a potential new client can get to know the culture we have behind our work. I think we're in an age of uncertainty for a lot of clients, and they want to know about results and creative business solving in their categories. We have to connect there first; once the rational part of the dance is taken care of, we can move on to the emotional part of it and have them say, “Hey, these are good people. I like to work with them, I like what they are doing — even outside my business."

I would say that it feels like it is moving a little more into the front of the conversation. However, you hear more clients wanting to know how well you balance business with "doing the right thing," and the GB Grant is one example of how we behave.

My Take On Good Deeds

The majority of advertising agencies work with one or more non-profit clients. It’s great for the non-profits to get professional marketing advice and creative, and the agency can benefit from doing good deeds. But more importantly, the agency can see a range of new business benefits including community awareness and warm vibes for the staff.

How has strategic philanthropy impacted your agency?

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