Michal Alter is the CEO and Co-Founder of Visit.org, a SaaS platform that offers employee-driven corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities that benefit nonprofits. As one of the first female pilot cadets in the Israeli Air Force, a former computer science engineer, an experienced Director of Refugee Affairs, and a graduate from Columbia University’s Master of Public Administration program, Michal has used her diverse set of skills to build a company that prioritizes social good.
As Visit.org sees exponential growth in its corporate partners in 2019, Michal shares insights about what it takes to build a social enterprise startup, as well as her vision for the company’s future.
Corporate customers can book activities that benefit the environment, such as a gardening experience with Visit.org partner organization Queens Botanical Garden.
Q: Visit.org started as a platform to connect individual travelers with do-good organizations through sustainable travel activities. Recently, the platform closed down its travel activities to focus on corporate social responsibility experiences. When did you decide to make the shift and why?
In 2018, Visit.org was increasingly getting requests from corporations to use our platform for employee engagement. The companies themselves saw that their employees expressed interest in having access to volunteering, team-building, and community impact activities. These types of experiences are especially important to the younger generations, and a key factor in attracting and retaining Millennial and Gen Z talent. In making our platform available to companies, we realized that corporate social responsibility is a great opportunity to benefit our partner nonprofits’ needs even more.
Q: Something that your travel customers valued about the former platform was that 100% of host revenue was reinvested into the local community. Is the new platform committed to reinvesting 100% of host revenue in the same way?
Yes, absolutely. The prices are determined by the nonprofits in an amount that leaves dollars in their hands to invest further in programs that benefit their local communities.
Q: What makes Visit.org unique compared to other corporate giving/volunteering products?
Visit.org offers experiences, whereas all other platforms offer donations and matching.
Although donations and matching are very important actions — and these other platforms do a great job facilitating them — we have seen that they do not necessarily increase employee participation in giving, nor getting involved with causes they care about. This can be because employees, especially the younger generation, lack cash to give. Also, many people aren’t too familiar with which nonprofits to donate to, based on what causes they’re passionate about.
We fill the gap by allowing employees to discover worthy nonprofits and causes in Visit.org’s global marketplace. Here, we offer highly-vetted and carefully curated social impact experiences in over 90 countries. Through our platform, employees are exposed to new nonprofits and causes every month — perhaps even every week. And through this initial exposure, companies and individual employees can build long-term relationships with Visit.org partner nonprofits, right on our platform.
Q: In what ways has the platform proven to increase employee participation?
We have seen that Visit.org’s current client companies have experienced a 30% increase of employee engagement, after exposure to just a few Visit.org experiences. The reasons for this immediate and continuous increase is due to the Visit.org’s large variety of experiences and causes, along with the affordable price per employee, and the easy accessibility of the experiences.
Additionally, along with traditional volunteer events (which, because they require time away from the office, companies can realistically do only once or twice a year), Visit.org also offers opportunities for nonprofits to go to a company’s premises during lunchtime, happy hour, or a wellness morning. Through Visit.org, employees see that spending just 30-45 minutes on an activity, right in the workplace, can make a difference.
Q: On top of employee engagement, companies are interested in building their diversity & inclusion programs. How can Visit.org help?
The experiences we have on Visit.org can speak to different employee affinity groups. This means that employee groups that exist to support women’s empowerment, LGBTQ+ issues, and more, can book activities that support, celebrate, or create an intelligent conversation around their identities. Activities range from fun social outings, to informative panel discussions, to inspirational speakers, and volunteering. By booking these experiences, employees within the affinity groups can interact with one another to create stronger relationships, or introduce team members outside their groups to their perspectives. All while being supported by the company.
For example, employees can book a cooking class, wherein the revenue goes towards women’s empowerment. The fun activity creates better relationships within the team — including colleagues who may not have had much exposure to women’s rights issues. At the same time, the company can showcase that they support the full self of their employees, creating a safe and accepting workplace culture. And of course, the nonprofit benefits from the money spent on the activity.
For more diversity and inclusion activities, corporate customers can book an experience that benefits, and is hosted by, Challenged Athlete Foundation — an organization that makes sports available to everyone, regardless of their physical challenges.
Q: Which activities and causes do your corporate customers enjoy the most?
Anything that has to do with food is a popular choice! 🙂 In addition to hands-on volunteer activities outside the office, employees also really appreciate a catered office lunch put together by refugee women (including a 20-minute Q&A with one of the refugee women chefs), or listening to a happy hour panel discussion about urban sustainability led by experts from local nonprofits. We hear from employees that they are always amazed at how knowledgeable and passionate the staff members of the nonprofits are.
Q: What activities have you enjoyed the most?
One of my all-time favorite experiences was with an organization that focuses on youth empowerment through surfing. The experience was a surfing class taught by instructors from the nonprofit. It was amazing not only because of the surfing, but because of the way the organization explained how each step they teach can translate to a life skill such as: teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, and overcoming challenges. These analogies make so much sense through meaningful, memorable actions — especially when instructed by people who have such a spark in their eyes in what they do.
Q: What are some of the goals you want Visit.org to achieve in this season?
We launched the new platform last fall and we’ve been incredibly happy with the response we have received from the sectors of tech, advertising, media, financial services, and retail, including some Fortune 500 companies. As we develop our relationships with our clients, we are learning more about their needs and goals, so our platform can better serve them in what they want to achieve in their Corporate Social Responsibility or Employee Engagement program.
We are also aiming to achieve brand awareness. We are attending conferences and talks, and receiving feedback wherever we can. We want to do everything we can to help as many employees as possible get involved in their local communities and as many companies as possible achieve their CSR goals. An increasing amount of companies are experiencing a culture shift where even seasoned HR executives who have been in the field for 20 years are noticing that candidates ask about the companies’ impact on its local communities during interviews. I believe that in 2-3 years, all companies regardless of size should be offering a robust CSR program that focuses on employees’ passions and interests.
Q: Where do you hope to see Visit.org in 5 years?
The market leader in employee-driven corporate social responsibility working with all companies that want to make it easy for their global workforce invest and make a positive impact on their local communities.
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