Jun 24, 2013 • By

Good Works for great projects

A little marketing expertise goes a long way, especially for nonprofit groups with limited resources.

General Mills’ Good Works program, which matches professional marketing volunteers with local nonprofit groups – recently concluded its fourth successful year.

In all, 45 General Mills employees devoted many hours assisting seven nonprofits, including:

  • Homegrown Minneapolis, which promotes locally sourced foods for low-income families.
  • First Book, which provides new books for children in low-income homes.
  • Hennepin Cultural District, which is working to position the downtown Minneapolis entertainment district as a go-to destination for years to come

“The Good Works program not only reflects General Mills doing good work, but also supporting good works in the community,” says Seema Shah, program leader for Good Works.

The program is the brainchild of Mark Addicks, chief marketing officer at General Mills, who oversees the program, serving as a champion for the cause and has devoted many hours of volunteering himself.

Every year, General Mills encourages marketing professionals to volunteer at nonprofits to do the same kind of work they do in their day jobs:

-Strategic brand planning

-Consumer research

-Management consulting

-Marketing communications

Since its inception, nearly 200 General Mills employees have volunteered for 36 projects, ranging from working with the arts, the homeless and the hungry.

Volunteers typically commit 20-40 hours for initiatives that last two to four months.

“We have a strong legacy of volunteerism at General Mills, and many employees give time to do all sort of things,” Seema says. “A unique aspect of Good Works is that it leverages the talent and skills we develop here at General Mills, and our employee volunteers apply their skills to real world situations outside the company.”

The following is a summary of how we helped three organizations this year:

Homegrown Minneapolis

Minneapolis is home to 27 farmers markets, where thousands of people annually visit to buy fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. A small segment of these customers are low-income families who rely  on nutrition assistance, paying for goods with an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) payment card.

Minneapolis farmers market logo

Last year, more than 2,200 people used EBT cards to purchase items from Minneapolis’ farmers markets. City leaders saw a chance to boost that number, while at the same time getting this group to eat healthier foods.

But how? The Good Works project was the answer, says Jane Shey, coordinator for Homegrown Minneapolis.

“Maybe 3 percent of our shoppers are EBT users,” says Shey. “If we could double that number, it would be phenomenal. So we thought with help from General Mills, we could get more low-income families to come.”

For three weekends he GoodWorks’ team visited farmers markets and interviewed consumers. The group also held focus groups in neighborhoods that had families in need to find out what it might take for them to frequent a farmers market.

The volunteers determined that farmers market shoppers included a number of groups including immigrants (primarily of Hispanic, Hmong and West African descent), value shoppers and even a number of suburbanites.

MPLS farmers market on nicollet downtown

Plenty of ideas surfaced. But one idea stood out.

“I really liked their suggestion to provide a tour for EBT users by getting them on a bus, taking them to a farmers market and walking them through the process. We are going to try this,” Shey says.

The results even impressed Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who wrote in a letter to General Mills: “This type of assistance is something we as a city could never afford to undertake which makes the research by the Good Works team all the more meaningful.”

Shey adds that the General Mills volunteers left an indelible impression.

“Marketing research is something General Mills does all the time,” says Shey. “For groups like ours that don’t have the resources, it’s an eye-opening experience. The Good Works team was top-notch and very professional. It was an invaluable project for us.”

First Book

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has a wonderful mission of providing new, high-quality books to children from low-income families, and has delivered more than 100 million books since 1992.

First book 4

But not many educators know about First Book, so thousands of children weren’t being reached.

That’s why the nonprofit turned to General Mills and the Good Works volunteer team, which analyzed First Book member data and conducted a marketing analysis to take the pulse of current and prospective program users. “It was enlightening to see how effective our resources could be in a different environment,” says Scott Dorman, a General Mills marketing manager, who led the Good Works team.

first book 3

Elizabeth Bober, director of engagement strategies at First Book, was impressed by several ideas, including aligning with Box Tops for Education coordinators and approaching new and experienced teachers in different ways.

“The team was fantastic to work with,” says Bober. “The level of research expertise was simply amazing. It executed quantitative analysis and face-to-face interviews to give us a fresh view of our target audience. There’s no connecting the dots between their findings and what to do next: The Good Works team put it all together for us on a silver platter.”

Hennepin Cultural District

Minneapolis sought to re-energize a two-mile stretch of Hennepin Avenue as a unified cultural and entertainment district from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the Mississippi riverfront.

Hennepin County cultural district

The goal: position the Hennepin Cultural District as a prime destination for a broad range of people –including families with young children – as the downtown grows over the next 10 to 15 years.

It was an ambitious vision, but one that needed analysis, says Tom Hoch, president and chief executive officer of the Hennepin Theatre Trust, the organization that took the lead in this effort.

“We want to use arts and culture as the connective tissue to make large areas feel whole like you can walk down Hennepin Avenue and have a seamless and wonderful experience,” says Hoch. “The Good Works people helped us determine what that might look like and how that might function.”

The General Mills team came up with a brand positioning and visual strategy that gave the Hennepin Cultural District an updated personality, and then created a plan to shape the area into the heartbeat of Minneapolis, says Betsy Frost, a General Mills marketing manager who served as team leader for this project.

Hennepin cultural district

Along the way, the team interviewed consumers and key Minneapolis sources, discovering that concerns existed about Hennepin Avenue.

“We found that Hennepin’s image carried more baggage than positives,” says Frost. “And we weren’t just helping articulate what the Hennepin experience stood for, but that the core of the project would be to articulate a purpose and vision that would change the image of the area.”

With the Good Works project, Frost says the team tapped into its passion for building a vibrant, fun and growing city.

“Good Works is such a great opportunity to gain new perspectives and stretch yourself to see the world a little differently,” Frost says.