Why Avaya’s Month of Giving Worked

As a “month of giving” initiative catches on at Avaya, employees are raising money for their favorite causes

Scott raised money for the American Cancer Society. Dawn and her team distributed food at Inn from the Cold in Calgary. Jessica volunteered at a senior center near her company’s headquarters. Others cleaned beaches, built homes, collected donations, taught children, and served their favorite organizations.

It was all part of Avaya’s corporate philanthropy effort, the Avaya “Month of Giving.” During the campaign, sixty teams across thirty-two locations raised more than $250,000 and donated hundreds of volunteer hours. Amy Fliegelman Olli, Avaya’s senior vice president and general counsel, launched the initiative and watched her simple idea gather momentum across a leading multinational communications company.

It started when Olli came to Avaya in 2014 after working at IBM and CA Technologies. In her new role, Olli took over corporate philanthropy and accepted a unique challenge—to start an initiative without encumbering company funds, human capital, or other resources. “We’re all doing more with less, and creating a new corporate philanthropy initiative is no different,” she says. To succeed, Olli knew she’d need to be creative.

“We’ve set the bar high, and we want to find ways to grow this initiative and build upon the momentum we created in year one.”

In a corporate environment, year-round giving campaigns often start with a lot of support and lose it over time, or they go unnoticed. That’s why Olli opted for a month-long model. “I wanted to make it fun, encourage full buy-in, and create something that could really make a splash,” she explains.

The only thing missing was money. Olli asked her colleagues in procurement to join the effort and reach out to Avaya’s vendors and partners, such as Red Hat and Xirrus.

After spreading the word about the Avaya Month of Giving in July 2015 and securing up-front vendor commitments, Olli and her team encouraged Avaya’s 11,000 employees around the world to use an extra full, paid day off to participate in charitable activities.

Next, Avaya executives and senior leaders donated destinations, events, tickets, and other prizes for an online auction that brought in more than $26,000.

Additionally, the corporate philanthropy team accepted applications and awarded ten $10,000 donations to selected employee-driven causes. They announced winners during an all-hands livestream and switched the camera to show each winner’s reaction. “It was kind of like our own internal Academy Awards,” Olli says. “It was fun, and it was a major morale boost. People had a great feeling about what they and others in the company were doing at work.”

Instead of urging employees to contribute to an unknown cause selected by a corporate executive, Avaya’s team members chose where to spend their time, energy, money, and efforts.

“People had a great feeling about what they and others in the company were doing at work.”

Seven North American Avaya offices worked together to collect thousands of pounds of food and $4,700 for local food banks. Colorado employees gathered toiletries for Denver Rescue Mission and dedicated 1,000 hours to Habitat for Humanity. In Argentina, corporate teams helped fund garden kits for underprivileged students. Employees in Mexico welcomed 172 students to a sports day; together, they played games, painted a mural, and repaired a playground. Avaya staff in Belleville, Canada, hosted a drive-through charity event to raise $30,000 for United Way. Teams in Kenya raised money to give two months’ worth of food to HIV/AIDS patients at a local children’s home. Avaya’s workers in China helped fifty-six children attend primary school for one semester.

Avaya’s corporate philanthropy committee is looking to outdo itself as the program moves into its second year. “We’ve set the bar high, and we want to find ways to grow this initiative and build upon the momentum we created in year one,” says Olli.

For her team, it’s about more than obligation—it’s about doing the right thing for the right reason. “This was special because we had to dig deep to make it work, and we found a way to enable our employees to go above and beyond, and to use what they have to make life better for others,” she says.

Though she led the effort, Olli says the initiative is a labor of love from a host of dedicated, thoughtful, and compassionate employees. With more than 11,000 of them in 145 countries, Avaya stands to make a lasting impact.