Making a Difference by Sharing Expertise

MetLife Foundation focuses on improving the financial health of low-income people. And that can be done in many different ways, including by making a social impact in local communities. Thanks to MetLife volunteers, numerous nonprofit organizations have gained invaluable help and improved their futures – without spending a dollar.

A safe place to be smart

The Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF) works with New York City public school youth at their two locations in Harlem and Brooklyn. The organization describes itself as “opening doors for New York City’s underserved youth,” with a goal to help school students develop the intellectual curiosity, academic ability and social values needed to succeed in school, career and life.

“We run after-school activities for students,” Deirdre Bennett, Director of Finance and Administration at HEAF, explains. “HEAF serves students in the sweet spot at the middle – those who often get overlooked because they’re not at the top of the class or at the bottom.

“What’s great about HEAF? It’s a safe place to be smart. Students can put their hands up without anyone picking on them.

“We cover lots of different extra-curricular topics, as well as English, science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) classes. We’ve done entrepreneurial projects too, where kids pitch their business ideas and learn how to run a business on a budget. Everything we do is based on boosting their confidence and getting them to a place where they say, ‘I can do it’.”

“What’s great about HEAF? It’s a safe place to be smart.” – Deirdre Bennett, HEAF

A challenge to solve

Keeping kids engaged in education is an important task but it isn’t HEAF’s only job — they also have to make sure their staff are thriving and developing too. Staff feedback about professional development had worried Deirdre. “In exit interviews, a couple of staff said the need for professional development was one of their reasons for leaving,” Deidre explains. “So we did a staff survey to find out what they were thinking about and what they needed for their professional growth.”

It turns out that HEAF needed help to solve their HR problem that had come from a simple communication error. “A lot of our professional development was actually already in place, but staff weren’t seeing it that way – they thought learning was only in the classroom and weren’t thinking about mentoring, leadership opportunities, and external free training,” says Deirdre.

A skill shared

Last year, MetLife Foundation and MetLife employees helped to solve HEAF’s problem. MetLife Foundation teamed up with the Taproot Foundation to share the skills of employees with HEAF at a half-day event called an Opportunity Workshop.

MetLife Foundation worked with the Global Learning and Development team to identify the employees with the right skills to help HEAF out, and they came together at MetLife headquarters in New York City.

Holding on to talent

MetLife volunteer Emily Hacker, Senior Learning Consultant on the Global Learning & Development team, explains her involvement on the day: “One area of expertise in our team is professional development, so we were a perfect match for HEAF.

“HEAF wanted to find ways to improve the professional development they offer to their staff,” says Emily. “A lot of the staff are young – straight out of college – and they need the chance to grow and develop. HEAF wants to build a culture of growth and learning so they can attract and keep their young talent.”

Building a culture of learning

“The workshop was a brilliant day,” says Emily. “We all had breakfast together and then we got to work! We explored HEAF’s objectives and did a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. Once we knew what we could do, we helped them figure out a plan.

“Our team extended its expertise in HR and professional development to HEAF, which was really rewarding. The workshop was just five hours long, but we managed to do a really quick but successful deep dive into their challenge. Most nonprofits can’t afford to hire a consultant, but we were able to help through volunteering our skills and knowledge. We made sure HEAF had all the resources and tools they needed to move forward.

“It was amazing helping them. We had a great chance to talk about what cultures of learning can look like, and how HEAF could look at their practices and behaviors and tweak those with the tools they already had. We got so much accomplished and it was really empowering for them to learn from corporate HR professionals.”

Deirdre reflects on the Opportunity Workshop. “We went into MetLife with a real challenge,” she says. “How could we change what our staff thought about their development? MetLife helped us come up with a mission statement, which says: ‘Learning at HEAF is continuous. Here, lifelong learning for our staff and young people is fostered and celebrated.’ Once we had that, a lot of things fell into place.

“The MetLife team was fantastic — they really kept us on task! They helped us put together an action plan and provided us with resources and tools we could use at low or no cost – perfect for our small budget. They also signed me up to five e-learning classes to help me improve my HR skills.

“We’ve changed so much since the workshop. We’ve changed our evaluation forms so staff can tell us what’s working and what they need, and introduced ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions with the whole team. We all come together and learn about a topic over lunch – it’s a great collaborative learning environment.

“HEAF is a great place to work and I’m happy our staff are feeling more positive. The evaluation forms and Lunch and Learn sessions are just the start of an even brighter future at HEAF.”

“We’re so proud to work with MetLife – they’re one of our longest-standing partners and they understand that giving their time pro-bono is just as important as giving donations.” – Ben Knopf, Taproot Foundation

Thanks to the Opportunity Workshop, MetLife employees had the chance to share their expertise with HEAF. Ben Knopf, Director at Taproot Foundation said: “We believe pro bono volunteering is one of the best ways to have a sustained impact. That’s why Opportunity Workshops are so impactful – by pairing the nonprofits with the right employees, you can make an amazing difference. We’re so proud to work with MetLife – they’re one of our longest-standing partners. They understand that providing opportunities for MetLife employees to engage in pro bono volunteering with their nonprofit partners is just as important as financial support.”