For many, the impacts of COVID-19 are felt closest to home. But as soon as the pandemic began to spread last spring, the 300-plus colleagues at The Riverside Company had a clear sense of the crisis on a wider scale. Representatives from the global investment management firm’s 14 offices reported in regularly on the toll the virus was taking on their communities — from local government restrictions to remote learning models to struggling small businesses.
“It gave us a window into communities in a way that the evening news couldn’t hope to accomplish,” said Graham Hearns, the company’s managing director and chief of staff. “It led us to want to be part of the solution.”
In response to the tremendous need they were seeing, Riverside’s senior management team was inspired to act. An initial round of fundraising among senior leaders quickly grew into Riverside GIVES — a company-wide corporate match program developed in partnership with the Cleveland Foundation. Through individual donations from employees across every level of the organization along with matching dollars from the company itself, the firm raised more than $400,000 to help communities cope with the impact of COVID-19.
“As a firm more fortunate than many, we felt compelled to give back to the communities in which we live and work. The decision was easy given the depth of the virus’s impact and our ability to create positive change through this effort,” said Co-CEO Stewart Kohl. “We had the chance to make a difference, which was a huge motivator.”
Inspired to act
The company moved quickly to establish a corporate donor advised fund with the Cleveland Foundation to fast-track its grantmaking capabilities. “While Riverside is a global firm, our biggest office is in Cleveland, and we have a longstanding relationship with the foundation, so it was the first call we made,” Kohl said. “The emergency of the pandemic allowed us to begin making grants literally within days of having the idea. We were able to quickly establish what we wanted to do based on that familiarity and our shared goals.”
The response among the firm’s employees was strong, even before the program was formalized. “Early on in the pandemic, we felt like we were paralyzed and stuck on defense,” Kohl said. “Many expressed a desire to do something. Creating Riverside GIVES filled a real need that they expressed.”
Company participation went far beyond fundraising as the leadership team looked to the firm’s network of employees to help direct grantmaking as well.
“We trusted that our 300+ colleagues would best understand who needed help in their communities, so we wanted to find a way to give them direct control,” said Kohl. “They’re born investors, so many viewed their choices of charities in that way, and they were grateful for the chance to support people and causes near to them.”
Through its corporate donor advised fund, the company supported nonprofit organizations across the United States. Locally, a grant from Riverside GIVES helped Greater Cleveland Food Bank address the spike in food insecurity across Northeast Ohio brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Typically we provide food to around 1,000 nonprofit partners,” said Kristin Warzocha, Greater Cleveland Food Bank president and CEO. “With the pandemic, some of those partners have been forced to close down, and we have been providing direct service to the growing number of clients in need. We’ve served 100,000 people via our drive-through distributions in downtown Cleveland alone, 25% of whom are new — having never needed emergency food assistance before.”
A grant to Medworks USA helped the Cleveland-based organization continue to provide health care services to Northeast Ohio’s uninsured and underinsured population.
“We’re a small team and a mighty team, and we rely on gifts like Riverside’s to continue,” said Melissa Siegel, Medworks program director. “This is really significant to us, and we’re really grateful.”
Dallas-based New Friends New Life used its grant from Riverside GIVES to continue to support and empower formerly trafficked and sexually exploited women, teen girls and their children.
“Riverside GIVES’ support will help ensure all of the 300 women and girls currently in our care are able to continue on in their journeys even in the wake of COVID-19,” said Annalise Peterson, grants manager for the organization.
Bigger than the bottom line
The formation of the initiative came as no surprise to Danielle Zinn, Riverside global marketing & communications consultant, who has worked with the company for more than a decade. “It truly aligns with the company’s values,” she said. “Riverside is like a family. To see the thought that was put into this effort, it just speaks to the nature of the company and the value it places on relationships.”
The enthusiasm of the staff participating in the program, as well as the expressions of gratitude from the grantees, was overwhelming, according to Bárbara Alcântara-Campos, Riverside administration manager, who helped oversee the program.
“I was so proud to be part of this project, to be able to help others,” she said. “Even after the program ended, I was still receiving messages of thanks.”
Operating Partner J.P. Fingado said the program felt like an extension of the spirit of generosity built into Riverside’s corporate culture. “It’s one of the reasons I joined Riverside,” he said. “I’ve always had the sense that Riverside is bigger than our bottom line. All companies want to grow their business, but here, there’s a real sense that taking care of people is a priority.”
Kohl said he and fellow Co-CEO Béla Szigethy have worked hard to build a company based on core principles. “Simply put, these can be boiled down to following the Golden Rule. We always strive to leave great references in our wake.”
The spirit that inspired the Riverside GIVES program predated the pandemic, and the company is committed to continuing to support the communities in which it does business through the current crisis and beyond.
“We want our people to be the spark in their communities,” Kohl said. “We try to instill a sense of responsibility to do what’s right and to give back in ways that inspire and engage employees. Whether that’s providing time and flexibility to serve on a volunteer board, participating in community events or some other aspect of philanthropy, we try to foster a sense of community and giving every day of the year.”