A Culture of Workplace Giving

A Culture of Workplace Giving

Community Non-Profit Organizations

Shift Collaborative has been in business for almost four years, and I believe that we are only at the beginning of defining our company’s culture. This process of defining is likely [we hope] to be an ongoing and evolving process as we grow, expand, and adapt in the creative industry space. One of many things that our small group sees eye to eye on, is making an impact beyond our work, and creating space within the organization for each team member to explore their individual impact in the community.

Doing good is an individual and personal thing. To ask that the entire team to support one charity, or do one good thing together, feels prescriptive. I suppose that that would be better than not doing anything at all.  Workplace giving is a major support pillar for many nonprofit organizations. According to American Charities, $4 billion is raised annually through workplace giving. While money is the visible and tangible asset of workplace giving, we desire our workplace giving to go deeper.

We’ve decided to support each others’ endeavors, and when we can the company also gives back to the change-making activities of a team member or a client. Our team members sit on nonprofit boards, volunteer in the community, speak out on issues of importance to them, and advocate for social justice. The community and charitable activities that team members engage in and what they gain from those rich experiences allow them to see our work at Shift through a different lens.

Here are a few examples

  • Sara Coffey is a co-organizer for TEDxPittsburgh and co-founder of Open House PGH, an intentional community known for their weekly Community Dinner and social justice work. These efforts keep her connected to the community in a way that brings her joy. She gains a perspective on a variety of subjects around diversity, inclusion, leadership, and community sustainability. And, her design work at Shift is reflective of those experiences. Her self-description on Facebook sums it up nicely:

     Living in #Pittsburgh inspiring positivity & motivation through art, health, & social change.

  • Andrew Gordon is involved in the Pittsburgh community through his church, Shadyside Presbyterian Church. He has served as a mentor to members of the youth, and donates money toward the charitable and community-oriented missions of the church. Contributing to Shadyside Presbyterian’s mission of loving and caring for others, both locally and globally, is rewarding to Andrew, as it helps him feel connected to the positive changes taking place in the places where he lives, works, and travels.
  • Therese Joseph gives back to the community through service and encouraging individual growth within her churchtherese-cleaning-up-detroit community, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh. An example of this type of impact includes the youth service trip she chaperoned this past June. Partnering with Catholic Heart Work Camp, she led a group of teens from her parish, Holy Trinity Church, to Detroit, Michigan, where they spent a week cleaning up abandoned properties and houses across the city. The service trip served multiple purposes:
    • Their service and hard work helped to prepare the abandoned land and buildings for their next stage of life within the community.
    • The physical illustration of their work as a team and the kind of drastic changes that can take place when there are simply enough hands helping, encouraged local residents to get involved with community organizations to continue the revitalization work after their trip had ended.
    • And most importantly, the service projects, interactions with local residents, and team discussions helped to teach our local teens, the next generation of Pittsburgh change makers, how to see beyond themselves and their screens in order to empathize, love, and serve others, including those whose circumstances may be different from their own personal experiences of life.

Yes, we are a regular office of humans coming and going. Work comes in, work goes out. But we care for our clients; we are excited by the work. Those are the assumed and shared feelings among the team.  The office is also a place for discourse and debate, a thoughtful space to express reactions to what is happening on the streets outside of our windows, what is going on in the city at large, and the good and bad that we see beyond the city and state borders.

I hope these greater connections are always a part of our company culture.

Community Matters

Community Matters


It’s my turn to write a blog post. My article was supposed to be about the civic mindedness of our team members. Our team members champion important causes and they invest time and put energy into them. The work deserves to be highlighted, but I just can’t write about it right now.

Only months after Pittsburgh is named one of the most livable cities in the country, we experience a tragedy in Wilkinsburg when gunmen opened fire on a backyard full of our neighbors. NPR was in town one day before the shooting to host a candid and at times tense discussion about who this city is most livable for.

Is our city livable for all humans, all of the time? Is that even possible? Continue reading

Artist Vanessa German Shifts Community Perceptions Through Creative Action

Artist Vanessa German Shifts Community Perceptions Through Creative Action

Community Media Relations

Vanessa German is an internationally acclaimed sculptor, poet, performer, and playwright who makes her home in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Vanessa finds objects to incorporate into her art around Pittsburgh, and is also known for her mixed-media sculptures that combine dolls, shells, tins, beads, and household objects. Even those who may not know it are familiar with her work, as she is also the creator of the “Stop Shooting—We Love You” signs that can be seen all over Pittsburgh in response to problems of gun violence, particularly in her home neighborhood. These signs aren’t the only way Vanessa gives back to Homewood, though. She is the founder of ARThouse, a community art education initiative based in the Homewood neighborhood of Pittsburgh. At the ARThouse, Vanessa welcomes neighborhood children, teaches them about art, and gives them the materials and the space for them to express themselves via art.
vanessa-german-arthouseThe ARThouse started when some kids saw Vanessa creating artwork on her front porch. Since its inception in 2012, it has outgrown Vanessa’s porch, and even had outgrown the vacant Homewood house where the program began thriving. The program is ready to move into a new, larger space, this one with an attached vacant lot. The space is in need of a lot of work to make it safe for kids, and Vanessa, whose community work is unaffiliated with any larger non-profit or funding source, decided to use Indiegogo, an online crowd-funding website, to help raise the money necessary to make the new home of ARThouse a reality. Shift agreed to help Vanessa promote her campaign so she can secure funding to purchase the house and make the necessary renovations to allow it to serve the kids of Homewood. We determined that the best way to help the ARThouse was through Earned Media—that is by helping Vanessa and the ARThouse gain exposure via news outlets.

In order to get the attention of the media, a compelling story such as Vanessa’s is a great start, but it also takes careful crafting of new releases and strategically approaching the appropriate media channels. This is why we think of this media coverage as “Earned Media.” We teamed up with Vanessa to craft an effective news release and to reach out to the appropriate channels, and we ultimately by strategically contacting the right media sources, helped secure placements on KDKA-TV’s “Sunday Business Page,” a weekly public affairs program that features individuals who are making a difference in the Pittsburgh region, and the world; as well as in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s “City Walkabout” which focuses on beat writer Diana Nelson Jones’s coverage of Pittsburgh’s unique neighborhood.

Through her Indiegogo campaign, Vanessa German and the ARThouse have raised over $38,000 toward the purchase and renovation of the ARThouse’s new location. At Shift, we are proud to have been a part of this campaign to help Vanessa make a difference in Homewood, and in the lives of its kids.

Street Performers Enliven City Streets


Streets in cities serve many purposes besides carrying vehicles, and city sidewalks – the pedestrian parts of the streets – serve many purposes besides carrying pedestrians.
Jane Jacobs, The Life and Death of Great American Cities

We ignite city streets by being active, by being creative, by walking the streets — entertaining, talking, shuffling — we awaken our ancestors who walked these urban pathways. Check out Shift’s latest project at www.buskerstreet.org.


Five Reasons to Attend Podcamp 2014

Five Reasons to Attend Podcamp 2014

Community SEO Social media

by Sarah Mayer

You may not be familiar with Podcamp, so let me start there.  Podcamp is by its own description is an ‘un-conference’ although it does have some of those familiar conference components. Podcamp in Pittsburgh has been around for eight years and while the conference was started around podcasting, it has evolved each year to add on more new media elements. I’ve attended Podcamp for the last three years and here are five reasons you need to go to Podcamp 2014.

  1. Education from real local people: yeah, it’s cool to glean tips from a big name in social media, but I’d much rather hear from someone in my own backyard who is approachable, accessible and understands my market.
  2. Relationship building: I’m about to admit something here on my company’s blog that may come as a shock to some, but I have a touch of social anxiety.  Going to new places, where I’ll have to start conversations and/or keep conversations going freaks me out a little. The first year I attended Podcamp, I don’t think I knew anyone there.  I pushed myself to sit near other people rather isolate myself in a row of empty chairs. People talked to me and then I talked back and thus began the start to long-lasting relationships. I walked in this year less sheepish, immediately seeing and greeting people that I know and work with on a regular basis because of Podcamp.
  3. Talent recruitment: We are a small company but from time to time we need to staff up for big projects.  Podcamp (as well as that year’s conference hashtag) is a great place to source talent for digital, writing and media relations roles.
  4. New and old:  there are always new elements, themes and sessions from different folks, but you can hear from the people that have been a part of Podcamp since its inception and are still involved. That mix of new and old gives attendees an authentic blend of education and information from various sources.
  5. Swag: come on it matters a bit. I love my Podcamp t-shirts.  I have three now and when I wear one out, inevitably someone asks me, “What’s Podcamp?” And I exuberantly tell them what it’s all about. That’s a moment that most marketers pray for – fans owning the brand and spreading the word for them.

One more thing that isn’t so much a reason to attend, but a reason to support the event is that Podcamp is volunteer run and the conference is free. They sell VIP registrations for $25 and there are sponsorships available too.

Have you been to Podcamp Pittsburgh? What are some of the reasons that you attend?

Obviously Tomlin, a Charitable Project Never Launched

Obviously Tomlin, a Charitable Project Never Launched

Community Non-Profit Organizations

by Eric Sloss

Sparked by Sarah’s recent appointment as a board member of Sojourner House, a faith-based rehabilitation facility for addicted women, we wanted to create an enjoyable fundraising project for this important nonprofit. So we created Obviously Tomlin as a way to engage the public in a charming charitable experience throughout the Steelers season.

It all started after a Steelers pre-season game. I could not help but hear Coach Mike Tomlin’s use of the word obviously. He uses it as a way to emphasize a point. But, sometimes he will say a phrase like, “Obviously, Pouncey has a knee, Bell has an elbow.” Well, obviously Pouncey does have a knee, but Coach means the player has a knee injury. He forgets words in the context of sports nomenclature. Tomlin’s cadence is epic. He uses obviously to change the tone and rhythm of a point and his mood.

I’m in the word business, right? At Shift, we focus on language, creating new content for various clients.  We also created a technology product that analyzes large amounts of text called WordFabric, a language algorithm platform for content creators. We would ask people to donate to Sojourner House every time Coach uses the word  – obviously. The fundraising exercise is less about Coach’s delivery yet raising the awareness of how people use words, especially in the context of sports and our beloved Steelers. Each season a new charity would be selected to benefit.

Pledges would be taken through www.ObviouslyTomlin.com after each game of the season. For example, Sally pledges $5 per obviously for the week 1 game. We would use WordFabric to scan the post-game news conference transcript and pull out how many times the word “obviously” is used. Pledges then turn into donations and the corporate sponsor of the week matches the amount.

Also, throughout the season we would play fun games with matching corporate sponsors asking the public to listen for other words used during the season. For example, we will ask the public to listen to a radio broadcast and every time host Tunch Ilkin says the words “play action pass” a corporate sponsor will match the first donation.

We had a contact at the Steelers who said they would present it to the public relations team. We crossed our fingers and built the site; We had Sojourner House’s approval.

And then the Steelers played the Titans for the first regular season game.

The score: Titans 16, Steelers 9. The Steelers looked sloppy in a lopsided game. Coach Tomlin’s demeanor on the sideline looked miserable. Soon after the game we heard from our Steelers contact saying that it was the worst time to present this to him and he recommended we find another project to work on.

We wondered…what if they won?

Building a Children's Shelter in Bolivia

Building a Children's Shelter in Bolivia


By Shift Marketing Fellow, Becca Burns

It is the end of the second week in La Paz.  It is raining outside and I am looking at five guards sitting down for lunch.  A guard behind us slowly closes the heavy, paint-chipped door – shutting out the light and rain and I am in a dungeon.  I am in a damp and dark women’s prison in downtown La Paz.

Alexis is here with me, along with two other women.  One of the women comes here every Thursday to speak with and encourage the women and she has invited us to join her.  My hands grip the black bags I am holding a little tighter so that the shaking stops.  I am afraid.  The black bags I am holding are just a few of the 90 bags we packed for the children living in the prison with their mothers – filled with donated clothing and toys.  I try to recall how I got here – how my life turned from living comfortably to feeling anything but comfortable, and why I chose this exactly.

Another uncomfortable experience—I am in a foreign country where I can’t comprehend the language very well.  I am in a prison and they place me and one of the other women in a room.  They close the door behind us and we are now in the cell.  No guard.  No idea what is going on.  On the other side of the closed door, they pat down Alexis and the other woman and search through the 90 bags.

Alexis and the other woman join us and we walk through the long, rose colored room, past a few inmates standing in line to make telephone calls and out into a courtyard filled with 60 women.  They stare, some laugh and others pay no attention.  We have one guard with us during this time.  She is half my size.  I stand out – the tall blond girl – “gringa.”

We speak with the women and hand them the black bags – each with their own child’s name.  It is an incredible experience to give them something for their children and to hear some of their stories.  When we see the children – filled with excitement about these people who brought them a bag of treats – I realize that all of my fear and discomfort is worth it.  I also realize that this is only the beginning for the project.

Our plans for Bolivia were exceeded – overwhelmingly so.  We met the strong and determined leaders who will be the face of the project in La Paz.  I gathered around tables with new friends and acquaintances for Bolivian traditional coffee time throughout the two weeks.  Discussing the project and the next steps we are taking in the United States, we were filled with a contagious energy that kept us up late into the night brainstorming, wondering and planning.

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When I arrive, I feel like I am in a dream.  Never having traveled to a foreign country, let alone a third world country, seeing the state of poverty is surreal.  I see stray dogs running across dirt and stone-stippled streets, homes of brick boxes covered with corrugated roofing, and children selling old newspapers on the side of the road next to graffiti covered walls.  Everything is broken – the streets, the buildings, the sidewalks, the cars and the spirits of many of the people.  Driving through El Alto after landing and into the city of La Paz, the dissonance between the breath-taking views of the Andes Mountains and the evident poverty is overwhelming.

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By the end of the first week, I faced fears I didn’t even know I had before going.  I conquered – correction – faced my fear of flying.  After being attacked by a dog at the age of nine, I have always been afraid of stray dogs.  I walked through the neighborhood with Alexis, her sisters and the random stray dogs to shop at the local market to prepare for the meals each day.  Claustrophobic with a fear of heights, many rides up and down the Andes Mountains in buses filled to the brim with people kept my palms sweaty, but I did it.  And I didn’t cry.

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Week two brought a new love for the surrounding areas of La Paz.  We travelled to Valle de la Luna and I walked on the Bolivian version of the moon.  Alexis’ dad drove us in his little peta – a Volkswagen beetle – over cliffs and through rural neighborhoods to Valle de las Animas (the Valley of the Souls).  Here, we had the most brilliant view of Mount Illimani.  I also said a quick prayer that little peta would get us back down safely.  One slip and we would have driven off of cliffs up to 500 feet.  Conquering fears!

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Alexis and I travelled to some of the most impoverished areas in and around La Paz.  We visited areas of El Alto and out into the rural Altiplano.  We made our way to the fabled Lake Titicaca – the largest in South America (by volume of water).  Driving down a dirt road towards the lake, we came across Escuela Soncachi Chico-Tajara.  After stopping the jeep, children ran out of the school’s gate entrance and swarmed around the vehicle.  Before travelling, Alexis and I packed the jeep with extra clothing and toys just in case we came across any children in the Altiplano.  We played with them and passed out toys.

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I also had the pleasure of meeting Omar Sanchez.  Omar recently retired after 20 years working for World Vision in Bolivia.  He is one of the faces for the project in La Paz.  Omar is very well connected with the shelters and organizations helping orphans in La Paz.  He is also fluent in English so it was refreshing to communicate without a translator.  With Omar we planned for meetings with other shelters in the area, gathered information about the children in the specific area of our shelter, and scheduled time to meet with Servicio Legal Integral Municipal (SLIM).  SLIM is the organization that will bring the children to our shelter.

Alexis and Omar have since attended two meetings with SLIM and Alexis has been visiting shelters in the area.  Our goal is to form relationships with the other shelters as well.  We’re all working towards helping these children out of their situations and enabling them to live a life that is fulfilling and sustainable.

By the end of the second week, Alexis and I visited the future site of our shelter.  Situated 10 minutes from the church Paraiso de Fe, walking distance to a local school and a few blocks from the community we plan to serve with the community kitchen, it is the perfect location.  The view isn’t too bad either – overlooking the entire city of La Paz.

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I went down with a few different expectations for the project and with the hope of somehow leaving a mark on the lives of the people I met – encouraging their determination to help and the ways they can develop community with the people around them.  And although I hope that is true in some way, these people and this place have left a lasting impression on my life – teaching me lessons more valuable than I could ever have imagined.  At times, you have to go outside of what is comfortable in order to really make a difference in your own life and the lives of others. To see the smiles of the children and to hear those laughs and to be in the center of the Andes Mountains was the most invigorating and life-changing experience of my life.

The project is in progress.  We are now seeking a fiscal sponsor as we move forward with acquiring 501c3 status and the building of the shelter has begun.  A simple idea becomes a plausible reality!







Renaissance City Winds Plays Schuller

Community Non-Profit Organizations

by Matt Campbell 

photo by Larry Rippel
photo by Larry Rippel – courtesy of RCW

The Renaissance City Winds, a versatile chamber music ensemble founded in Pittsburgh in 1975, performed a program of Americana at April 28 at Pro Bikes in Squirrel Hill, and at Oakland’s Carnegie Music Hall April 29. Hammer dulcimer player Bill Troxler joined the group for arrangements of folk tunes that evoked colonial America and other time periods.

The Winds perform three to work concerts each year, doing each program twice—in a hall, and a “parlor.” November’s train-themed program was at the Victorian Holmes Hall on the North Side of Pittsburgh, which also features an amazing collection of thousands of toy trains. The intimate settings really make RCW concerts special. The Pro Bikes shop in Pittsburgh, while a surprisingly resonant space, was an exception and the racks of clothes distracted rather than added to the atmosphere.

The program opened with an early wind quintet from 1945 by Gunther Schuller, an American heavyweight. Schuller was a professional horn player and in only his teens was principal horn with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra before moving to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York. Schuller’s intimate knowledge of the horn and winds showed throughout the charming work. There’s always a little bit of everything in RCW concerts, and the Schuller work featured a bluesy second movement stylishly played, especially by flautist Tom Godfrey’s soulful bends on the blue notes. The group effortlessly tossed off the perpetual motion third movement with its tricky rhythms.

Bill Troxler, a retired president of Capitol College in Maryland, is an expert on the hammer dulcimer, a beautifully sonorous string instrument played with soft hammers that sounds somewhat like a cross between a harp and a banjo; check out this video on YouTube to get to know the instrument. Though the hammer dulcimer was once very popular and could be purchased at Sears and Roebuck, it had almost disappeared in the later 20th century.

Troxler and RCW bassoonist and composer R. James Whipple arranged two suites of folk songs for the hammer dulcimer and winds. Again, there was a little bit of everything as Troxler not only performed on the hammer dulcimer, but he joined the ensemble on drum and a simple flute-like instrument, sometimes alternating between instruments in the same piece! There’s always a story behind the music, and Troxler explained that one tune was about Mary, the Queen of Scots, on her way to be beheaded. Another was an Irish battle tune, in which the “mean” Irish cut off the English general’s head to be sent back to “Eliza [Queen Elizabeth] and her ladies.” These pieces were wonderfully evocative of times centuries past.

The most substantial offering of the evening was Barber’s melodious Summer Music for wind quintet (horn, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and flute). Although much of the wind literature is from unrecognizable names, this is the rare chestnut from a composer in Barber who is recognizable and beloved by all classical music fans. Whipple offered his usual amusing notes, saying he first learned Summer Music years ago during the dog days of summer when it was over 100 degrees. Between the remarks and the ensemble’s clear affection for this piece, it felt like summer had come to Pittsburgh. Renate Sakins (oboe), David Lintz (horn), and Jack Howell (clarinet) along with Whipple and Godfrey showed the comfort that develops when musicians have been playing together for a long time.

One of the challenges ensembles that wind quintets and instruments besides the piano, cello, and violin face is that the staples of the repertoire are often from composers the everyday classical music aficionados don’t know. For instance, one of the great flute concertos was written by Andre Jolivet, an otherwise relatively obscure composer. Though Beethoven, Mozart and other greats blessed the winds with a handful of pieces, groups can’t repeat the same pieces every time.

While there are great works for wind quintets by unknown composers, it’s a tough ask for audiences to come to a concert that will be mostly new to them. That’s unfortunate, because the Renaissance City Winds is a veteran ensemble that exhibits fine musicianship and interesting music.

For now, the RCW are a well-kept secret but that’s a plus for those who do know about them. The audience was able to sit within a few feet of the musicians in a small space, not a cavernous hall. After the concert, concertgoers could mingle with Troxler, who gave an up-close look at his odd-looking trapezoidal hammer dulcimer, and the personable RCW musicians. A summer-themed reception (a nod to the Barber) featured fried chicken, chips and watermelon, and even some bottles of Yuengling and apple pastries.

The Winds will be back in the fall for their 2013-2014 season. Visit www.rcwinds.org for more information.

SH/FT Fellow on a Mission to Help

SH/FT Fellow on a Mission to Help


by Becca Burns, SH/FT Collaborative Fellow 

In two days, I will be Bolivia bound, sipping on ginger ale 30,000 feet up in the sky.

My vision was to travel after graduation.  Peace corp, mission trip, or backpacking through Europe – it didn’t matter.  Pursuing a passion to help others and experiencing something big, different and life-changing was the goal.  When learning about Bolivia, my dream began shifting into something that could not only change my life, but change others lives as well.

Alexis and Becca
Alexis and Becca

In February 2012, I met Alita (Alexis) who moved here from La Paz, Bolivia with her husband who is studying for his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh.  She emailed me, asking if I would help her with her English.  I jumped at the idea without any experience what-so-ever in teaching anyone English.  I assumed speaking English was enough experience.

Three months of confused conversation and laughter later, Alexis began speaking English well and her stories of Bolivia and the children there began taking hold of my heart. Alexis was passionately searching for ways to help these children and I began to brainstorm ideas with her.

In August, Alexis and I sat down after receiving an outline of an idea from her church in Bolivia.  The goal was to create a home for children that provided them with physical, emotional, and spiritual care.  The church postponed their vision five years ago because of a lack of resources.  We took this idea, sat on it for about two days and then ran with it.

Children from Bolivia
Children from Bolivia

While in Bolivia, Alexis “Alita” and I will be observing the land where the shelter will be built, meeting with the architect and building relationships with people in the community.  The project is moving forward.  Pittsburgh is amazing with its community of visionaries and individuals who want to help others.  I’ve put on my forced-extrovert face and mentors have pushed me farther outside of my comfort zone than ever before.  The combination of Alita and my passion with other’s passion for community development and philanthropic dreams is inspiring.  It is an incredible force that is moving this project closer to reality.

Of course, there are challenges present. I tell people about this project and see them lose focus after saying that it is in Bolivia.

Me: We’re working to build a temporary shelter for children in La Paz, Bolivia.

I can see their minds wandering, trying to picture a map, recollecting memories from past geography classes.

People: Oh… that’s cool.

A few ask immediately.

People: Wait, where is Bolivia?

But many wait until we are invested in conversation about the mission of the project.

I can’t deny the overwhelming thought that maybe this is too big for me.  I am way under-qualified to be working on a project like this and the idea of developing a nonprofit organization – yikes.  And, frankly, most people believe Bolivia is somewhere in Europe.

So it had to be Bolivia.  No, not in Europe, it is a little country in the heart of South America, rich with culture and quinoa.  It is also a third world country where many live in extreme poverty.  And, with passion and people, it is also the country where Alita and I will soon begin our journey towards building a temporary shelter for children to play, grow and learn.

Children from Bolivia playing
Children from Bolivia playing