An Interview with John Caldwell, Managing Director, Paradigm Properties

Paradigm Properties is one of our favorite stories because it is a traditional business, a property and asset management company, which started a service for their tenants called “Community Connections” to coordinate and provide volunteer events and donation drives.   Other property management companies saw the value of connecting and serving tenants like this and ultimately a separate nonprofit, Building Impact, was spun off to do this work for Paradigm and their competitors.   John’s story of how this happened, and how important it is to still serve community, is a good one.

SONY DSCKeep your values on your paperweight
John admits that he did not see this coming.  While his CEO, Kevin McCall, is a “classic liberal do-gooder”, John describes himself as more conservative, but with Christian values.  He  says that any social program “can’t get in the way of the company’s primary mission”, but if managed carefully, giving back to the community enhance the mission and the profitability of the company.

This mindset is what started Paradigm on an unlikely route.  As Kevin McCall, the CEO tells the story, one day a woman selling pies to raise money for the nonprofit Community Servings asked McCall if she could pass out fliers in one of his buildings, advertising the pie sales.  Her request sparked an idea.  Why not tap into Paradigm’s office buildings on behalf of multiple nonprofits?  What if Paradigm were to coordinate and offer an attractive menu of options for companies and individuals to serve their community?

Throw in some entrepreneurial zeal
Thus Community Connection was created in 1998 as a tenant appreciation program in buildings owned and managed by Paradigm Properties. The  building-wide volunteer events and donation drives were, at first, a simple gesture for tenants who leased space in the office buildings that Paradigm Properties managed.  Community Connection events, such as business attire drives and charity bake sales in the lobby, were meant to bring community involvement right to people’s doorsteps–to harness the collective energy, resources, and goodwill of companies and individuals that spent so much time in these very office buildings. By connecting over 20 nonprofit organizations with the community of companies and individuals in the buildings, Paradigm brought together people who wanted to play a greater role in making their communities stronger.

John would say that it wasn’t easy.  There was a period where “it wasn’t gelling.  There was a leap of faith quality about this.”  But by 2003, other property management companies had begun to imitate and work with Community Connection.   The annual impact of Community Connection was estimated at $300,000.  Paradigm had gone from selling pies to running a large scale volunteer operation.

Give away value
Paradigm found there was a great return to Paradigm in running Community Connection, but as it grew and other companies became involved, the question arose of whether to spin off this effort as a nonprofit that served multiple companies.

On the one hand, Community Connections provided tremendous value to Paradigm.  Press releases about CC “mentioned us in the same breath as our bigger competitors.”  The program demonstrated to tenants that Paradigm cared; about them and about the community.  It differentiated Paradigm in the marketplace.  “It opened doors, gave us talking points, enhanced our reputation and helped build our brand,” said John.  It built camaraderie among tenants and managers and among the employees of Paradigm.  It even became a hiring and retention benefit.

So why spin it off?  John says they had to face the greater good of the community whose nonprofits would be well served by having multiple property management companies working together.  It was hard to let go of the CC, “they were the fun people”, but it was the right thing to do.

Paradigm spun off Community Connections as the nonprofit “Building Impact.”    Building Impact expanded beyond the buildings owned or managed by Paradigm Properties and now partners with 15 real estate firms across greater Boston. These firms serve 47 buildings, helping over 575 companies and 20,000 people volunteer, donate, and connect to the community, right in the buildings where they work and live.

John admitted he is still conflicted about setting up Building Impact separately.  But, he said, “We can still go to third party owners and talk about Building Impact.  It is a powerful example of how we build relationships with our tenants.  While we haven’t quantified this, we know that it has made a difference in the bottom line.”

Re-invent again
Paradigm continues to live by the value of “do well by our community.”  For years they have had a  program called the “24 hour Club.”  They give each employee three 8-hour days to volunteer.  If they volunteer on a weekend, they get to take a day off during the week.

For a while, Paradigm found that the employees were either using this for volunteer work they were already doing, or just not using their three days.  Management then doubled down on support, encouragement, reward and even consequences.  “We started to talk about how important this is.  We instituted benchmarks (tied to using these volunteer days) at the end of every quarter and in the semi-annual review and said this could impact you monetarily.  We use this program in our initial interview and say, Just want to make you aware of this program that you will be expected to participate in.”  John said that it needs to be part of the DNA of the people who want to work with Paradigm.  “It’s a huge plus for 20 and 30 somethings.”

John mentioned one employee who was not active until she suffered from postpartum depression herself.  Now she is involved in an organization that works with new mothers.

John is quick to admit, “We’ve erred too.  At times we’ve emphasized it more than we should.  There needs to be a balance.  It can’t conflict with profitability.  We continually emphasize that synergy.

“We also need to align our volunteer work with our corporate mission.  We need to spend more time selling and celebrating.”  John is not letting grass grow under his feet, he is building, working, refining, and continuing to build mission into his work, a continual process of re-invention.

Do well by our community
Paradigm had a terrific experience with the power of connecting tenants to nonprofits and facilitating community change.  They started in their own buildings, grew to serve other companies, spun off a nonprofit, and then focused on their own volunteers.  In the process, they found they made a difference, in the community and in the success of their business.

Ellen Meyer Shorb

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