Where Byggmeister Gives Back & WhyJune 2023
by Rachel White
When Byggmeister converted to worker-ownership we committed to donate 5-10% of our annual net profit to organizations working to address climate change, create affordable housing, develop the design and construction workforce, and advance justice and equity. In May 2023, we made our first donations, giving $21,000 to 9 non-profits in the Greater Boston area.
Maria Washington and Michael Gimbrere serve on the committee that decides who to give to and how much. The three of us recently sat down to talk about the big picture — why we made this commitment and what it means to us — as well as the nuts and bolts of how it works.
RW: A commitment to donate 5-10% of net profit annually is a significant commitment. Why 5-10%?
MW: As new owners of Byggmeister, we felt it was important to give back to the community in a consistent and meaningful way. We wanted this to be something we did every year, and we wanted to give enough that we could make a real difference to the organizations we donate to. The reason we have a range is that some years we may need to put more money back into the business and some years we may need to put less depending on our financial situation and our overall business plan.
RW: How does our current charitable giving commitment compare to what we’ve done in the past?
MG: During my initial tenure with the company in the 1980s, we would spend about a few days here and there working with Habitat for Humanity. We may not have done it every year, but it did establish a precedent for giving back to the community.
MW: Byggmeister has a long history of giving time and money to support local organizations, but in small amounts. Also, we didn’t have a policy to guide us, so donations were somewhat sporadic and reactive, rather than a product of deliberate decision-making.
RW: So, in our inaugural year we gave $21,000 to 9 organizations. Walk me through the process. How did we decide how much to give and to whom?
MG: This first time around it was relatively simple. We made an open call to all employees, non-owners as well as owners, to propose recipients. Then the committee came up with a simple rubric to assess the organization’s alignment with our priority areas. Organizations with greater alignment received larger donations.
MW: This first year we gave something to every organization that our employees proposed, including one or two that only indirectly address our priority areas. We’ll continue to issue the open call going forward — and we’ll encourage every employee to submit at least one proposal — but we may also want to be more selective.
MG: And we may want to consider making recurring gifts. Recurring gifts are great for organizations because it gives them some assurance of where their funding is coming from. But it’s also great for us in that it helps us to establish relationships with the organizations we support.
RW: Tell me more about the priority areas. Why climate, affordable housing, workforce development, and justice and equity?
MG: These priorities are directly relevant to what we do and who we are. There are so many worthy causes, but we work in the built environment, so it makes sense to focus on issues that align with our mission.
MW: I agree. We try to reduce carbon emissions on every project, but we can only make a small dent in the problem through our direct work. Also, our JEDI team has helped us realize that we can’t separate sustainability from justice and equity.
MG: And our industry is facing a significant worker shortage, so if we’re going to decarbonize the built environment, we’re going to need to build the next generation workforce.
RW: What about affordable housing? Why is that a priority?
MW: Not everyone who works for Byggmeister can afford to live in the communities we serve, even though we pay everyone who works for us a living wage. There is not enough housing for people at different income levels in many Greater Boston communities.
MG: The thread that runs through Byggmeister’s charitable giving commitment is opportunity — working to create opportunities for others. Not that it hasn’t taken a lot of hard work to get where we are, but we have been very fortunate. It’s our responsibility to turn around and create opportunities for others.
RW: So, a year into this commitment to charitable giving, what have we learned? And where do we go from here?
MG: The world is totally overwhelming. It is so easy to be paralyzed. The only way to survive this is to focus on what we can do with the resources we have. We don’t have to solve all the world’s problems. And we’d be foolish to try. But every little thing we do matters. No matter how small.
MW: Charitable giving is not a panacea, but it is an important way that we can make a difference.
MG: And perhaps we can inspire other companies in our professional networks to do make similar commitments. Just imagine what the impact would be if 20 or 30 of our colleagues in high performance design and construction committed to donate 5-10% of their net profits!