photograph courtesy FedEx
Employees at World Headquarters in Memphis load a truck with relief supplies bound for FedEx employees affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Among many claims to fame, Memphis is recognized as the birthplace of rock-and-roll and the home of the blues. In recent years, we’ve also gained recognition as the site of the FedEx World Headquarters. But while the company’s brand coverage is indeed substantial, spanning everything from the FedExForum to the FedEx Institute of Technology, its citizenship efforts, both in Memphis and globally, are undeniable.
“It’s hard to separate FedEx from Memphis because everyone here is so invested in the community,” says Cindy Conner, director of citizenship and reputation. “The community is so much a part of what we are, and we want to be a good neighbor. We want to be a good employer. We want people to want us here. We want people to understand what we do, and we want to be able to give back. We try to invest in the communities that we live and work in.”
Conner has been with FedEx Communications for 27 years, and says she has “the best job in the world. My teams tell all the stories of all the great things that FedEx is doing around the world. We talk a lot about FedEx as a global thought leader in terms of global access, connecting people, providing possibilities for people in business and linking countries. The other part, which is a big part of reputation, is citizenship, which includes philanthropic partnerships, volunteer efforts, grant proposals, and program development. It really is the good news, and there’s a lot of it.”
With a list of roughly 200 current philanthropic partners ranging from multiyear commitments and in-kind agreements to specific project-based allotments, FedEx’s citizenship efforts are extensive. The annual goal is to budget 1 percent or more of the total pre-tax profit toward citizenship, and it has yet to miss that target.
With a company as large and as far-reaching as FedEx, it’s remarkable that it never seems to miss a step, even when it comes to the area of natural disasters, which don’t exactly give much advance warning. And while it might seem like a difficult task to climb the corporate ladder for monetary approvals in the aftermath of a catastrophe, FedEx seems to operate with ease.
“We’re committed to making a difference. The senior leadership of this company is amazing, particularly in the area of disaster relief situations where something comes fast,” says Conner. “We plan ahead, we think ahead, but when something hits we move fast [and get things approved quickly].”
Keeping citizenship in the forefront, FedEx has chosen three focuses for this year’s 40th anniversary celebration — service, recognition, and innovation. A major component of celebrating the anniversary is a Global Month of Service during the month of April. As part of this event, FedEx will recognize team member efforts in the community throughout April by awarding 40 $1,000 grants to the nonprofit organization of the team’s choice. FedEx team members will be participating in service activities around the globe as well as in the greater Memphis area.
In addition to the three focuses of the anniversary, the global company has three outreach “pillars” to better organize their citizenship efforts — disaster relief, sustainability, and child and pedestrian road safety.
“We try to be very strategic about the money we have,” says Conner. “We developed the three [outreach] pillars because they were a good match for the skills FedEx can bring to a nonprofit partner; what we look for are areas where we can provide not just a check but unique skills and unique support. For instance, that’s why disaster relief is obvious. It’s not just what we do on the disaster side, it’s what we do on the operations side helping get people’s lives back to normal.”
Moving packages to their destinations while dealing with uncertain weather and unusable roads is what this company has spent 40 years perfecting. “One big issue with taking on disaster relief as a pillar is that we don’t want it to appear that we’re taking advantage of a crisis. We take it very seriously. We’re not just there when the cameras are rolling. We make a commitment, and we stick with it,” says Conner.
The task of organizing and approving these projects is not taken lightly either. The FedEx Corporate Contributions Council, made up of senior management representatives, meets quarterly to outline and approve each request.
“Obviously there’s much more need than we can fill, and that’s one of the challenges about this job,” says Conner. “When I took this job, the woman before me said there will be very few requests that come to you that are bad requests, but we can’t do them all. We really feel a responsibility to put our money where it can do the greatest good for the community and use the skill set that we have. So, we’re looking for that match.”
Examples of FedEx’s hands-on involvement in disasters range from stationing trucks and shipping supplies to collecting coats and physically volunteering for events like super-storm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese tsunami, the events of 9/11, the earthquake in Haiti, and more. Other efforts include shipping medical supplies to more than 1,000 health centers and free clinics a year, building crates and shipping supplies for First Robotics, delivering water-purifying equipment for Water Missions, and transporting animals for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. FedEx also works closely with Direct Relief International to organize the distribution of unsold medications from large pharmaceutical companies to areas of need. “With employees in 220 countries and territories, disasters affect the communities of team members, and it’s just as important to reach out and let them know FedEx cares,” says Parul Bajaj, senior communications specialist, FedEx global media relations.
“We look for areas where we have skill sets that can expand [a non-profit’s] reach,” says Conner. “Giving them a check is great, but that’s just part of it. We get things to where they need to be to provide the greatest good, and sometimes that’s moving things, sometimes it’s collecting things, sometimes it’s providing our employees for extra feet on the ground.”
For example, when FedEx moved sea turtles from the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill, all hands were on deck, from custom critical-drivers taking turtles to Florida’s Atlantic coast, to team members in the package lab designing boxes to cradle the turtle eggs. “There are a lot of skills that we can add along the way that you might not think of,” says Conner.
Due to the nature of its business, FedEx has expertise in the areas of road safety, fuel consumption, and freight logistics, and its creative teams have used this knowledge for the greater good on a local and global scale. For example, programs include “Walk This Way,” which is focused on children walking to and from school safely, solar lighting innovations, alternative fuel sources, and road infrastructure aid in other countries.
“We’re committed to making a difference. The senior leadership of this company is amazing, particularly in the area of disaster relief situations where something comes fast.”
While its global citizenship endeavors are considerable, it stands to reason that its world headquarter city would get some extra attention. “We do work very hard to maintain a balance,” says Conner. “As important as Memphis is to us, we’re still a global company. Our overarching goal is to make sure FedEx is a force for good around the globe.”
That means extra emphasis is given to support global citizenship efforts that overlap with local efforts. Examples of this include the shipment of the pandas from China for the Memphis Zoo, involvement with Teach for America and other organizations, and FedEx Cares Week with more than 3,000 volunteers globally and nearly 400 volunteers in Memphis.
One major way that global efforts impact Memphis is through FedEx’s partnership with the United Way of the Mid-South. With the key focus areas of education, income, and health, United Way is a force for change in the Mid-South community, which makes it a perfect “match” for FedEx’s skill set.
FedEx has been the region’s top supporter of United Way’s efforts for years, and in the 2012 campaign alone, contributed over $5 million in corporate and employee gifts, the highest amount of any other donors. In addition to financial generosity, volunteers from FedEx give of their personal time and skills in hundreds of ways every year. “In 2012-13, a team of FedEx volunteers supported United Way’s ‘Team Read’ effort at Winridge Elementary School, tutoring and teaching local students with literacy and comprehension skills,” says Dave Skorupa, vice president of communications for United Way of the Mid-South.
“Memphis is different, as are the other headquarters cities such as Pittsburgh and Dallas, because we veer away from the three set platforms here more than we usually do,” continues Conner. “Normally the first thing we ask [of a request for assistance] is, ‘Does it fit within one of our three outreach buckets?’ but we’re more flexible in Memphis because we understand that the environment of a headquarter city is important. For example Shelby Farms would be under the environment pillar but it’s also quality of life. Education and arts are also a big area of opportunity in Memphis because we want a good workforce and it’s important for people who move here; it’s important to have the kind of vibrant community needed to support our workforce.”
This is where support for organizations such as Ballet Memphis and Memphis Botanic Garden come into play. For a company to thrive, the community has to thrive, and Fed-Ex is committed to the growth and success of Memphis. Every aspect that ensures quality of life for the team members is as relevant and important to success as a corporation.
The short list of local partners for FedEx as a whole includes United Way, Youth Villages, Memphis Tomorrow, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital’s FedEx Family House, Memphis City Schools Foundation, The Orpheum, and specifics such as a classroom at Wooddale High School that qualifies as a certified aviation experience, and helping MIFA design routes for Meals on Wheels to deliver food.
“[Because of our partnerships] we are able to connect people with the best ways to give back,” says Bajaj. “Our efforts span pretty much anything that’s happening in Memphis. FedEx is involved somehow.” Aside from corporate partnerships, FedEx team members are actively involved in virtually every organization the Mid-South offers, providing hands-on service and lending their expertise as board members, trustees, and volunteers in areas of their own interest.
To enhance its citizenship efforts, FedExCares.com was created with both internal and external viewing capabilities. Anyone can access the “Learn,” “Volunteer,” and “Share Your Story” features, but team members have access to added features. For example, team members can search a database by location or key word for independent volunteer opportunities that better fit their interests. This employee-match system maximizes volunteer efforts because team members can choose exactly which projects they’d be best suited for and even involve family and friends. FedEx can also track the interests to use for future partnerships and recognition certificates for the most volunteer hours. These incentives help team members feel valued and a part of the larger footprint by being recognized for their independent volunteer efforts in conjunction with FedEx.
Whether it’s providing in-kind shipments of aquatic animals or helping other countries with more energy-efficient vehicles, FedEx’s Memphis footprint really is local and global. By partnering with organizations that might not seem like an obvious match at first glance, FedEx has created a better quality of life for the Memphis community and the world.
“As hokey as it sounds, FedEx really is a company with heart,” says Conner. “It doesn’t sounds sexy; it’s logistics. But it’s amazing what FedEx does. I still get goosebumps after this long.”