Written by Jay Parekh, VP of Partnerships and Business Development at Chime. Originally published on Medium.

You’ve probably heard the term ‘food desert’ — it’s used to describe a large geographical area where residents don’t have access to a grocery store. The term ‘banking desert’ similarly refers to an area where access to banking services is limited or costs significantly more than where services are easy to come by.

As an online banking service, many of our members live in these banking deserts. Even though we don’t have much of a presence on the ground in these communities, we’re still able to provide them with the services they need without charging them exorbitant fees.

And while our members benefit from our services regardless of where they live, we are always looking for ways to connect in real life with the communities where our members actually live and work. Establishing a connection with and giving back to our communities has been important to us from the beginning. In fact, it was our founders, Chris and Ryan, who suggested we start a program to help Chimers give back. In 2018, they started the wheels turning on a company-wide pledge program and they asked me to help.

To start, we thought about different ways we could give back: our time, company equity, money, and our product. The more we thought about it, we realized it’s a bit hard to give away our product because it’s already free ? ?.

In the end, we decided to give 1% of our time — roughly 7,000 hours. We feel it’s a goal that speaks to who we are as a company and helps us further endorse our mission to help Americans live financially healthy lives with our actions and company culture.

While committing 1% of our employees’ time was a no-brainer, we came across a few challenges once we decided to do so: How would we decide where to spend that time? How could we make sure Chimers are engaged with our pledge program? How would we find organizations who would want to work with us? And how could we do all of this while our company scaled? It was important to us to think about this program holistically, make it accessible — and appealing — to all Chimers, and find organizations that could absorb our growing team and be aligned with our mission.

The How: Connecting our Why with partner organizations

It was important for us to understand what people from all teams and levels of the organization were looking for out of this program, since our goal is to have every employee participate. Each focus group included employees from every part of Chime and covered topics of what matters to them, which communities they want to know more about, and which activities would make giving 1% of their time feel fulfilling.

Something emerged pretty quickly in the group discussions: Chimers were interested in how to help people with economic empowerment. Whether it was helping people manage their personal finances or educating them about businesses and entrepreneurship, Chimers’ interests in helping communities grow economically aligned quite beautifully with our mission. While we did guess that this would be important to many Chimers, it was exciting to see such consistency across our focus groups.

Once we’d narrowed down a theme to focus on — economic empowerment — we identified partner organizations. With an initial list of over 200, we narrowed them down by answering the following questions:

  • Will the organization help us develop empathy for our communities by working directly with people? Our hope was to find partners whose work would allow Chimers to meet and get to know members of the community.
  • Does the organization serve a diverse location or population? With many of our employees living outside of San Francisco and in Chicago as we scaled our second office, we wanted to make sure our partner organizations would represent folks from different geographies than where we work.

Once we’d narrowed the list to a handful of organizations, we invited them to meet with us — in person or virtually — so that we could get to know them better. We learned what their missions were, what was important to them when it came to taking on volunteers, and what they wanted to see from us, a potential volunteer partner.

After our meet-and-greets, we chose two organizations with whom to pilot our pledge. Both organizations would allow Chimers to meet community members directly. They were also open to collaborating with us on the early stages of our program. We’d found two partners willing to help us iron out the kinks as we got this program off the ground. Those organizations are Oakland Promise and WeThrive.

Oakland PromiseOakland Promise provides resources and support to Oakland kids to empower them to achieve higher education and careers. We chose to partner with them because they think holistically about intervening positively in peoples’ lives, from offering financial support for low-income people who are about to have a baby to providing one-on-one mentorship when people are going to college. They also allow Chimers to engage at different levels, ranging from a phone call once a month to mentor someone in college, texts throughout the month to offer financial advice, or in-person meetings. We love how Oakland Promise empowers Chimers to develop long-term relationships with community members in the Bay Area.

WeThriveWeThrive helps underestimated youth build businesses by providing schools with curricula focused on entrepreneurship and empowering kids to start their own businesses. We decided to partner with WeThrive because we felt truly inspired by their founder, Daquan J. Oliver. As the child of a single mother growing up in a low income household, Daquan discovered entrepreneurship at a young age and credits it with keeping him out of trouble through his adolescence. By providing schools with curriculum and volunteer support, kids can build and grow companies and while getting advice and mentorship from partner companies like Chime.

While committing time was important to us, we also realized that helping support Chime volunteers wouldn’t be “free” for the organizations, and wanted to also have additional impact. So we made unrestricted financial donations to both organizations since we know how valuable these kinds of funds are to non-profits.

Measuring success and overcoming challenges

The first measure of success is whether employees are donating 1% of their time. Without a full-time team dedicated to the program, we rely on champions across the organization to encourage participation — people who are passionate about volunteering and are developing their leadership skills, whose responsibility it is to get fellow Chimers involved in the initiative and act as cheerleaders for our partner organizations. Measuring participation is a first step to analyzing how the program is getting off the ground, as well as a proxy for how inspired Chimers feel to give back — both in and out of the workplace.

The second way we’re measuring the program is the relationship between employee engagement and involvement in our 1% Pledge. Already, we’ve heard that many employees feel a sense of pride that Chime is doing this, but long-term success will be evaluated after the annual engagement survey is completed. Our People team will analyze engagement scores and look for a correlation between engagement and involvement in the program.

The third measure of success of our 1% Pledge program is whether it’s building empathy among Chimers for our members. It’s important for Chimers to understand what our members are dealing with day to day because it informs our company culture and how we build our products. Helping people with their financial health contributes to how Chimers solve problems at work by empowering them to better understand and connect with our members.

Finally, we want to add value to our partners’ organizations by giving them our time. To that end, we’ll maintain an open line of communication between our Chime 1% Pledge champions and our partners to continue evaluating our partnerships. After all, they’re the ones we are hoping to positively impact.

The future

Giving back during COVID-19

We’re working with both of our partners, Oakland Promise and WeThrive, to find ways to offer our time while we weather this pandemic. For example, Chimers are still offering financial advice via text and phone calls for Oakland Promise, as well as advising kids on their entrepreneurship and business ideas for WeThrive. A silver lining of schools being moved to an online model is that Chimers can now help students with their entrepreneurship ideas across the country in partnership with WeThrive.