Sep. 27, 2016 9:33 am

This corporate giving pro wants small businesses to rally around Philly schools

Martina Mansell has revamped ecommerce company RevZilla's CSR program and hopes a "coalition of small businesses" can form and follow suit.

Taggart Elementary.

(Courtesy photo)

Corporate giving can be more than planting a couple of trees once a year, especially when it’s done smart, intentionally and collaboratively. Just ask Martina Mansell, RevZilla‘s dedicated corporate giving coordinator.

When the Navy Yard-based ecommerce startup asked Mansell to head up its corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, the former French teacher started by researching methodologies and getting involved with the Greater Philadelphia Corporate Volunteer Council (GPCVC) out of United Way.

“Every year we do a back to school supplies drive,” said Mansell. “And every year it feels like we could do so much more, but we didn’t know how to make as big an impact as we could.”

So, instead of trying to collect a few pens, pencils and binders from RevZilla’s 200-some employees for every school in the region, Mansell shifted the startup’s CSR to an “Adopt-A-School” model, focusing on John H. Taggart School in South Philly — where a third of students take ESL classes and nearly 100 percent qualify for reduced price or free lunch.

And instead of sending students typical school supplies, Mansell sat down with Taggart’s faculty and asked what they need in their classrooms.

It wasn’t pens, pencils and binders. suppliesrequests

“The nurse needs extra underpants and socks for kids when they have accidents,” said Mansell.  “There are all these things we would never think of when we think of a school supplies drive. The school has a lot more needs than that.”

Mansell then asked the teachers to list their “top five supplies wish list” in a Google form before collecting donations from employees. So far, Mansell said, Revzilla employees have donated over $1,000 worth of supplies ranging from flash drives to light bulbs to hula hoops for recess.

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“We are an ecommerce company, and we are always looking for ways to improve the customer’s experience and alleviate the pain points. We applied the same principle to this donation drive,” said Mansell. “By providing lists of requests from specific teachers and including links to those products, employees could easily participate in the supplies drive and feel a more personal connection to the recipients.”

Mansell said she will be refining and reevaluating the company’s CSR mission in the coming weeks, and hopes to include more one-on-one mentorship opportunities for employees and students. But the dream, she said, is to create “a coalition of small businesses” dedicated to supplying Philly schools with the resources they need.

“We are not the first company to have this idea,” she said. “But I think we do have the potential to work with the city and the GPCVC member companies to develop a scalable plan to improve the public education system and make sure our students and teachers have the resources they need to succeed.”


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