Charlotte Lewin | Senior Community Relations Strategist

Burns & McDonald, an employee-owned company, is not just about infrastructure and construction. They’re about building communities. With a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility, they’re inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders, cultivating vibrant communities, and advancing civic initiatives. Their unique programs, such as the Corporate Citizenship Committee, Charity of Choice, and a matching gifts program, engage employees in meaningful ways. They’re not just building structures; they’re building a better future. Discover how Burns & McDonald is making a difference in the community and learn about their initiatives in STEM education and more.

visit them here: www.burnsmcd.com


What Nonprofit Questions are Answered?

  1. What is Burns & McDonald’s approach to corporate social responsibility?
  2. How does Burns & McDonald engage its employees in community service?
  3. What are some of the initiatives of the Burns & McDonald Foundation?
  4. How does Burns & McDonald support STEM education?
  5. What is the Charity of Choice program at Burns & McDonald?

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(00:00) people behind them KC cares is the intersection of the non-profit and profit communities making Kansas City a better place to live work and play this KC care segment is brought to you by the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation www.kauffman.org I’m Ruth Baum Bigus.  From time to time KC cares likes to shine the spotlight on our business community in the entire metro focusing on its engagement in philanthropy and its supportive area nonprofits Burns and McDonnell is one of those companies and we’re delighted to welcome Charlotte

(00:33) Lewin she is Chief community relations strategist for this employee owned Company Charlotte we’re so happy to have you with us thank you Ruth happy to be here and burns and Mac is all over the place doing all kinds of good things for the rare person out there who may not know what the company does can you tell us a little bit about your breadth and depth of what you are so think about all the things that you encounter on a daily basis infrastructure the roads you drive to get to work the internet that you hop on

(01:12) the electricity when you flip your light switch we do a lot of that planning architecture construction we hire scientists so lots of uh we have our hands in a lot of different Industries but we’re about 13 500 strong across 70 office offices globally and continue to grow and we’re headquartered here in Kansas City so we’ve had a long history of giving back in the community and really try to connect our employees into the community as well let’s talk a little bit about why is it important to be involved and be engaged I mean

(01:51) you’ve got plenty of work to do it’s not like you were looking for extra things right yeah so I would say you know for Burns and McDonald number one it’s the right thing to do we live and work in these communities and so we want them to be strong we want all of our neighbors to have opportunities in our community so it’s it’s the right thing to do to support and then if you look at it from a employee engagement angle we want to make sure that people working in our offices feel that connection to

(02:19) their Community understand maybe some of the challenges our neighbors are facing in our communities and can you know rise to the cause and and help that’s a tough nut to crack how do you begin even that conversation in a corporate structure great question so there you know as large as we are there are a lot of personal passions and interests that our employee owners have and from the foundation we actually try to focus across three main areas in our community impact so the first really around inspiring

(02:57) that next generation of stem leader you know selfishly we would love those kindergartners of today to walk through the doors of Burns and Mac fast forward a couple three decades but also these are the careers of the future we’re going to need kids today to solve a lot of really big challenges that our communities the world really will be facing and so we send a lot of employees out into the community we bring students and Educators on site to our offices and we want to really plant that seed for a love of stem our second

(03:29) really big Focus area is cultivating vibrant and healthy communities so really around those causes that you know lift our neighbors up so housing Health hunger those kind of things and then third with our community impact we want to be a good business that is in so advancing Civic initiatives in our community to make sure that we’re at the table for those those important conversations I want to go back a little bit even maybe more basic Burns and Mack has a foundation how long has the foundation existed and why a foundation yeah so we

(04:08) the foundation started back in 86 87 right around the time that our company became employee owned and again recognizing that commitment to the community that we have we wanted to set aside some dollars that could grow and then you know ultimately be remitted out into the community via grants and it’s really grown from a pretty heavy Kansas City Focus to now National we have you know probably dozen-ish really large office locations and of course Branch offices field offices all across the country where our employees

(04:42) are working and Building Things so the footprints really expanded but the foundation really is there to to focus in on those things that are maybe important to our Corporation and then we have several other programs too that bring employees in as well and get them engaged in our local community I think it’s interesting when a Corporation decides to create a foundation rather than okay we’re going to just go do these projects and now there’s a committee to do it it seems to give it a little bit more guidance and

(05:17) structure of how you move through what you want to do yeah absolutely I think it really helps focus our giving in communities across the country where again we have so many employees and different communities have different challenges but it really helps us tell that narrative across all of our offices about what burns McDonald is doing as a company everywhere of course there’s a little bit different flavor of that in each of our offices locations but it really does help tell a kind of United story for us as a business and a brand and

(05:52) also for our employees when they’re going out and talking to neighbors and and others peers Professionals in their community I know in prepping for the show I saw that you you do get input from your employees while you have these big areas so how does a company with 70 offices and lots and lots of employees how what’s the process of doing that so that you do hear a voice yeah so one of the really awesome programs that we have had going for a while now honestly now that I’m put on the spot I’m not

(06:29) sure when it exactly started but we do have a corporate citizenship committee so each of our larger office locations across the country has a representative from this committee that really helps surface either those requests or interests that they’re hearing from employees and it also allows us to have champions in those office locations that can take some of our company-wide corporate initiatives and and kind of bring them to the people if you will so it’s a really great relationship that we have with those people it’s kind

(06:59) of viewed as a leadership development opportunity as well so I think people are excited to engage and it also gives them some education and awareness about challenges in their communities and how you know we can reach out to non-profit partners and say like Hey we’re friends and McDonald we have this large employee base we’re here to help you know how how can we get involved how many people sit on that committee and is it it’s from offices all over correct yeah so we have right now and I we’re chatting about growing it but

(07:33) right now we have around 30-ish uh Representatives so that includes several representatives from our Kansas City office just because we have about half of our employees here so a big chunk of people and then representatives from each of our again larger offices across the country uh but definitely you know as we continue to grow some of our offices are reaching those thresholds where I think some of that support is definitely needed and welcome and so we’re having those conversations about how can we onboard

(08:05) new individuals too to make sure again they’re they’re getting those corporate messages from the foundation around a lot of our giving campaigns but also we can hear from from that employee base as well about where they’re engaged what they’re doing what’s exciting for them how do you meet I assume Zoom teams whatever yes so we do have a monthly ish I’ll say a team meeting and then we also get together every year around the fall time frame with a summit for that group and so bringing everyone together in person I

(08:43) think that’s after we do a lot of Zoom teams Etc but I do think being in person really helps build those relationships and so we kind of have some professional development opportunities that Summit is also where we really focus on one of our giving campaigns that we run uh corporate wide which is our annual charity of choice campaign so that committee meets selects a cause area that the company will support for the following year and then we work with each of those corporate citizenship committee representatives to select a local

(09:18) beneficiary and that program has been very successful and very popular with our employee base because again we get that nice unified narrative across the company but we still get to keep the dollars local which is really The Sweet Spot that we found for a lot of our employee giving initiatives so in every one of your 70 is there a charity of choice or in your bigger offices how does that work yeah not quite the 70s so we do we kind of have a threshold that we like to talk with offices that want to participate about

(09:50) kind of an expectation of dollar potential and also volunteerism the campaign really focuses on getting our employees connected with that nonprofit and so we were at about I think 30 to 40 beneficiaries in our most recent campaign this year which was around supporting Foster youth how do you make that choice I mean you’re a big Corporation I’m sure there’s more than one or two non-profits knocking on your door absolutely yeah so the the fun part is that that committee the corporate citizenship committee we

(10:24) really get give them the freedom to nominate different cause areas kind of make the case uh again what have you been hearing from employees maybe what causes are you just getting into or have Partnerships with that you think could you know be elevated through this campaign and so we really give them the the freedom of choice there and to kind of rally that committee around a single cause and absolutely the the list is long and so we kind of have a couple phases of narrowing down that list uh but I think for our team it’s a really

(10:56) fun campaign because the cause area changes every year and allows our employees and our team opportunities to work with the non-profit partners that maybe aren’t on our usual usual list for our Focus areas that I mentioned before I think charity of choice for us gives us a great opportunity to learn about challenges that maybe honestly our employees might be one or two levels removed from just because you know we are we are fortunate to work for a very great company here and so we really get to touch on some

(11:30) different cods areas like I said most recently with Foster youth uh and then other causes have included human trafficking hunger mental Wellness we’ve worked with a lot of different causes in the past and I think that’s kind of the the fun part about that campaign is it changes and and you have an opportunity to learn more well let’s let you have a plug right here for those who are listening and if they’d like can they get into the process can you share how that works and just where folks should go if they want

(12:02) to know more yeah if you’d like to know more about you know really any of our giving initiatives we have of course our website burnsvincd.com you’re welcome to reach out through there uh if you know a Burns and McDonald employee that’s also a great in for them to kind of pass that along and like you said we definitely get a lot of solicitations and inquiries of interest and so we the list does grow it grows all the time and when you think about two you know this campaign you think about how many nonprofits are in Kansas

(12:36) City and we’re multiplying that by all of our offices so there’s no shortage of good causes available and it just is kind of what’s rising to the top that the committee goes with and so feel free to reach out to us via website or LinkedIn guys hit me up happy to chat uh-oh are you ready to be busy I know be ready to be busy we also like to share in our conversations you know some of the best practices that you uh you know have have created and as the company switched from other ownership to employ where did you

(13:18) all go to kind of structure these things to say oh here’s what we should do to pick a charity of choice here are the steps we should go through here are the resources we can go to to support us yeah so great question and when I came in a lot of several of these programs were established and honestly I think a lot of these programs were in response to growth of our employee base I think a lot of corporations in this space you know uh who have started maybe in the hundreds and now are into thousands of employees you do need that

(13:54) structure because again no shortage of good causes to support and it does get very challenging and unfortunately a lot of uh my role or my peers role at their corporations is saying no or maybe no not now check back later and so it I think in response to a lot of those solicitations having some programs that give some structure around how we can support when we can support who we can support we do have some automatic nodes in our foundation and again that’s just to draw a line because there are so many

(14:31) great causes and so I think a lot of the structure was put in place for example our charity Choice program we get a lot of requests for things that may not exactly align with those giving priorities I outlined and this is this is an opportunity where we might be able to to make a yes we also have a matching gifts program which is a really great option for that no from the foundation but yes in another capacity uh through this matching this program it’s still Foundation funding probably not at the level the employee is requesting but it

(15:08) it gives us again an opportunity to say yes when we can and I think that’s probably the largest challenge for businesses that are solicited by nonprofits is you know there’s there’s going to have to be a no eventually either funding will become unavailable or it just uh doesn’t align or sometimes it’s just the timing is Is Not Great the portfolio might have several non-profit Partnerships in a certain cause area already and and now is not an opportunity to bring another partner on but I was really impressed that you all

(15:43) will match your employees donations a hundred percent up to a certain level yes yeah uh yeah there is a threshold and so for us this is a company-wide program for employee owners and so annually each employee owner can request up to three hundred dollars in matching per year and so we see really great use of this for those personal fundraising initiatives think like runs walks and bike rides a lot of people have personal fundraising goals for those types of charitable events so that’s probably the most common

(16:15) use but the really cool part too is that program’s very responsive so we see lots of bumps around disaster relief in 2020 around around covid response and also racial Justice initiatives so the we really like that program and I think employees appreciate the support there too even if it’s not always maybe at the level you know they came in requesting but that’s very empowering to employees I would think to say I can you know 300 goes a long way for a number of non-profits in the power of people if you can you know get your

(16:50) buddy to like you know convince a lot of other buddies you can make an even bigger impact so yeah absolutely and we see that you know some employees again like a personal fundraising goal and then they have a co-worker who gives and also uses their match to support so the impact can definitely spread uh and we see just a wide variety of causes and again some things that would be an automatic no those restrictions are removed in our matching gifts program so it’s a very cool program that our team loves

(17:22) and I think employees appreciate as well for that little extra boost to their personal passion so we’ve talked about charity of choice we’ve talked about the individual matching uh you’ve got a few other really big things going so let’s let’s bring them out and put them in the spotlight sounds good so our largest corporate campaign workplace campaign is with United Way we’ve been partnering with United Way for at least 60 years I believe really started out of Kansas City and now has grown to all of our office

(17:54) locations and just to kind of give you a magnitude of scale here in 2022 our campaign was over 4.4 million dollars and that’s mostly employee contributions so we have very generous employees and we really enjoy partnering with the United Way because we feel they’re looking at the community at large and helping to bring non-profit Partners together and fill maybe some gaps toward goals that a community might have around different causes and so we’ve been very strong supporters of United Way in Kansas City I think were the

(18:31) largest campaign for United Way of Greater Kansas City and then company-wide we have a lot of great Partnerships going getting people engaged in volunteer events getting them involved in leadership giving circles so getting together with other community Champions to learn about those causes and it’s a campaign that really I think has made a huge impact in in all of our communities where employees live and work so that’s the largest one and then I know I mentioned stem as a main focus area and so we do a lot of giving and

(19:05) volunteer stem Outreach through kind of that cause area in 2022 we launched two brand new programs really focused outside of Kansas City honestly because we we are very well known in KC I think but as we’ve grown in a lot of other office locations we are trying to make those same connections and be known in the educator Community as you know hey we have people here that really want to help your students and connect the dots from what they’re learning in class to a potential career and so sending our people out bringing

(19:38) students in and last year we launched two uh programs for non-kc locations the first was a partnership with project leads away which is a pre-k through 12 curriculum around stem education that’s National they have thousands and thousands of students participating and so we had a one and a half million dollar three-year partnership with them to make grants to schools that are implementing Project Lead the Way curriculum or expanding it maybe they have it in the high school and they want to get into the middle or Elementary

(20:13) School spaces so that’s been really an amazing partnership we’ve been able to grow some of those relationships with schools across the country and then similarly but a little bit smaller scale we launched a national stem grant program that’s kind of a direct to school model so teachers can sign up or apply for a grant through our foundation for either stem materials so things that they can use in their classroom to implement the stem teaching or even professional development so conferences or other opportunities where they can

(20:50) kind of bring that learning back impact their students and other staff as well that Pro between those two programs over the next few years we’re looking at hopefully over two million dollar investment in stem students and Educators across the country and then locally hopefully a lot of people listening have heard of our burnson McDonald Battle of the brains program that is a very large initiative out of our Kansas City office where we have been working with science City since 2011 and it’s a very unique program I

(21:26) think Nationwide we’re really focused on inspiring those kiddos through the opportunity to get an exhibit from their minds their big creative idea designed and built by burnson McDonald at science city so we asked students K-12 across the Metro to submit a proposal for the next permanent exhibit at science City uh and then we choose a winner we work with that team of students uh for about 18 to 24 months to build their exhibit and then we get to celebrate that grand opening so this September uh we will launch our

(22:05) seventh exhibit and we will also kick off our seven competition Cycles so it’s a it’s a every other year competition cycle and so we launched that in the odd years and so invite anyone who is an educator who knows an educator that’d be interested in participating you can check out botbkc.

(22:27) com but that has resulted in a nine million dollar investment in science City almost a million dollars direct to schools for stem education funding and most importantly over 30 000 students have participated in this program and we actually are seeing full-time hires and interns who have participated in the program now here at Burns McDonald which is really what it’s all about a great story to tell yeah that’s so exciting I was going to ask you how do you track well you know how you track because there are some kiddos who are now employees that’s what

(22:57) a wonderful Forward Thinking lift up and how great for science City they get the benefit of some really really cool exhibits yeah I know we’ve had some very cool things built and again direct from the minds of students they are super creative and so it’s really our honor to get to work with them and help put something in science City that we know kids are already super excited about all told how many and I’m assuming it’s millions of dollars through all your philanthropic have you been you know

(23:33) have you put out there and uh and volunteer hours and all of that yeah so if we’re looking at 2022 and that’s my most recent in my mind when we talk about our foundation our corporate gifts which are sometimes not always aligned with our foundation goals and our employee initiatives employee giving 2022 our company-wide impact was around 11 million dollars that keeps trending up because we’ve been growing we have more people we’re making a bigger impact I should have the stat of like since

(24:08) since we uh started I should grab that one but you know we’re talking millions and millions of dollars yeah over time and a lot of that because we are employee owned that’s dollars that you know are being set aside for the community that could potentially go back to our employees through salary or bonus and so I think employees are very proud of the impact that we’re making and you know it’s our team we we take that responsibility really seriously to make sure that we’re we’re being good

(24:43) stewards of those funds and really creating Partnerships that are impactful for our employees and our communities and thousands of hours in volunteer service yeah so I think if you talk to a lot of Corporations volunteer tracking is a constant Challenge and so uh definitely one for us we actually this year are celebrating our 125th anniversary as a company started back in 1898 and with that we launched a 125-minute volunteer challenge so obviously a lot of our employees you know they’re doing that in

(25:18) a month so it’s no big no big deal but you know I think again another challenge in the corporate giving space or Employee Engagement is around getting new employees involved and connected to the the impact that you’re making in the community and so really this challenge is meant for for those people to invite people in like hey we know everyone’s busy certainly got a lot on their plate just from you know billable project perspective but take that opportunity to get out in the community and to that end our team has

(25:50) also tried to provide some on-site opportunities when available to make it easy for those for those employees to join you all have any intersection where those who are not Burns and Mac employees can help in an initiative that you’re doing yeah so I think I think one of the more common ways is through client Partnerships so when we are out say building a solar field site in Wisconsin we can bring our client along for different volunteer opportunities or when we’re out building a water plant in very far Western Kansas there’s

(26:30) opportunities there too so we definitely work with our clients a lot to bring them out to volunteer to also raise funds or or do drives for the local community programs like our Battle of the brains also have an opportunity for the public to engage we kind of narrow it down in a couple rounds of judging and so there’s an opportunity for employees to learn about those proposals the submissions that are kind of sitting at the top and help us also kind of narrow that field and then I think you know we definitely participate in with

(27:03) nonprofits and kind of their larger community events to get engaged another example I think is Rock the parkway that’s a race that we host here from burnson McDonald currently benefiting Children’s Mercy and so anyone from the community is welcome to volunteer there to run and support so those are a few of the ways that we can invite the community in right now and again the best place is to go to the website yep burnsmcd.

(27:33) com there we have a social responsibility Tab and you can learn about all the great things we’re doing in this space well I know we don’t like to talk about the p word but I do like to ask our guests what’s the greatest lesson working in this charity philanthropy sphere that you’ve learned from that that you’ve now kind of put into place and say yeah okay we did learn a thing or two uh one of the largest challenges I just like focusing there are no shortage of great causes in Kansas City and then you look at communities across the country people

(28:12) are doing very awesome important impactful work unfortunately we can’t say yes to all of those things there’s just not enough dollars not enough time not enough opportunities for employees to get engaged and so really trying to hone in on those Partnerships that kind of offer that that best fit which for us looks like Employee Engagement opportunities leadership connection to boards or committees and then wrapping around with financial support as well and that’s I think you know you I think a lot of people

(28:49) I hear a lot like no your job must be so fun and it absolutely is but one of the big bummers is I say no I have to say no a lot and often to things that I personally feel like that sounds so cool awesome you’re doing great work but again maybe not the right time not a best fit in an absolute no we just don’t fund something in that cause area and and so that’s something I also try to share with employees so that they have an understanding too of you know this might be their personal passion but we’re trying to

(29:22) account for over 13 000 people now and growing people people’s personal passions so it’s challenging and we aren’t going to be able to say yes all the time and I and I try to give some context around that I think that’s a good lesson learned in Myspace is is sharing that message with people so they can better understand the why for the things that we are opting into why why it’s important to burn to McDonald that we’re in that space so we just encourage everybody go check out the website make sure before you ask

(29:52) you kind of know what you’re asking for but Charlotte’s really nice so be sure to check her out thank you people think that I will also say though give me some Grace if you do hit me up in my inbox there is a lot happening so absolutely Charlotte thank you for sharing all the great stuff that burns and Mack is doing not only here in Kansas City but all over the place where you’re located we’re very lucky to have a corporation giving back in the community and thank you for your time absolutely thanks for

(30:21) having me great to chat today thank you for joining us for KC cares Kansas City’s non-profit voice were produced by charitable Communications which is also a non-profit this KC care segment was brought to you by the UE Marion Kaufman Foundation www.kauffman.org to be a guest on KC cares please visit our website it’s kccaresonline.org.

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