OTTERCARES FOUNDATION is the philanthropic arm of OtterBoxOtterboxWe’re familiar with OtterBox as the company which builds wonderful phone cases.

For those of us in Fort Collins, they’re also an inspiring example of an amazing employee culture and a rapidly-growing superstar.

I had the privilege of speaking with Tricia Lemmer and Gary Rogers last week, who are one half of OtterCares.  They told me more about the history behind this amazing organization, and how they bring their mission to life.

OtterBox was started in 1998 by Curt and Nancy Richardson to bring waterproof cases to market.  At the beginning, it wasn’t about smartphones at all, but the iPhone and other devices have fueled this company’s exponential growth.

Nancy and Curt have long held the belief that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”  Community contribution and service has been an important founding principle since the earliest days.

As the company grew, they recognized the opportunity of expanding their community involvement due to its explosive growth.  So Nancy founded the OtterCares Foundation, as a way to solidify their intentions into the culture of OtterBox.  You might think that creating a separate organization would cause others to take the view that “we don’t have to worry about it anymore; those guys over at OtterCares are handling it.”  But that’s not the culture at all.

The goals for giving are woven into the fabric of OtterBox itself:  job roles, group objectives, and the corporate mission.  Every employee is allocated time for community activity, and teams work together to achieve larger goals.  So when OtterCares at Habitatthey make a contribution to Habitat for Humanity, for instance, it’s a bunch of OtterBox employees (“Otters”, of course) who are there doing the work – as an extension of OtterCares.

This level of integration is, for me, quite profound.

I’ve talked with a number of employees in this company, and they all are proud to tell the stories of how they, personally, have made a difference to those in need.

Why did they bother, then, to create OtterCares?  Well, there’s tax benefits to having a non-profit handling these things.  But more important, they have staff dedicated to formulating and implementing the strategic plans of charitable giving.

Working alongside the staff of OtterCares are a whole bunch of “OtterCares Ambassadors” inside OtterBox who have volunteered to act as liaisons into each department.
OtterCares Ambassadors
This group is actively watching for opportunities, creating valuable connections, and keeping the inspiration burning.

They’re bringing that philanthropic goal to life.  Every day, and in every corner of the company.

I loved hearing about the creativity they’re applying to this mission.  In 2010 and 2012, they gave each employee $200 and challenged them to multiply that amount, then give it away to benefit the community.  It was a great experience, making a huge difference to the area.  In 2013 they challenged the employees within each department to pool their resources to make a greater collective impact working as teams.

It’s the same founding principle, but a different way of making it real.

I challenged Gary and Tricia about whether the OtterBox philosophy would be able to continue as the company grows and acquires new locations outside Fort Collins.  This is something they take quite seriously, and they have a strategy.

One of the largest assets they have is the power of each individual Otter.  As they’ve hired great people who are inspired by this company, they increasingly have those who sought jobs specifically because of its philosophy.  It’s a subtle point, but crucial.  When you have a bunch of employees who sought out employment because they have a personal engagement with the culture, they’re not going to want to let that go.  It’s no longer the company’s goal, it’s each person’s passion.

Otterbox transformAcquisitions are a challenge, as you’d expect.  So far, OtterBox has done a great job of incorporating the giving philosophy into the integration plans and education activities.  But it’s something which Tricia and Gary spend great attention on, because the company was formed as a local enterprise with tight communication.  As the geographic scope grows, there’s always the potential for divergence from the core values.

They also work closely with the company’s leadership, noticing that each manager’s engagement is a crucial element for achieving the philanthropic goals.  So far, so good – but they’re not making assumptions about how easy it will be to continue the progress.

At the end of the day, creativity and passion will keep the momentum building.