· 3 min read
Journalism alumnus leverages company as force for good
Jay Wilkinson, founder and CEO of Firespring and alumnus of Nebraska’s College of Journalism and Mass Communications, knew early in his career that he wanted to leave behind a legacy that honored his father.
“My father was a huge support to me throughout my childhood,” Wilkinson said. “He was the best dad a kid could have. He was my Boy Scout leader, the coach of my youth sports teams and never missed a single game or activity. My dream was to someday acquire enough wealth that I could do something big in his honor like have a park or hospital wing named after him.”
Wilkinson began chasing this dream after graduating from Nebraska with degrees in advertising and broadcasting in 1988. He lived in New York City for four years after graduation, and in 1992, returned to Lincoln to found the printing company that later became Firespring.
After having a conversation with his father in 2013 about his legacy, Wilkinson realized that he didn’t care about parks or hospital wings. His father simply wanted his children and grandchildren to be caring, well-rounded members of their community.
The conversation inspired Wilkinson to transform Firespring into a source of impactful social change.
To begin this journey, Firespring became a certified B Corporation under nonprofit organization B Lab. B Corporations are required to meet certain standards on social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
“I was aware of B Corporations and always admired organizations that earned the certification such as TOMS Shoes, Patagonia and Warby Parker,” Wilkinson said. “We took the assessment at Firespring and just fell short of meeting the qualifications. We evolved the company’s purpose and made changes that earned us enough points to achieve the certification.”
Firespring then implemented a “Power of 3” program that leveraged three percent of its people, products and profit to become the first B Corporation in Nebraska.
As part of the program, each employee volunteers eight hours a month, technology is given to nonprofits for free and the company donates three percent of its profits to charity through the Firespring Foundation. The company is audited every two years by B Lab ensure these standards are being met.
Since earning the certification, Wilkinson has noticed a change for the better in Firespring’s employees.
“There has been a substantial shift in our work culture since earning the certification,” Wilkinson said. “People entering the workforce want to work for a company that is part of something bigger than themselves. There is a strong sense of satisfaction and pride when you’re part of something bigger — regardless of your position in the company.”
One of Firespring’s biggest contributions since earning its certification has been donating the building and seed money for Nonprofit Hub, an organization in Lincoln that provides discounted work space for nonprofits and online resources to encourage their growth.
“What’s awesome is that Nonprofit Hub has a strong national presence,” Wilkinson said. “I was recently speaking at a national nonprofit conference in New York and asked the room how many of them had heard of Nonprofit Hub and 85 percent of the room raised their hand. Five years ago only a few hands would have gone up. They are a respected, national voice in the nonprofit sector.”
Firespring will continue its commitment to giving back when it hosts the Do More Good Conference May 15 through 17 on Nebraska Innovation Campus. The conference will bring together a variety of national thought leaders and empower attendees to help their own organizations embrace social enterprise.
Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, is a featured speaker at the event.