Elastic Cares: Pandemic challenges to goodness engagement and what we learned

As part of Women’s History Month, we’re focusing on the women who make Elastic, Elastic, and how we #ChooseToChallenge representation within tech. So far, Leah Sutton, SVP of Human Resources, discussed the many initiatives at Elastic that encourage better representation for women and nonbinary people throughout the business, and also shared some thoughts from leadership on redefining the way Elastic does business.

Elastic Cares is a small but powerful team of four women who empower Elastic teams and individuals to support the charitable organizations that matter the most to them on a local and global level.

Our team consists of:

  • Karen Penn, head of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and Elastic Cares
  • Kristina Paiz, HR and Elastic Cares program manager
  • Azka Sohail, Elastic Cares associate, EMEA & NPO program
  • Lauren Manar, Elastic Cares associate, APJ & AMERs

We manage what we call “goodness engagement” at Elastic through a simple program consisting of donation matching (DM), our nonprofit organization (NPO) program, and our volunteer time off (VTO) initiative. Elastic Cares, by design, embraces the fact that we are distributed and varied in our interests, and empowers each Elastician to choose where to volunteer or donate.

Elastic Cares team.

From left to right: Lauren Manar, Azka Sohail, Karen Penn, Kristina Paiz

COVID-19 changed everything

Like almost everything else, COVID has completely changed the way we approach volunteering and giving initiatives. In the face of a pandemic that challenged basic human contact, the team had to realign, adapt, and step up to think and do things differently.

Volunteering and donating looked a lot different in 2020 than the year previous, and it continues to evolve in 2021. Volunteering in person, in most cases, is no longer possible. Nonprofits themselves were, and still are, trying to figure out how to do their best in this new world.

The Elastic Cares team has had to look inward and ask: How can we engage Elasticians in this new world with our limited resources to participate in volunteering and virtual initiatives? How do we stay engaged with the organizations we love and continue doing all that good work?

We answered (part of) that question by changing our focus from in-person and in-kind giving drives, hosting volunteer trips, and driving in-person volunteer events at regional offices to doing everything virtual.

How did we do this?

First, we made the switch to hosting virtual volunteering events. While this was moderately successful, the sessions felt less formal than our physical volunteering sessions. Many Elasticians felt left to figure out things on their own, which reduced engagement. In the end, these virtual volunteering events didn’t feel as impactful as a physical volunteer experience, and didn't foster a sense of community. They were missing the basic human connection that is so meaningful in person.

Lauren and Karen volunteering.

At Elastic, we work with the concept of progress, simple perfection. The Elastic Cares team, with that ethos in mind, evolved the earlier sessions into a new virtual session experience, and the Elastic Cares Hour was born. The Elastic Cares Hour is used to bring Elasticians together to learn about causes and movements, how to get involved, and how to continue supporting them by getting further involved. Specialists and nonprofits, both global and local, are invited to the Elastic Cares Hour to share information about their cause and communities, and to make calls to action. Since we are a global company, we’ve made sure to host the Elastic Cares Hour in multiple time zones to be inclusive to our entire distributed team of Elasticians.

We also made sure to be intentional on who we lined up to speak in order to meet Elasticians’ varied interests, from learning about how to respond to civil unrest to how to support natural disaster relief in many different countries.

After we introduced Elastic Cares Hour, engagement through Zoom went up significantly. Previously, the volunteering sessions would draw 5 to 20 people. With Elastic Cares Hour, we’ve hosted up to 150 people at a time. Video recordings were also shared so that those who were not able to join can participate on their own time.

Getting (re)started on the right foot

When welcoming new Elasticians in years past during X-School, our week of onboarding for new Elasticians, we had a unique opportunity to have an in-person Elastic Cares session and volunteering event at SF-Marin Food Bank (serving one in five people in the Bay Area). Because that is no longer possible due to COVID, we switched to a virtual volunteering session with Zooniverse. We continue to evolve and are currently making sure to include impact sessions to capture the feeling lost in virtual volunteering. During one of these sessions Elasticians are introduced to the Elastic Cares team, a nonprofit client (such as 42AI) shares how they maximize the NPO program grant to fuel their mission-based work, and fellow Elasticians highlight their use of VTO and donation matching campaigns to maximize organization or community impact.

The session concludes with a brainstorming breakout where Elasticians can connect with new colleagues and discuss ways they might leverage Elastic Cares for causes near and dear to them.

In addition to getting folks started on the right foot, we wanted to ensure that relationship continues beyond an Elastician's early days — especially during the pandemic, when it’s so easy to forget about doing good when so much is going on at home. We found it helpful to expand to be a constant resource and an inspiration by setting up a regular Elastic Cares newsletter that shares emerging trends in volunteering and safe practices, and by making all virtual event details available and evergreen.

Lessons learned during the pandemic

The Elastic Cares team has had success, even with the hurdles of a global pandemic. VTO is at an all-time high, with Elasticians logging 994 VTO in the quarter — that’s 334% over last year’s Q3!

On Giving Tuesday this fiscal year, 392 Elasticians came together to leverage DM and raise over $400,000 USD for 629 global charities. That amounts to a 94% increase over last year's campaign. Q3 collective donations also hit an all-time high, totaling over $650,000 USD (Elastician donations and donation matching) raised for 1,101 global charities.

So what have we learned during all this? Well, first is that no one has it completely figured out. We find ourselves constantly asking the question: What is lost when you’re meeting virtually and how do you fill that space? We’re still trying to understand what the magic something is that’s lost in the virtual world. What we’ve learned — what works for us at least — is that it helps to be organic and tell stories of impact to drive engagement. It helps to regularly share the learnings from nonprofits and the successes and passions of our Elasticians to keep everyone motivated. It helps to keep the conversation going with our nonprofit friends and continue to innovate where we see opportunity.

We also learned that in this moment when everyone is burned out, we need to be available to support Elasticians and meet them where they are. Whether it’s sharing best-practice articles, blogs, and videos, having Zoom discussions, creating libraries of our content to access later, or just being there over Slack, consistency is important.

Lastly, and most importantly, especially in these times when marginalized groups are so impacted by the pandemic, is to look at goodness through an inclusive lens. We’re making sure to explore and develop initiatives where there might be connective tissue between departments, especially with our budding Elastician Resource Groups, and to make sure our future is focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Interested in joining a company with a Source Code to live by? We’re hiring. Check out our teams and find the right career for you! Want to read more about life at Elastic? Read more on our blog!