Making Time To Give: Rocket’s Volunteers Go Above And Beyond

As the season of giving thanks begins, The Mortgage Note would like to recognize the people who contribute to their communities.

In June, leaders at the Rock Family of Companies and Rocket Community Fund announced that team members had spent one million hours volunteering with community organizations and nonprofits, participating in more than 150,000 events with more than 4,800 organizations nationwide.

The milestone was reached at an event with The Greening of Detroit at Lafayette Gardens in downtown Detroit. Rocket Companies is headquartered in the city.

“Rocket Companies invests in Detroit through its business, philanthropy and workforce, along with the tens of thousands of team members who help mentor our youth, ensure our food banks are stocked, connect our residents to critical housing resources, and more,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said at the time.

Team members drive the Rocket Companies Community Challenge each summer. This year, $1,366,444 was raised for 184 nonprofits.

Rocket Companies has also been named as one of People’s 100 Companies That Care in 2023 for increasing their longstanding efforts to support residents of Detroit.

The Detroit Home Repair Fund, created to build capacity for nonprofit partners to provide low-income homeowners with critical home repairs, was highlighted. It is now expected to serve more than 1,000 residents, according to the magazine, and a photo showed Rocket team members making home repairs at a volunteer event.

Laura Grannemann, executive director of the Rocket Community Fund and the Gilbert Family Foundation, recently sat down with Editor Kimberley Haas to talk about the work they do and how they keep volunteers engaged.

Haas: I’m hoping that maybe you can tell our readers a little bit about your collaboration and how the Rocket Community Fund and the Gilbert Family Foundation work together to reach common goals.

Grannemann: Sure, absolutely. As you know, the Rocket Community Fund is focused on addressing inequitable systems that prevent housing stability, and healthy, safe housing for all Americans across the United States. Specifically, we work in Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Milwaukee.

Our four primary areas are preventing displacement, ending homelessness, building opportunities for homeownership, and bridging the digital divide.

And then the Gilbert Family Foundation has a really deep commitment to building opportunity and equity right here in the city of Detroit. A lot of our collaboration comes in trying to scale up some of the housing. Specifically, we’re looking at things like trying to end property tax foreclosure, mitigate eviction, and build opportunities for homeownership in Detroit.

The Gilbert Family Foundation uses that as a foundation to continue investing in other areas, for example, arts and culture, public space access, access to job readiness, and workforce development and entrepreneurship, those types of things. So, we’re working very collaboratively on a day-to-day basis. Our teams sit together. We really try to have one shared vision in the city of Detroit.

And specifically, when it comes to volunteer opportunities, a lot of times the Gilbert Family Foundation is making large-scale commitments to nonprofits around the city that also have volunteer needs. When and where we can, we’re making introductions back to the volunteer engagement and giving team to create those opportunities for volunteering at Rocket companies.

Haas: Okay. It sounds like you really work hand in hand. Has there been a change in the last year or so to make this collaboration stronger and more unified?

Grannemann: A few years ago, in 2021, we made a $500 million commitment to building opportunity and equity in the city of Detroit. And that was a shared commitment across both the Gilbert Family Foundation and the Rocket Community Fund. So, Gilbert supports $350 million over 10 years, and Rocket Companies supports $150 million over 10 years.

We think it’s really important to have one shared vision. We often say, “The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.”

If we’re working together, if we’re working collaboratively, we believe that we can really impact change that is greater than anything we could do on our own.

Haas: That makes sense to me. Part of the reason we’re here today is that in June it was announced that team members of the Rock Family of Companies and Rocket Community Fund achieved the milestone of one million volunteer hours. How did it feel to reach that milestone? I mean, that’s a real feather in your cap.

Grannemann: Yeah, it was, it was a really magical day and a special moment for me as just a Rocket Company team member. I was incredibly proud to be able to see how our collective efforts have led to this incredible milestone. So yeah, there was a lot of pride. There was a lot of joy and excitement.

I often like to say that we overestimate what we can do in a year, and we underestimate what we can do in 10. Thinking back 10 years ago, did we think that this would be the milestone that we would hit? We probably couldn’t have even imagined it.

I really like to think about what we can do now that we know what’s possible over the course of the next 10 years.

Haas: Do you think reaching that milestone has helped motivate employees and others?

Grannemann: Yeah, absolutely. We often talk about our company as a for more than profit organization, meaning that our business and our community are inextricably linked. And the more that we do well as a business, the more we can support using our same business tools and talents back in the community.

Our team members are one incredible asset that allows us to put support back into the community. We actually offer unlimited volunteer time off for team members if they’re doing a company-sponsored volunteer event. And I truly believe that having those opportunities to engage in our community creates a deeper bond between our team members personally and between our team members and the company professionally.

Haas: What are some of the larger volunteer projects that require more man hours? I know you have some smaller things that people can participate in, but I know there are some larger projects that require a lot of hands on deck.

Grannemann: Every year in the fall we work with a group in the city of Detroit called Life Remodeled, where we’ll send hundreds of team members out over the course of a couple of weeks.

We have a relationship with Habitat for Humanity across the country, where we’re also sending hundreds of team members out to home builds.

Then we have some partners who, throughout the year, we are invested in very deeply, and they rely on volunteer support. For example, Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest are two food banks in the Detroit area that move hundreds of millions of pounds of food on a regular basis. And they do rely on volunteer support to be able to make that work possible. So we are sending hundreds of volunteers their way on a regular basis.

Haas: I noticed that more than 100,000 of the hours that the volunteers spent were at those two organizations. Is it because it is so labor intensive, Laura, or is it because it’s something that people can easily schedule into their time with their unlimited volunteer time off?

Grannemann: Well, it’s a little bit of both. But I would say that’s a really good example of where it’s a mutually beneficial relationship because many nonprofits are not set up to take volunteers at scale, but Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest have kind of built their business models leveraging volunteer support as much as possible.

This is a really good opportunity for our team members because it’s a relatively flexible engagement, but it’s meaningful.

Haas: More than $5 million has been raised since 2018 through the Annual Community Challenge. Why do you think that Rocket Companies team members get behind this work?

Grannemann: The Community Challenge is a really fun opportunity because throughout the year we’re making philanthropic grants at Rocket Community Fund, but we’re following our mission, and we’re very, very deeply committed to that mission. It’s harder for our team members to direct that funding on their own.

The Community Challenge is really special because it’s an opportunity for our team members for one month of the year to nominate and really be a part of building momentum for nonprofits that are really meaningful to them.

We just ended our Community Challenge for this year, and our team members are consistently breaking records for the number of nonprofits they’re nominating, and their different types of engagement.

It’s really fun to see how people react to the opportunity to participate in the Community Challenge. We had someone this year who shaved his head.

He said, “You know, I bet that you guys can’t raise…” I think it was $7,500 as part of the Community Challenge. And when his team met that goal, he shaved his head.

We’ve had people dress up as hot dogs. We’ve had lots of signs put up. Our team members get really involved in it. And there’s nothing that motivates team members in the mortgage space like competition.

It’s a great way to have fun, stay engaged, and be a part of something bigger.

Haas: What are some of the other events that you have?

Grannemann: We also had a back-to-school campaign this year where we did a drive that folks could bring supplies into the offices.

Every year around the holidays, we do a holiday giving campaign as well.

Some of my favorite work actually has been the skilled-based volunteer opportunities that we offer. These are not necessarily planned large-scale opportunities, but they’re more meaningful connections with team members who have a specific skill set.

We’ve helped nonprofits build out their website because we have very talented web developers within our team.

Last year we supported a group called Samaritas in the aftermath of both the Ukrainian refugee crisis and the Afghanistan refugee crisis. We were seeing a lot of refugees come into the city of Detroit, and Samaritas was taking a leadership role in trying to house those refugees.

We actually had an opportunity to donate the time of seven Rocket Companies team members. They worked with Samaritas for about nine months of the year supporting refugee families from around the world.

Haas: So you mentioned that was based on their skill set to work with the refugees. I understand a very easy transition for web developers to be able to help nonprofit people who need websites. But what kind of skillset were they using from their experience at Rocket to help these people?

Grannemann: Supporting them with process improvement, complicated paperwork, and then client services are probably the three things that I would call out for that particular engagement.

It is something that maybe folks often take for granted, but that sort of client service mentality is incredibly important in everything that we see our nonprofits doing.

And it was not necessarily that those seven team members were the only seven who could have done it, but it was a great opportunity for us to work with Samaritas, define the roles that they needed to be filled, and then come back to our team and talk to a couple of different groups around the family of companies and offer the opportunity to a few different teams.

Haas: I know that many people in your position have a hard time motivating employees to want to get involved. And you mentioned competition is a great way to get them involved, and fun things. But if you met somebody else in your role with another company and they asked you, “What do you do to motivate people to be willing to do this and use those volunteer hours, what would you say?”

Grannemann: I think part of it is just the foundation of the culture that we set here at the family of companies. It goes back to the isms that Dan created when he founded the company, that “We are the they” mentality.

It’s important that we’re always thinking about ourselves as a whole, not just our business, but really the connections back out in the community.

Does your company work to better the community? Share your story. Email Editor Kimberley Haas at [email protected].

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