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How and Why NBCUniversal Launched Its Creative Impact Lab

Among the greatest needs nonprofits have today are the tools to tell their story. There are nearly two million 501C3 organizations in the U.S. alone—all yearning for increased attention around their important causes. Unfortunately, most nonprofits too often lack the resources and expertise to effectively illustrate their positive impact—as well as access to diverse storytellers with the lived experience to tell their stories authentically.

In 2021, NBCUniversal leveraged our unique storytelling resources and expertise to launch an innovative new social impact program. Around corporate America, we see the companies with the most successful CSR programs—Apple, Nike and Lego, for example—take what they are uniquely great at and find a way to give that back to society.

We launched the Creative Impact Lab as the cornerstone of NBCUnites, our social purpose initiative. The Lab provides marketing assets to our company’s portfolio of nonprofit partner organizations across a myriad of sectors, from health and human services to education to the arts to media and technology. We provide grants to nonprofit creative agencies that employ diverse student apprentices, such as Reel Works, Spy Hop, PhillyCAM, and Youth Design Center, and commission them to tell the stories of our other nonprofit partners, such as L.A. Works., Minds Matter and Cradles to Crayons. NBCUniversal employees in creative roles provide mentorship to the agencies and apprentices on each project, harnessing their talent to give back in a meaningful way. To take our impact further and give our partners’ creative scale, we amplify the marketing assets on the media platforms of Comcast NBCUniversal through in-kind inventory.

The Lab benefits all participants on many levels and achieves several goals: 1) helping nonprofit partners illustrate their positive impact, 2) growing the pipeline of diverse creative talent to contribute towards a more inclusive media landscape, and 3) creating a rewarding opportunity for employees to share their creative talent.

Jenni Loo, an apprentice at the nonprofit creative agency Reel Works, shared that the Creative Impact Lab “made accessible an industry that was previously inaccessible to people like me.” This underscores the importance of broadening access to the media industry, which is often unattainable to students who can’t afford unpaid internships, and further validates the mentorship element of the program.

Of course, as with most new initiatives, we experienced growing pains along the way. One obstacle was our nonprofit agency partners’ concern that the creative process between NBCU mentors and the nonprofit agencies involved too many cooks in the kitchen. One nonprofit client also resisted incorporating the agency and mentors' advice that they needed to tell their story in a more unique and innovative way. The result was a sizzle reel that talked about the nonprofit’s mission but was missing what social entrepreneur, angel investor and Managing Partner of 1863 Ventures, Melissa Bradley, says is essential when illustrating impact: a personal story about the “how,” with examples and personal stories about how a nonprofit has created meaningful change.

We put these learnings into action and refined the process going forward so that the agencies are more connected to the mentors from the start. As an apprentice, knowing details about the background of your mentor, who is a producer for the Olympics or journalist from NBC News, more clearly illuminates the opportunity to learn from some of the best talent in the industry. In addition, we are setting up a training program for the Lab participants on what makes a nonprofit story impactful.

We are encouraged by the Lab’s success thus far and believe it will translate into tangible results that ultimately help create more access and equity in our communities. For those seeking to build an effective social impact program that organically connects with your company’s purpose, I encourage you consider the following: What is your company’s “special sauce”? How can you harness your employees’ talents to give back? What does the community you serve need most and how is your business uniquely suited to help address those needs? Don’t be afraid to embrace the title of intrapreneur.

When a company brings its values, strengths and the passion of its employees together, there are no boundaries to driving positive change. You can learn more about the Creative Impact Lab and view our first round of completed projects here.


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