Chase Wagner at H&R Block shares how they developed and launched their Make Every Block Better community impact platform

An important responsibility that comes with being in so many communities across the country is that we need to be providing help away from the tax desk. Chase Wagner
In February 2019, H&R Block Director of Corporate Responsibility Chase Wagner and his team were asked to take a hard look at their brand purpose, which is to provide help and inspire confidence in their clients and communities everywhere, and ask themselves if they’re demonstrating that purpose in ways that positively impact their communities.

“We have 10,000 offices across the country,” said Chase. “And we provide an incredible amount of help and confidence through our primary services, which is helping people with their taxes. But an important responsibility that comes with being in so many communities across the country is that we need to be providing help away from the tax desk.”

That process resulted in their new, overarching community impact platform, Make Every Block Better.

They spent the bulk of 2019 digging into the appropriate way to demonstrate their brand purpose, what feels right for their brand, and where corporate responsibility is going as an industry.

“From there, we also thought about how we give our associates a way to give back in a meaningful manner across all of our communities,” said Chase. “Being across 10,000 communities, how that looks can vary a lot. We needed to figure out how to impact all of them in a meaningful way that made sense for that entire breadth of our footprint.”

As they were doing that work, the problem they began to focus on was increasingly disconnected communities.

Chase and his team identified this problem after seeing a Pew research study that only 31 percent of Americans know all of most of their neighbors, as well as studies from the Harvard Business Review’s CEO Snapshot Survey and Cigna that half of chief executives experience loneliness and 40 percent of adults are increasingly isolated from the community around them.

All of these statistics and issues related to the quality of life for Americans were pointing to a similar root cause, and that's social isolation. Chase Wagner
“All of these statistics and issues related to the quality of life for Americans were pointing to a similar root cause, and that’s social isolation,” said Chase. “At our core, no matter what we do from a program, partner, and individual perspective, we want to make sure we are working to address that problem. We feel like we can make a big impact there.”

Once they settled on that problem, they began creating a series of programs and partnerships to incorporate into Make Every Block Better.

“It’s going to take a multifaceted approach to address this problem,” said Chase. “We looked at the universe of organizations who help communities. Then it was a narrowing process of looking at each partner, whether it’s a nonprofit partner or a for-profit organization, to see how they do that, assess how they’re aligned with our mission, and understand the work they do.”

He said they pushed themselves outside of just nonprofit partners to look at more innovative ways they can try to address the problem as well.

According to Chase, that’s what resulted in their unique mix of partnerships.

The first partners they decided on were the Kauffman Foundation, one of the preeminent organizations focused on entrepreneurs and small business owners, and an organization in Kansas City (where H&R Block’s headquarters are located) called the KCRise Fund, which provides venture capital for small business owners.

We knew we wanted to help small business owners to connect, because we believe the more you connect a small business owner, the more likely they are to succeed. Chase Wagner
From more of a neighborhood-centric perspective, in Kansas City they’re working with the Urban Neighborhood Initiative to build connections for neighbors in a community of need. And, on a national scale, they will replicate that work with Habitat for Humanity and their neighborhood revitalization team.

“Another, more unique partner is Nextdoor,” said Chase. “Their mission is to enable connections that ultimately build stronger communities. That matched up perfectly with what we hope to do, so next month we’ll be announcing an effort with them that aims to bring Make Every Block Better to every neighborhood in America.”

From a programmatic standpoint, they wanted to focus on two key areas: small businesses and neighborhoods.

“We knew we wanted to help small business owners to connect, because we believe the more you connect a small business owner, the more likely they are to succeed,” said Chase. “And, the more successful small businesses in the community, the more vibrant and thriving that community is.”

Then, on the other side, they wanted to try and impact the spaces and places where neighbors have the opportunity to connect.

“That means spaces around your home, community gardens, parks, and neighborhood revitalization efforts,” he said. “Because, if you’re worried about the safety of your neighborhood, or the usability of your home, or don’t have a place to gather, it’s harder to start reconnecting with your neighbors.”

Chase emphasized that Make Every Block Better is supported and brought to life by their associates across the country.

“If you combine our company and our franchise associates, we have 120,000 people across the country during tax season,” he said. “So, getting our associates involved in this effort makes a huge difference. Sometimes that will be aligned with our national partners, but sometimes it will be specific to that community where those associates live and work.”

As much as something has to make sense for the brand, it also needs to make sense for the people that make up your brand. Chase Wagner
According to Chase, their goal is for every one of their 10,000 offices across the country to be working to make every block better, beginning this year.

“Many of our associates already do this on a regular basis,” he said. “So, we listen to our franchise partners and our field associates to understand the ways they already give back. Then, with Make Every Block Better, we’re trying to create structure and organization around them.”

Moving forward, Chase and his team are hoping to expand Make Every Block Better to different areas of their CSR strategy.

“Right now, Make Every Block Better is our community impact platform, but it can also extend to environmental sustainability efforts and internal programming around diversity, inclusion, and belonging,” he said. “The vision is that we use this platform to help guide much of our corporate responsibility efforts.”

Chase said one of the biggest ways to set yourself up for success for a program like this is to listen to the people in your organization.

“If we were rolling out or announcing a new platform that wasn’t rooted in actions that our associates are already doing, that would be a mistake,” he said. “As much as something has to make sense for the brand, it also needs to make sense for the people that make up your brand. The listening process takes time, but it’s so important.”

If you don't have a well-articulated purpose, you're not going to be as successful as you hope to be. Chase Wagner
He also emphasized the importance of getting started and pushing something out, even though it can be difficult.

“Make Every Block Better — as we sit here today — is not completely built out, and where we currently stand isn’t where we’re going to be in five years,” said Chase. “But, what’s important is that we’ve announced a commitment, and we’ve taken the first step in identifying partners and getting our associates excited about this idea.”

For anyone looking to launch a similar program, Chase advised taking your time and doing a thorough discovery process.

“We looked at ourselves with a critical eye,” he said. “Then, we looked at the industry, our competitors, some aspirational brands, and corporate responsibility leaders. We also made sure we understood our audiences, which included our own internal associates, our marketing target audience, and key stakeholders from executives to franchise partners to investors.”

According to Chase, once you go through that discovery process and start to make sense of what feels right for your brand and land on your key problem, that’s when the magic starts to happen.

“Make Every Block Better is rooted in our purpose, and that is so important,” said Chase. “If you don’t have a well-articulated purpose, you’re not going to be as successful as you hope to be. If we had not recently identified that purpose, that’s where we would have had to start. When you know your purpose, it gives you a clear direction to start pushing you in the right direction to demonstrate that purpose in your communities.”

Chase Wagner has been a member of the CSR Board since 2019. You can follow him on LinkedIn.