John Mulcahy and Karen Cole share how Georgia-Pacific built a successful partnership with Convoy of Hope to provide aid to disaster victims

Over the past several years, Georgia-Pacific has partnered with Convoy of Hope, an organization that specializes in disaster response serving communities around the world. VP of Sustainability John Mulcahy and Senior Communications Manager Karen Cole share how this mutually beneficial partnership works.

“In the U.S., Convoy of Hope works with organizations like FEMA and are constantly monitoring weather patterns to anticipate when storms happen. This helps them be one of the first on the ground right after a disaster hits,” said Karen. “A lot of our consumer products like toilet paper and paper towels are necessities that people might need right after a disaster, so that’s where our partnership comes in.”

According to John, this partnership aligns with one of their foundation’s four main focus areas.

By channeling most of our efforts through Convoy, it helps us cut down on some of the questions around why we aren't donating to certain organizations and allows us to centralize our focus on an expert in disaster relief. Karen Cole
Those four focus areas are education, community enrichment, environment, and entrepreneurship.

“We see Convoy of Hope as a way to support our community enrichment pillar,” said John. “For us, this partnership has a natural tie into facility communities and our focus on helping where we operate.”

John and Karen work to partner with Convoy of Hope year-round to send products to Convoy’s warehouses so they can act quickly.

“They’re best at knowing exactly what’s needed for a particular disaster,” said Karen. “By working with them ahead of a disaster, it both helps them with their response as well as enables us to help the communities that are affected.”

Because they have a lot of facilities in the southeast that are prone to tornadoes and hurricanes, Georgia-Pacific is frequently supporting aid to their own communities.

We see Convoy of Hope as a way to support our community enrichment pillar. John Mulcahy
“A couple of years ago, there was massive flooding in our facility community near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and hundreds of our employees were affected,” said Karen. “Convoy of Hope was on the ground immediately to help deliver aid.”

Karen said their partnership with Convoy also helps them more effectively get the word out about what’s going on during a disaster across Georgia-Pacific channels.

On social media, when people want to know what Georgia-Pacific is doing, she said their close partnership enabled them to communicate that they were working with the experts on the ground to funnel aid to the people who need it most.

Within the past couple of years, Karen has also worked hand-in-hand with Convoy to make their partnership even stronger from a communications standpoint.

“Convoy is sophisticated in terms of capturing stories about how and when they deliver aid, and together with their partner companies, this shows how they’re positively impacting communities,” she said. “They’ll often document what they’re doing on the ground with photos and video. They often share that quickly with us, so we’re able to then show our own audiences and employees how we’re helping.”

She said being able to quickly capture that information and tell how many truckloads of product have been delivered and where has helped them engage more meaningfully with their communities in times of crisis.

Karen also explained how a strong partnership with Convoy is beneficial to them from a strategic standpoint.

“By channeling most of our efforts through Convoy, it helps us cut down on some of the questions around why we aren’t donating to certain organizations and allows us to centralize our focus on an expert in disaster relief,” she said.

As part of their efforts to streamline and improve communications, the Georgia-Pacific team worked with Convoy of Hope to make an evergreen video about their work.

Convoy is sophisticated in terms of capturing stories about how and when they deliver aid, and together with their partner companies, this shows how they're positively impacting communities. Karen Cole
“Because we know that some of these disasters are seasonal, we’re able to be more prepared during the year,” said Karen. “To take that to the next level, we filmed a video at Convoy of Hope’s headquarters in Springfield, Missouri and showed how their process works.”

The result was an evergreen video that Karen and her team can share with their audiences or employees whenever a disaster happens to show that they’re working with them all year round to be prepared.

“It’s a way to help us act really quickly and show why we partner with Convoy and what they do,” she said.

In addition to this video, Karen and her team put out content and updates during disasters across all of their communications channels.

“We’re working with Convoy very closely to get frequent updates,” said Karen. “Then, we communicate those through our public-facing newsroom site, our intranet site and Yammer for employees, and our social media channels.”

She said they’ll generally post photos when they get them from Convoy and use the evergreen video to showcase the work that’s happening and remind people how Georgia-Pacific uses Convoy and how they can donate directly if they choose.

John added that having these detailed communications is important because, while they have over 180 facilities scattered throughout the United States, they’re not isolated by any means.

“When the flooding occurred in Oklahoma recently, the Georgia-Pacific community at large raised their level of interest,” he said. “They want to know what’s going on, how their friends are doing, and what the company is doing to help. Being able to give them exact responses through the information we get from Convoy makes a big difference.”

According to John, from the standpoint of Georgia-Pacific’s business vision, maintaining strong, long-term partnerships like this one help them achieve their goal of being a preferred partner to their stakeholders.

A lot of our consumer products like toilet paper and paper towels are necessities that people might need right after a disaster, so that's where our partnership comes in. Karen Cole
“We define our stakeholders pretty broadly, so it’s not just the consumers that use our products and the customers that pay for them,” he said. “It’s our current and prospective employees, it’s the communities in which we operate, as well as government, regulators, and environmental groups. We want each of those stakeholders to want to do business with Georgia-Pacific because they think we are an ethical and responsible company. Engaging in efforts like these and partnering with organizations like Convoy of Hope is a small way for us to indicate our goals and to give back.”

John and Karen said that finding success with long-standing partnerships comes with asking the right questions and actively working to strengthen that relationship.

“While we had a long relationship with Convoy, we had never asked the questions we’ve asked in the last couple of years,” said Karen. “Now we’re asking if we can collaborate more as part of our partnership, and they’re responding positively.”

She said it’s important to look for ways to strengthen those relationships to accomplish both of your needs.

“We get together at least once a year to discuss the outcomes we’re seeing and ideas for the future,” said Karen. “It was in one of those meetings where we decided to come to Springfield and do a video, which was a big success for us.”

She also recommended looking beyond the basic agreements that you have with your partners to see how you can tell your story better internally or externally.

“Our relationship with Convoy technically lies with our foundation,” she said. “But when communications got involved, we were able to look at things from a different perspective. We learned it helps to have different partners in the room that can think about how we can deepen the relationships.”

For any companies looking to develop similar relationships with their philanthropic partners, John emphasized the importance of having a partner who makes strategic sense for you.

“There are a number of reasons why a relationship between George-Pacific and Convoy of Hope makes intuitive sense,” he said. “With other companies looking to try and understand where to invest their time and money in social causes, you should look at your business model, the products you sell, the markets you sell to, and where your employees are.”

John Mulcahy and Karen Cole have been members of the CSR Board since 2019. You can follow John and Karen on LinkedIn.