Little could Scott Schutte have imagined it at the time, but an off-hand remark to a colleague about his son led to the creation of a nationwide program that has benefited thousands of children across the country dealing with the trauma of cancer treatments.
It was early in 2009 when Schutte, an employee with Boston-area financial services firm and FSI member firm Commonwealth Financial Network, mentioned to a co-worker that his eldest son Beck, then five years old, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and was undergoing chemotherapy treatments at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Schutte described the difficulty Beck was having in dealing with hair loss from the treatments. “I learned then that there was a group of employees in our Waltham, Mass., home office who were taking a knitting class together,” recalled Schutte, now a financial advisor with Lightship Wealth Strategies, a Commonwealth-affiliated advisory firm. “After I shared my story, we reached out to Dana Farber to see if the hospital would have an interest in receiving hats for some of the kids.”
And so “Chemo Caps for Kids” was born — a grassroots effort created by Commonwealth Financial Network employees that to date has led to the creation of more than 4,200 custom-made hats for children undergoing chemo treatments at 16 different hospitals across the country. Commonwealth itself got involved by publicizing the group across its employee and advisor community and by providing funding to further its mission. Today, Beck is a happy, healthy teenager. He’s a good student, plays soccer, runs track, and is also involved in charity work.
Chemo Caps for Kids is now one of more than 40 philanthropic programs at Commonwealth, which, like many FSI member firms, prides itself on a history and culture of giving back to the communities in which it operates and to causes across the country.
This rich heritage was recognized in September by the Invest in Others foundation, which honored the broker-dealer with its 2017 Corporate Philanthropy Award in the Financial Institutions category. Founded in 2006, Invest in Others (IIO) is the leading non-profit dedicated to recognizing and supporting the charitable work of financial advisors and the retail advisory industry.
IIO’s Corporate Philanthropy Award is given to firms that demonstrate “an ongoing commitment to encouraging philanthropic activities amongst their employees, financial advisors and senior leaders.”
“Giving back is an essential part of who Commonwealth is and always has been,” said Paula O’Shaughnessy, Manager of Employee Relations at Commonwealth, who for the past 19 years has been known in the firm as one of the leading drivers of its philanthropic efforts. She noted that philanthropy has received even greater attention and focus at Commonwealth in recent years.
In 2010, the firm launched Commonwealth Cares, an umbrella 501(c)(3) charity, to maximize the impact of all the philanthropic endeavors underway among its home office employees and advisors. O’Shaughnessy currently serves as one of five board members of Commonwealth Cares. About two years ago, she said, Commonwealth added ‘giving back’ to the five ‘pillars’ or core values that define the company’s priorities and culture.
“Giving back is an essential part of who Commonwealth is and always has been.”
As a result of these initiatives, Commonwealth has successfully nurtured a mutually-reinforcing culture of giving back, in which employees and advisors enjoy company support for grassroots programs they are passionate about — like Chemo Caps for Kids — and in which firmwide or management-driven initiatives like the firm’s annual Volunteer Time Off Day — during which employees are encouraged to use paid time to volunteer in their communities — enjoy substantial support and engagement from employees and the advisor community.
The firm’s areas of focus are children and education; the empowerment of women; and natural disaster relief efforts. Employees and advisors recently raised more than $100,000 in support of American Red Cross hurricane relief efforts.