Orkin has partnered with DonorsChoose.org to help fund science education, which includes making donations to classrooms.

By Brad Harbison

Walk into any classroom in America and you will observe a select group of children and young adults with a passion for math and science. Many of these students will become our nation’s next generation of doctors, researchers, engineers, inventors — and yes, pest management professionals. The spark that ignites this passion begins in the classroom, which is why Orkin, through its outreach program Start with Science, has partnered with DonorsChoose.org to provide funds for science and math projects at public schools throughout the nation.

This latest initiative carries on Orkin’s tradition of supporting science education (since the 1950s the “Orkin Man” has been visiting schools to give insect talks/presentations) with extra emphasis on local involvement and employee engagement. Here’s how it works: DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that allows public school teachers to post requests for classroom project materials. (To ensure integrity, all projects are carefully vetted and each dollar spent is tracked.) Orkin reviews the proposals and decides which projects to fund — either partially or in their entirety.

An example of a recent Orkin Start with Science program that involved DonorsChoose.org was a back-to-school promotion in which Orkin asked teachers to tell them why science was important for a chance to win $5,000 in DonorsChoose.org funds to bring their classroom projects to life.

HOW IT STARTED. The germ of the idea to become involved with DonorsChoose.org came from Orkin President John Wilson, who was inspired by a 2013 USA Today article that discussed how a handful of Panera restaurants were charging down-on-their-luck customers only what they could afford. The article then reviewed how a trend in the workplace — one that especially resonates with millennials — is “capitalism with a conscience.”

“We should be able to do something that helps our communities all over the country,” was the message Wilson relayed to Martha Craft, vice president of public relations and corporate communications, Rollins, Inc., parent company of Orkin.

Craft then worked to identify a national concern of importance to Orkin employees — one that allowed them to help neighbors in their communities, and aligned with Orkin’s longtime focus on science education. “DonorsChoose.org checked off every one of those boxes. Teachers in schools throughout the country struggle to have supplies to teach their children, and STEM education is particularly lacking in our country’s education system,” Craft said.

Orkin’s Most Valuable Bugs graphic, which gets distributed to schools, is an example of how the company supports science education.

So, in 2014, Orkin made a $25,000 contribution to DonorsChoose.org to sort of “test the waters,” according to Craft. “They were terrific partners from the beginning, and we quickly began looking for how we could expand our partnership to include our entire organization.”

ENCOURAGING RETURNS. Since the primary objectives of this initiave are to (1) encourage employee engagement; and (2) contribute locally, in 2015 Orkin tested a field-level program in Arizona and Louisiana to see how well DonorsChoose.org resonated with employees. Orkin tracked those programs and discovered that employees embraced the new program enthusiastically and brought forth numerous worthwhile local science education projects.

In 2016, Orkin took the program nationally by giving DonorsChoose.org gift cards to more than 6,000 field employees so they could donate that money to any project they wanted to support. Orkin didn’t ask them to donate their own money — it was Orkin’s money — but each employee got to choose a project that resonated with them and make a personal contribution. “That’s when the magic started,” Craft said.

“We’ve found that our employees got excited about finding a project, and getting an immediate reaction from a teacher either via social media or a handwritten note,” she added. “For example, one of the donations paid for a microscope. We got a thank you note from the teacher and from time to time we will get updates from the teacher. Those are the type of emails we are getting forwarded to us from branch offices.”

Since Orkin Start with Science began donating to DonorsChoose.org in 2014, they have donated $405,000 which has funded 3,407 classroom projects, served 2,671 schools, and helped 300,964 students.

Craft says Orkin has been encouraged by early results from its involvement with DonorsChoose.org, and hopes there will be a “snowball effect” in which more employees will become involved.

The author is internet editor and managing editor of PCT and can be contacted at bharbison@gie.net.