Elite SEM Helps Nonprofits Thrive Online

Staffers Donate Online Marketing Services to Fabretto Children's Foundation

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The life of a nonprofit is typically burdened by limited financial capabilities, minimal resources and often a lean team of one. But as a small business owner and CEO of search engine marketing agency Elite SEM, the entrepreneurial spirit, unwavering commitment and creativity of nonprofits is exactly what motivates me every day.

Elite SEM isn't a Google, Facebook or Zynga -- we don't have tens of thousands of employees with grandiose offices that sprawl several blocks of a neighborhood. With 25-plus employees across our New York, San Francisco and Atlanta offices, our digital agency is all about disruption -- of traditional agency work habits, professional development and attitudes. What we don't have in size and financial resources we more than make up for with our big hearts.

Starting in June, we launched our first-ever corporate social responsibility program, Elite Cares. The idea behind this program is quite simple: We're giving back to nonprofits with our SEM skills and digital expertise free.

You might be asking, why now? Well, in the seven years since we launched as a no-nonsense, entrepreneurial alternative to big digital shops, we've worked with multinational corporations and consumer brands such as ideeli, Tommy Bahama, Havaianas, Terminix, WWE, Michael C. Fina, Hugo Boss, Clarks and Bostonian. We've seen our agency grow at a healthy pace year after year, bringing on new luxury brands and e-commerce businesses, reinforcing our expertise with new hires and, thankfully, consistent revenue and profit growth with recognition in Inc.'s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in 2010. I can't help but feel blessed and fortunate, especially in these challenging economic times, to have a business that 's flourishing and staff who invest their hearts and minds in their work with a spirit and enthusiasm that 's contagious.

The Elite Cares program is a small token of our appreciation for our success. It pays tribute to nonprofits that may be small in size but more than make up for it with their big hearts and passion to do good. We can help them use the Internet to reach the increasingly younger generation of philanthropists and donors who are smart, socially engaged and tech-savvy.

On a personal level, I wanted to set a good moral example for my 20-month-old daughter and teach her the values of being compassionate and empathetic as well as instilling in her a commitment to public service. I want my daughter to know that good fortune comes to those who contribute to the social good. Quite honestly, it feels good to do good.

Deciding to do something good was actually the easiest part of this whole process. The hard part was choosing a nonprofit to be the first participant. That's when we looked inward and spoke to our staffers -- they're young, dynamic, and many of them are already passionate believers and supporters of social causes and nonprofit organizations.

Fabretto Children's Foundation helps children in Nicaragua.
Fabretto Children's Foundation helps children in Nicaragua.
That's how we learned about Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit Fabretto Children's Foundation. One of our senior SEO specialists, Zachary Ciperski, has long been a supporter of the organization, which has been helping Nicaraguan children and families reach their full potential through educational, health and community outreach programs for 18 years. With strong family ties in Nicaragua, a trip there a few years back brought Zach to an impromptu meeting with the charity's former director and a life-changing tour of the Fabretto schools and centers in the northern region from Estelli to Ocotal and down to Cusmapa. Riding in a dingy pickup truck across the rugged terrain of rural Nicaragua and seeing kids in tattered clothing, hands and faces smudged with dirt that had undoubtedly been there from lack of access to clean water, Zach got his first taste of the social injustice that so many kids and families in Nicaragua endure.

The decision was made -- we were going to rally behind Fabretto Children's Foundation with free online marketing. We can't afford not to do it. Leveraging our core marketing skills and expertise and using our existing staff on the project barely affects the bottom line. But its positive impact is priceless.

I'll never forget what Zach said to me: "Nicaragua is a victim of its own dichotomy. It's a country that 's been blessed with beautiful landscapes, lush greenery, mountaintop views that will take your breath away and genuine, caring people who welcome you into their homes and hearts. But there's a level of poverty and hopelessness in Nicaragua that breaks my heart."

Ben Kirshner is CEO of Elite SEM.
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