Starting Small and Starting Early

Scott Dorsey

Scott Dorsey is currently a Managing Partner at High Alpha, an Indianapolis-based venture studio that conceives, launches and scales next-generation enterprise cloud companies. Previously, Dorsey co-founded and served as chairman and CEO of ExactTarget: a marketing software firm that went public in 2012 and sold to Salesforce in 2013. As CEO, Dorsey was known for pioneering ExactTarget’s distinct company culture and was a driving force behind its corporate giving programs. The ExactTarget Foundation was founded with a focus on education, entrepreneurship and hunger. The Foundation eventually evolved into Nextech, a non-profit that creates initiatives and builds partnerships among educators, innovative nonprofits and entrepreneurs to deliver best-in-class programs that inspire and enable young people from all backgrounds to pursue careers in technology.

Orr Fellowship sat down with Dorsey to speak about corporate giving, how young professionals can have an impact on Indianapolis and the unique advantages of the Indianapolis community.

1. At ExactTarget you were known for creating a great culture founded on its mission and values, and particularly on making sure those values were well-communicated to employees. Were there ways in which you incorporated corporate giving into that mission?

Yes! I would probably first highlight that we really worked hard to build a culture of people who cared deeply about each other, cared a great deal about the community and cared about serving our customers. We worked to build a culture that was very success-oriented, but kind. Our first core value when we started the company was “treat people well” – kind of our Golden Rule. Over time, our culture became our greatest differentiator, and we ultimately built a culture framework called “Orange” that allowed our culture to scale all around the world.

We’d always had a spirit of giving, but there came a point in time where we had the size and the resources, and so we thought we could really make an impact. In 2011, we created the ExactTarget Foundation, which was rebranded to Nextech after our Salesforce acquisition, a separate entity to really unlock as much community engagement and philanthropy as we could across our workforce. One of our objectives was to have an outlet for employees to feel like they could really give back and get involved in the community – not only Indianapolis, but all over the world. And I will say, we had so much support throughout the Indy community – from the city, the state, and business leaders – that I’d say a part of our mission was just to make Indianapolis proud – to do something that helped establish the tech sector and made Indianapolis a better place. That was always a part of our mission, a big part of our formula.

When we formed the Foundation, we really had a chance to do things on a bigger scale. We did a lot of discussion and debating and collaboration amongst our leadership team and employees, asking “what do we really care about… where can we make a difference?” We ended up founding the ExactTarget Foundation on 3 pillars. First was Education, second was Entrepreneurship, and third was Hunger. These were three big needs we saw in the community and where we felt we could make a difference. They were real passions of ours.

2. When making corporate giving part of the culture, were there any internal struggles or things that you had to overcome or learn along the way to make it such a part of ExactTarget?

I would say one big learning that I had is just that giving is deeply personal – I mean it’s really, really personal. Some employees are very comfortable giving dollars and financial resources, others prefer to maybe give their time, and I try to be really sensitive about not putting pressure on any of our employees to give. We provided a certain number of days per year that you could volunteer, and if you wanted to give we provided opportunities to do that. So, we offered payroll deductions for people to take a little bit of money out of their paycheck and put it in the ExactTarget Foundation. We would also do annual fundraisers. We tried to find ways where employees could give financially, but not feel pressured to do it. Probably most importantly, we created cross-functional committees to allocate the dollars so that the employee voice was heard – a group of employees decided where to award grants. So that felt good – that was kind of a reinforcement of our culture.

3. If a young entrepreneur were to come to you and ask for advice on how to make it part of their culture, especially if they’re in a smaller or very new organization, what advice would you give them?

I would say don’t be afraid to start small and start early. I think the more you build that into the ethos of the company, the better you’re going to be. Even if it’s volunteer hours or if the financial contributions are small, you’re at least trending in the right direction and starting to build it into the culture from the beginning. I think that’s probably the most important piece – that you’re building a culture of giving back early because that’ll blossom over time.

And it does help with employee engagement and it does help with recruiting. Typically, that’s a pretty important ingredient to attract the right people at the company – when the organization gives back and sees its impact as something larger than itself. A lot of our early stage companies – when they do quarterly all-hands company meetings – they might do a volunteer project as a team in the morning and then meet as a team in the afternoon. I always find that that’s just great – it’s awesome – it builds goodwill with community and builds closer relationships across the team as well.

Today, Salesforce is an amazing pioneer in this message – giving is everybody’s job, and I think up and coming younger professionals expect it, and even look at it as a criterion for what company they will join. Ultimately, giving back feels good, and it’s the ultimate team building exercise. It builds goodwill with your community and builds closer relationships across your teams as well.

4. How do you measure success in corporate giving?

One lens is employee engagement. I think the more employees that are giving back the happier they will be at work and the more satisfied they will be with the work that they’re doing, so I think there’s an employee engagement benefit. Second is asking whether you’re making a difference in the community – small or large, whatever you choose to tackle, are you really making a difference and having a measurable impact?

I’m even a little hesitant to use that term “corporate giving,” honestly, because I think sometimes “corporate giving” refers to just the dollars being allocated. I think the bigger contribution is time and brain power, and we’re seeing a big trend in skills-based volunteering. I think more and more people want to be able to give around their area of expertise. So, if you’re a digital marketer it’s really fun to help a nonprofit elevate their digital marketing programs. Or if you’re a financial analyst, helping a nonprofit with their forecasting. That’s really rewarding, where you can match your expertise to a need. So, I think that’s always a good area to focus on.

5. I’m glad that you brought the piece up about young professionals kind of expecting it. Do young professionals, particularly Orr Fellows, have any unique advantages or opportunities in the workplace to help their companies give back?

Yes, I certainly think so. Starting with just being a young professional yourself, you have perspective on what is appealing to you and your peers when you’re looking for a company. You want to grow and learn and develop and hopefully stay attached to that company for a long time. I think with that wonderful perspective of what’s really important to a young professional, you can help the company shape their programs, their culture, and their community giving around that.

I’ll give you an example from back in the day at ExactTarget. We got three or four of our Orr Fellows together, including R.J. Talyor who runs Quantifi, and said “Hey, here’s what we’re looking to accomplish – why don’t you guys design what the ultimate new college graduate program would be? What would be the best program ‘of all time’ through your eyes?” They came back with recommendations that I literally would have never thought of. One idea was to create a powerhouse internship program that created really rich experiences for college juniors and seniors. I would have never thought about linking a new college graduate program with an internship program so tightly. We did it, it worked brilliantly, and a big part of our success was our huge presence across college campuses across the state.

Orr Fellows are remarkably well thought of. To be a part of the program is quite an accomplishment. And as a part of that, you have a bigger voice, and can kind of represent what the young professional is looking for in company culture and in community engagement. You should find the right way to deliver that feedback, but you should look at it as an opportunity and responsibility.

6. How can a young professional have an immediate impact in their workplace?

As you know, we have Srikar Kalvakolanu on our team at High Alpha, and what I love about Srikar is that he brings such a unique perspective, and takes initiative and seeks out pockets of the community that I didn’t even know existed. So, I think one way is to highlight causes or nonprofits that you care about or that you’ve learned about, and see if you have coworkers or teams that want to pitch-in and help support those nonprofits. I think a lot of us know the bigger nonprofits in town – but there’s so many amazing causes and social entrepreneurs. It’s sometimes the case that it’s those smaller ones that need more help, and you can really make a difference there.

7. As Orr Fellows, we’re always talking about the changes that Indy is going through, and it’s really exciting. Of course, High Alpha is a huge part of that. I’m interested to know if you think corporate giving has an important role to play in the changes that Indianapolis is going through over the next ten years, and if you have any recommendations for business leaders in the community to best be a part of that change?

I think for starters, we have a community that really cares about each other, cares about the greater good, and really likes to give back. I think there’s already a giving mindset in place in the community, which is great. As a city, we are huge beneficiaries of the Lilly Endowment – it is just a driving force behind virtually every nonprofit we have in the city. It’s remarkable the impact they’ve made and continue to make in our community – that’s a blessing most cities don’t have.

Then, you know if we just talk about tech, we now have the Salesforce Tower – Salesforce’s second largest office in the world, right here in Indianapolis – that is amazing for the tech community. Marc Benioff and Salesforce are such pioneers in corporate giving, and I think they’re kind of setting a standard that many of us can rally behind, and hopefully inspire other people to get involved.

I also see this whole idea of leadership development as an important opportunity when you think about corporate giving and corporate engagement. I see more and more larger companies looking at nonprofit engagement to develop leaders, whether it’s serving on a board or serving in a volunteer capacity, and I’d encourage all young professionals to think about that.

8. Are there things that you would tell upperclassmen today to learn while they’re still in school to have an advantage, either when they graduate or 5 -10 years down the road, that might be different from 10 years ago?

I get asked for that kind of advice all the time, and a lot of times I’ll go back to my tried-and-true answers which are to get really good grades, and get super involved on campus. I look for young people that make the most of their collegiate experience in and out of the classroom. I think that’s super important. I think study abroad and internship programs are remarkably important – I think an internship experience is great because it’s so difficult to know what you want to do when you graduate from college, and so programs like the Fellowship or any internship programs are just imperative. Get as much work experience as you can, and start trying to sharpen your point of view on what kind of work you want to do.

The last piece that I’d share is this: focus on building a network. Focus on relationships, and don’t be shy. Invest in relationships in your network – you can’t even imagine how those relationships are going to pay dividends ten or twenty years down the road for you. You should stand on your own merits, but it always helps to have friendships and relationships and people that want to help you.

That was one of my biggest lessons moving to Indianapolis to start ExactTarget. I really didn’t know anyone in Indianapolis when we moved here to get the company started, and I was shocked at how many people just wanted to help. I’d sit down to have coffee with someone and they’d say “Hey, let me introduce you to three or four people that might be able to help you,” and then I’d go meet with those three or four and they’d introduce me to five more. You just realize that people really, really want to help, and you shouldn’t be bashful about asking. You’ve got to figure out how to do it the right way, and be polite and professional and thank people for their time, but generally people want to help you, and your network over time will really be amazing.

This interview is part of a series of articles curated by Orr Fellowship Host Company Executives, Alumni, and Current Fellows seeking to contribute advice and insight to aspiring young professionals. Orr Fellowship is a two-year post-graduate program in Indianapolis aimed at developing the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs.


Kelly Smith

Kelly Smith is a 1st year Orr Fellow and Customer Success Manager at Sigstr. Sigstr unlocks employee email as an owned channel by providing simple, central control over your company’s email signature. Kelly graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in English.


Chris Sosnowski

Chris Sosnowski is a 2nd year Orr Fellow and Marketing Analyst at Angie’s List/Home Advisor.  Angie’s List is a digital marketplace that connects homeowners with prescreened, local service professionals to complete home improvement, maintenance and remodeling projects, and hosts crowd sourced reviews of service professionals. Chris graduated from Valparaiso University with a degree in finance.