Q&A with Jennifer Brunelle, Head of positiveNRG, NRG Energy’s Philanthropy Program

Versaic chats with client NRG Energy about their philanthropy programs
Sep 6, 2016 2:45 PM ET
Campaign: Getting to Impact

The Versaic Blog

Jennifer Brunelle leads the philanthropy program for Princeton, NJ-based NRG Energy, the leading integrated power company in the U.S. 

Since 2004, the company has provided millions of dollars and volunteer hours to organizations and charities that make a direct impact on the lives of people around the globe. Through these efforts, NRG has donated and installed solar power for those with no reliable access to electricity, changing people’s lives forever. Additionally, in the communities where NRG does business, the company supports food banks and groups that foster self-sufficiency, improve housing and provide supplemental education to people in need.

Versaic: When you joined NRG in 2009, NRG’s corporate philanthropy program “Global Giving” was designed to address the needs of very specific audiences within underserved global communities. How has it evolved since then?

Jennifer: With our refreshed philanthropy program, positiveNRG, we are looking at how we can better serve society, enhance people’s lives, and enrich cultures within our communities. It is much more of a holistic approach to service. In this way, we seek to expand and better serve the needs and the causes closest to all of our employees’ hearts, in all the communities where we live and work, not just the neediest. 

We support nonprofit organizations, community programs and initiatives consistent with our four pillars: education, human welfare, environment, and health and wellness.

Versaic: How does your corporate philanthropy program align with NRG’s vision and mission?

Jennifer: The way we define sustainability – building for the long-term – aligns with our holistic approach to philanthropy. PositiveNRG demonstrates our unity; our collective ability to make a positive difference in the communities where we live and work. Employees drive the culture at any organization, so it was clear that if we made the program about NRG employees first, we’d have the opportunity to move mountains. Bigger than any single person, our program is about the values each one of our employees brings to work, shares in their personal lives, and their collective passion and drive to make tomorrow better.

Versaic:  What matters most to your organization when assessing impact for your programs?

Jennifer: Impact is gaining more of a presence in the industry and influencing people to place value on sustainable goals. As an organization, we measure qualitative and quantitative data to tell our story. Quantitative data is where people are giving, versus qualitative data which is focused on what it means to our employees to give back. We try to capture as many metrics as possible so we can make sure the causes we choose to support align with our goals. The data allows us to tell our story and give employees a sense of pride in what we are doing. 

Versaic: Are there any unexpected benefits or outcomes that you have seen from your corporate philanthropy program?

Jennifer: On a daily basis we have secondary benefits, first and foremost, with our employees. When you’re encouraged to take the time to pause and step out of your day to day, it enriches the overall employee experience. Sometimes as a society we get so involved in our work that it defines who we are, it just consumes us. With Positive NRG, what we aim to achieve is a balance where employees can hit the pause button, reset and focus on what matters – the values that NRG promotes and exhibiting ourselves as good citizens. 

For us, sustainability goes beyond what people think in terms of green or renewable. It's about building for the future, the long-term, and in the case of positiveNRG, it is about treating our employees and neighbors as whole human beings with an entire range of life experience. Our program is about facilitating those moments in time where you interact with the community, tap into that place where empathy comes from, or make a difference in a child's life. For instance, if you look at our work with  FIRST, robotics and STEM education we are empowering and enabling the future – not just through donations, but through our employee's unique skillsets. I see this as one of the best secondary benefits of our program 

Versaic: What are the top challenges facing you as a CSR executive over the next 12-18 months? Why?

Jennifer: Of course, one of the ongoing challenges is how to leverage the dollars we have to ensure the largest reach possible – but that’s the nature of our work.

Other than that, one of the largest challenges I see ahead of us is the adaptation of the sustainable development goals laid out by the UN. Many of my peers and I have had this conversation – it is one thing for our organizations to identify what SDG they feel they are most aligned with, but where the rubber really meets the road is when all of our nonprofit partners can self-identify with the various categories as well. This alignment between companies and those we want to support will help create better reporting mechanisms and consistency, allowing us to really look at data points and help tell impact stories.