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We sat down for a roundtable Q & A with past winners of the Torch Awards for Marketplace Ethics to learn about their experiences. Curious about the conversation? Here’s what Patsy Baugh, Cincinnati Association for the Blind; Jason Clarke, Clarke Contractors; Rich Brandenburg, Donnellon McCarthy Enterprises; Don Kennedy, ProMaster; and Moira Grainger, Stepping Stones had to say about the Torch Awards.



Q - Why did you apply for the Torch Awards?


A - “Donors have a lot of choices in today’s world. We felt that being involved with the Torch Awards reflects to our donors that we have the highest prioritization of ethics.” - Patsy Baughn / Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired


A - “This program validates you in the business climate as an honest company. It immediately qualifies you against your competitors.” - Rich Brandenburg / Donnellon McCarthy Enterprises


A - “For us, the opportunity to join such an elite class of organizations communicated to our clients that it’s of absolute importance to us to be ethical. It became a strategy in our branding.” - Moira Grainger / Stepping Stones


A - “While having won a Torch Award is a good statement to our customers concerned about ethics, and truly puts us above the competition in our space, it’s more than that. It’s more about the process, and what going through that process does to your organization, than the honor of winning any awards.” - Don Kennedy / ProMaster



Q - Rumor has it that it’s not an easy application. How did your team tackle it?


A - “Choosing a mentor - someone who had previously won a Torch Award who was willing to guide us - was a significant part of our process. With our mentor’s help, we avoided mistakes others had made, and were able to win the first year we applied. I know that wouldn’t have happened without help.” - Moira Grainger / Stepping Stones


A - “It took us a few years of applying before we won our Torch Award. It was discouraging at times; but every year we applied, we learned something new.” - Jason Clarke / Clarke Contractors

A - “I couldn’t agree more about the value of mentorship in this program. We feel that responsibility to those that come after us. There’s nothing more satisfying than mentoring another organization thinking about entering into this program.” - Don Kennedy / ProMaster



Q - The application asks for examples of ethical problems your organization has faced. How did you approach that question?


A - “It’s a completely collaborative approach, in my opinion. Everyone on our staff walks that line every single day.” - Jason Clarke / Clarke Contractors


A - “I agree, it’s a team effort. It requires an open dynamic of discussion.” - Rich Brandenburg / Donnellon McCarthy Enterprises


A - “Everybody needs to do their part, that’s true. It’s also true that when gathering examples, you have to be careful in discerning between what are simply good business practices, and what are true examples of ethics.” - Patsy Baughn / Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired


A - “That’s correct - you have to separate ethics from simple mission service. You know, this application is a process of refinement; it might take a while for the real issues to rise to the surface, and that’s what makes it a great way to take a deep dive into the program and function aspects of your organization. To get at the heart of it, I asked everyone in our team the same question: “What keeps you up at night, wondering whether you did the right thing? What situations compelled you to ask multiple people for their advice? Once those stories came, I collected, filtered, and categorized.” - Moira Grainger / Stepping Stones


Q - Have you found that your organization changed at all on account of going through the application process?


A - “Our organization has an elaborate code of conduct. I was so pleased to find that this application affirmed for us that we have everything in place.” - Patsy Baughn / Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired


A - “For our business as well, it really served to reinforce some of our initiatives, such as the program we created for those instances when customers and staff run into ethical conflicts. Basically when problems arise, personnel have 24/7 access to upper management, and upper management will get personally involved within 15 minutes. It creates a positive synergy directly between the customer and the very center of our business. The Torch Awards was a source of positive feedback on those things.” - Rich Brandenburg / Donnellon McCarthy Enterprises


Q - Out of all those who applied, your organizations were the ones who won Torch Awards. So tell us, what was it like to win a Torch Award?


A - “We celebrated every day. In every conversation, every portfolio, it became a critical piece. We put it in our email taglines, trade publications, and proposals. Everyone was excited. Even our customers and vendors were excited, because it told them they’re working with a truly ethical company.” - Rich Brandenburg / Donnellon McCarthy Enterprises


A - “It became both local and national publicity for our organization. We highlighted it in our annual report and it was an important theme in our meetings.” - Patsy Braughn / Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired


A - “You know, we still use it every day. In our social media, books, binders, website - it truly separates us from others.” - Jason Clarke / Clarke Contractors


A - “We’re still carrying our enthusiasm forward. There’s a certain joy of ownership in this program and we feel that to this day.” - Moira Grainger / Stepping Stones


Q - Now that you’ve experienced it, what would you say is the true value of the Torch Awards program?


A - “As a nonprofit asking for donor support, credibility is essential. The Torch Awards insignia tells people that we care at the highest standard. That’s especially important to the next generation of donors - to those young people who always check before they give, your credentials become a necessary part of your organization’s resume.” - Moira Grainger / Stepping Stones


A - “It’s the same for CABVI. I’m a grant writer, so I know that every grant application asks that one question: what recent recognitions have you received? We always list our Accreditation status, but now we can say that we’re Torch Award winners. That’s immediately recognizable, and its impact lasts a long time.” - Patsy Braughn / Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired


A - “It became a basic tool for us too, in terms of how we frame the information we provide people. It adds to our list of distinctions.” - Moira Grainger / Stepping Stones


A - “It gives you another tool, too - ethics training. Ethics training is so important, yet it’s nowhere to be found. The Torch Awards program is the fastest track to a solid ethics training program in your company. Now we have a system with an ethical framework in place for all of our personnel. The process became a manual for us: how to accomplish ethics in our organization, and how to train to it.”  - Don Kennedy / ProMaster

Q - What’s your key takeaway for local business/nonprofit leaders considering the Torch Awards?


A - “If you haven’t undergone a solid ethical evaluation, this is a good refresher. It’s a lot of time, but it’s absolutely worth it.” - Jason Clarke / Clarke Contractors


A - “It must come from the top down.” - Patsy Braughn / Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired


A - “I agree. Executive involvement leaning in is huge. Use that, and all your resources. Assign a committee of champions to manage the process.” - Rich Brandenburg / Donnellon McCarthy Enterprises


A - “Yes, the more people and experiences involved, the better. That 360 degree view is important. Ironically, gathering all the perspectives is what kept us on the right single path. When all was said and done, the process truly made me rediscover why I joined this organization.” - Moira Grainger / Stepping Stones


A - “Whether your organization is big or small, whether it’s new or been around for a while - if you’re passionate about it, and passionate about ethics, this program is a good fit for you.” - Don Kennedy / ProMaste

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