Impactful Programming with Kari McHugh from Dunkin’ Brands

changemakers from within - kari mchugh

On the latest episode of Changemakers from Within, we had the chance to hear from Kari McHugh, the senior director of Customer and Community Relations and Executive Director of the Joy in Childhood Foundation at Dunkin’ Brands. 

Our time was even more amazing when we got a friendly visit from the one and only spokesdog of the foundation – Cooper Dunkin! Thanks for joining us on the podcast, Cooper! 🐶

Listen here or where you get your podcasts:

How do you sum up the career of a person like Kari McHugh? Well… to start off, Kari confessed that she “somehow ended up in a career of strategic philanthropy.” She initially started her career working at Cone, a porter novelli company. At Cone, Kari created fantastic programs centered around corporate philanthropy and responsibility. After her time at Cone, she joined Home Depot where she did community relations work internally and externally for New England and New York. She described her time at Home Depot as being an incredible learning experience as she realized how little she actually knew and how much she had more to learn. The jump from Cone to Home Depot transitioned Kari from being a consultant to a practitioner.  

How it all started! 

When Home Depot decided to move their headquarters to Atlanta, Kari made the difficult decision to not move and instead stayed put in Boston. It was definitely a challenging and hard time as she navigated a world post Home Depot while pregnant and unemployed. With a baby coming, Kari believed that a standard 9-5 job would be best suited for her as it would allow her quality time to spend with her baby. She was about 7 months pregnant when she saw the job offer at Dunkin’. She decided to go for it and came in for an interview, not expecting a callback. And surprise surprise… She got the job! 👏

Dunkin’ was extremely understanding of Kari’s situation with her pregnancy and was accepting of her despite knowing that she would have to take time off for maternity leave very soon after she started the job. Amazing of Dunkin’! 

16 years later, Kari is now the Senior Director of Customer & Community Relations at Dunkin’ Brands! She worked at Dunkin’ for 13 years before stepping into her role at the foundation when the woman who was running the foundation at the time left. Today, she manages both of her roles with style, believing that this opportunity was, “Good learning for me that you don’t always have to choose.”

Dunkin’ + The Franchisees = The Joy in Childhood Foundation

Many of us might not know this but the Dunkin’ Brands owns multiple brands including Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, and Togo’s. All three brands are predominantly franchised. Each Dunkin’ Donuts is owned by its own business owner. Throughout the years, these brands and franchises have given tremendous amounts to the community whether through volunteering, donation, and in-store programs. 

Around 2006, Kari and her team at Dunkin’ Brands decided that they would like to bring all of this together ーthe brands and franchiseesー to determine what Dunkin’ as a brand stands for. 

This plan met with more challenges than expected. Kari expressed that it was challenging bringing together different owners who all came from different backgrounds and financial situations to decide on just one charity to give to as a brand. 

All the franchisees are so passionate about what they give to and their personal experiences play a big part of where they are passionate to give. This made things… complicated. 😅

Instead of the original plan to fundraise to one agreed-upon nonprofit, Kari and her team found themselves launching a foundation as a private charity, the Joy in Childhood Foundation. 

Three Main Giving Areas

The Foundation focused its resources on three different areas that the franchisees believed was important: 

  1. Health 🏥
  2. Emergency workers 👩🏾‍⚕️
  3. Feeding programs 🍴

The overall theme of the Joy in Childhood Foundation is about supporting people through times of crisis. Last year, the foundation raised 6 million dollars! 

Tackling COVID-19 

When the COVID-19 outbreak first started in the US, Kari and the foundation quickly reacted, connecting with nonprofits to let them know that the foundation was going to be more flexible around what nonprofits are able to use their funding for. 

Kari explained that rules surrounding how nonprofits can use their funding need to be altered in a way that is fitting for changing world situations. As an example, Kari explained how a feeding program that would initially rely on volunteers could no longer do so as volunteers self-quarantine. Transportation was no longer moving and restaurants where feeding programs could get their food from were closed. For such reasons, Kari and the foundation decided that they have to alter their systems to help nonprofits during this crisis.

The foundation launched 1.25 million dollars and opened applications to all nonprofit organizations. 

Through the chaotic times of the pandemic, the foundation was able to fund a program called Hero Recharge. Hero Recharge brought nurses and emergency workers together in order to share their experiences around outdoor adventure! The creation of this program was very special to Kari as she believes that, “Creating programs that are based on a community need is more meaningful and impactful!”

Hospital Programs

Kari expressed that she wanted to make more of a direct impact. To do so, Kari and her team at the foundation went out and talked to stakeholders across the hospitals, from patients to parents, nurses, and doctors and asked them what would truly make an impact. 

Kari was able to learn a lot from her conversations at the hospitals including the fact that sending stuffed bears to the hospital might be overrated. 

Instead, 2 important giving areas bubbled up:

  1. To support teens who are hospital patients as they are oftentimes in the shadows of the cute younger children
  2. To provide pet therapy and dogs because of the incredible outcomes pet therapy was having — and who doesn’t love them! 

In fulfilling these wishes, the foundation started a new program: Dogs for Joy! They also piloted a prom at Fenway for teens at the hospital.

Week of Joy

The Week of Joy is a volunteer week where across the country, the Dunkin’ Brands’ operations team, franchisees and their crew members volunteer, usually in food banks or feeding programs. Kari expresses that the Week of Joy provides a very eye-opening experience to see the incredible need in our local communities.

Kari’s work with the Dunkin’ Brands’ foundation has meaningfully impacted our communities in many ways. The family bond between Dunkin’ and the franchisees has contributed in creating a world where we all care and look out for one another. We had an amazing time chatting with Kari and loved hearing about the work being done at Dunkin’!