Transcript: Robb Muse, SEI Cares Champion (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E5: Robb Muse, SEI Cares Champion.

Stormy Bell (00:01): Welcome to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. Today I have my friend Robb Muse. He is the president of SEI Trust Company, the VP of the SEI Cares board and its SEI Affinity Group. SEI takes volunteering very seriously and has a dozen of longstanding partnerships with nonprofit organizations near its local main office. Robb is passionate about volunteering, especially in support of young people. Robb, thank you for being a guest today.

Robb Muse (00:34): Oh, Stormy good morning. Thank you for having me.

Stormy Bell (00:38): Robb as we start our conversation, I’d just like you to share a little brief history on SEI and then explain what SEI Cares is and how the initiative began.

Robb Muse (00:50): Yeah, no, great questions. SEI is an investment and technology firm. We’ve been in business for over 50 years. We’re based in Oaks, Pennsylvania, which is a Philadelphia metro area company. We’re a large employer and philanthropy has always been core within our values. SEI Cares officially kicked off shortly on the heels of 9/11, but going back the entire range of our history, again, 50 plus years, we’ve always been philanthropically minded. The partnerships with nonprofits local to our offices have always been instrumental to making a difference in our community and building better relations with the community and the employees and applying the energy and excitement that SEI has into the community in positive ways.

Stormy Bell (01:44): Oh, that’s awesome. You mentioned, I mentioned earlier that SEI takes volunteering very seriously and their partnerships. What’s the big why? Why do they take it so seriously? Because people volunteer and some companies, they’ll do something special on Earth Day and you’ll get together and go out and do something, but this is a core value of SEI.

Robb Muse (02:14): Yeah, that’s a great question. We’re really proud of our culture. We’re a very people-based culture and it’s important to us that people have opportunities to bring their best selves to work and their authentic selves to work. What we’ve found through the many years is that lots of people have a desire to give back. Sometimes they have easy avenues to do that in their personal lives, maybe helping with their kids’ sports teams or a nonprofit that’s always been central to their lives and sometimes they don’t know what to do. Sometimes having that extra support and direction and foundation of an SEI Cares program gives those employees the ability to tap into things that they didn’t even know existed. Just great local organizations or maybe a cause, you know, maybe some of our employees are on the younger side and they’re still trying to figure out what causes are passionate to them. Food insecurity, environmental, kids. What we try to present is a real platform of options and opportunities that they can get involved to the degree that they’re comfortable. Our culture supports them in that regard by giving them the time to be able to do that and they can get as involved as they’re able.

Stormy Bell (03:37): Obviously it affects the entire culture, [but] just from an employer standpoint do you see stronger retention with your employees? Because they’re invested in this culture that they stay with SEI longer?

Robb Muse (03:52): I would definitely like to think so. Now that said, we’re a big company. We’re 4,500 people, we’re global and there’s a lot of factors that go into building a very successful culture at SEI and this is just one of them. What I have found personally, and I know this applies to other members of the SEI community, is that because of SEI Cares and because of the size of our company, I get to volunteer and work with people that I wouldn’t naturally in my day-to-day job. It makes my opinion professionally and personally a richer person because I’m connected to more people that I’m passionate about. I feel good about the things that I’m able to accomplish in the community with the support of the SEI Cares program and the support of SEI as an employer. It definitely enhances the employee experience. I don’t know that we’ve ever actually statistically, you know, compared retention rates and isolated this as a specific factor, but without a doubt it’s one of the important things about our culture that we have fostered for decades.

Stormy Bell (04:56): Awesome. You were talking about the different areas like food insecurity or housing or anything like that. I had the privilege of coming into an SEI Cares day, I think it was in December, and it was just very interesting all the different organizations that you support through the SEI Cares program. They had a presentation at the end of the day, and they talked about, I believe it was Habitat for Humanity where you had a team of young professionals, or just overall professionals, [that] went down to was it Mississippi or Louisiana that they went to?

Robb Muse (05:32): Yeah, so we’re actually gearing up for that trip. We started these trips way back when Katrina happened in New Orleans years ago and the goal of these trips when we first crafted them was to take the SEI energy on the road and go to a place that had a need of rebuilding. We went to an area on the coast of Mississippi about a year after Katrina happened, and we invested a few years going back once or twice a year to help rebuild that community. Then we took it a little further. We went to Charleston, South Carolina and although they didn’t have any near term weather events, they just have a lot of need. They have a lot of need for affordable housing so we continued our partnership with Habitat in Charleston for a few years.

Lately we’ve been going to Central Florida, again, the same thing not really in a specific weather event that triggered our involvement, but we found a great another Habitat affiliate partner. Now our team is gearing up for a trip in May of this year to go back to Mississippi in a different part of Mississippi in an area that has needs of four volunteers. At this point, we plan to take a few dozen SEI employees down there. I think one of the coolest things Stormy about this particular activity we’ve kept the same model in place, is that the entire SEI community is eligible to participate. Any employee in good standing regardless of your age, can participate. We’ve had employees from 21 up to 81 go on these trips and they’re responsible for raising their own money. What that means is that the entire community gets behind them, right? Because SEI is proudly sending these 30 volunteers. So the entire SEI community is involved and financially supporting these volunteers covering their travel expenses so that they can go down there. They get a free week off. This is not vacation time, SEI gives them a complementary week off. 

Stormy Bell (07:33): I was gonna ask you that. 

Robb Muse (07:35): Yeah. It’s generally shared housing. Usually we’re associated with a Habitat affiliate that has some kind of a volunteer housing program. It’s a hyper collaborative activity honestly. We work together for 24 hours a day for about six days in a row and we’ve had some awesome privileges in association with this. On the heels of Katrina, the Carters are obviously very involved in Habitat and I think it was two years after Katrina that that particular area of the country was the Carter’s focus. Many of us had the opportunity to actually meet President and Mrs. Carter on that trip. It’s been a very interesting program. We call it rejuvening, and we’ve been proud to maintain this program and having it come back in 2023 post Covid under new young leadership is really exciting for us.

Stormy Bell (08:37): That’s awesome. Appreciate that. So I know because you’re the nonprofit I work for, you’re our champion, that there are champions within SEI Cares. Can you share what a champion is and what that role does?

Robb Muse (08:53): Yeah, it’s a really interesting part of our program. You know, for companies of our size, it’s not uncommon for employers to have whole teams. Whole teams of paid employees that orchestrate community philanthropic activities. We’ve taken a different tack. What we do is we tap into the SEI community, we look for volunteers like myself and many others. The goal is to build the program. We are company supported, company finance, but we’re employee led. What that does is that really empowers us as the employees, I’ve been on the SEI Cares board for a number of years with a number of awesome people. So we create the program that we think will have the best impact on the community, we’ll engage our employees and make a difference. The champion role in that regard Stormy is crucial. What that means is that in addition to our 10 to 20 person board, we also have this quadri of dozens of volunteers that are particularly passionate about one or more organizations in the community.

They know that those organizations have appealed to the SEI employee base. It’s their job, if you will, to stay connected to that organization and look for opportunities for us to partner. So I’ve had the privilege of being the Chester County Futures champion for about 15 years and the way that executes in my world is that I’m in touch with the organization. One of my favorite activities that I’ve done through the years is to bring kids on campus, right? So we bring emerging middle school and high school aged kids on campus. They spend an entire day with us. They take tours of key parts of campus, maybe our data center, they see our artwork which is onsite, which is another part of our culture. Probably the best part of the day, in my opinion, is we sit down for a two hour pizza lunch and it’s just.

Robb Muse (10:48): Any SEI employee can come in and just sit around a table with these kids. These are adults that these kids would not normally have access to and the organic and authentic conversations that come out of these pizza lunches, I think are truly the most valuable thing. Because with Chester County Futures, so many of these kids are trying to chart their path forward and they’re thinking about college and what goes beyond college, and in some cases, they don’t have a blood relation with anyone that’s been through that journey. Just being able to tap into these adults that are perfectly happy to share about their experience, what they learned, what they didn’t do right, what they wish they had done differently, what they love about SEI you know, making those decisions as a young person is a big thing. The more information and more data they can get their hands on the better off they are.

That’s been one of my favorite things to do with Chester County Futures. What has also spun out of that is, in the last year during Covid when we had to really focus on virtual support is a mentoring program. So right now we support five or six early college age Chester County Futures kids and we team them up one-on-one with a mentor. They have an adult mentor within the SEI community that they get to know that they stay connected to and they’re on a shared journey. They’re comparing notes on a regular basis. That could be weekly, that could be monthly, what’s going on at college, how are you doing? What’s gonna happen next year? What are you thinking? It’s been a beautiful program, especially in the virtual environment to get the kids coming along, keep the SEI community engaged. Everyone gets so much out of it.

Stormy Bell (12:43): We so appreciate it and our students truly appreciate it as well. All right now let’s switch gears just a little bit. We kind of started with it. Why do you volunteer?

Robb Muse (12:55): For me, I have a personal belief that those that have the ability to give back should give back. The world is an interesting place. There’s so much need in this world and whether it’s economically, whether it’s time, whether it’s energy, whether it’s knowledge whatever the case is, those that have the ability to give back, in my personal opinion, have a responsibility to do so. I can relate based on my background, where I grew up and how I grew up, I can relate to Chester County Futures kids. Neither one of my parents went to college. My father didn’t graduate high school. I can truly relate to their journey. Looking back, if I had had the privilege of interacting with intelligent adults that weren’t part of my immediate circle, I think my path could’ve been a little easier.

I love that idea of just making any kind of a difference. One of the causes that’s most important to me personally, and we have tested this through survey many times at SEI, is economically underprivileged youth. What can we do to help equalize the impact of being an economically underprivileged youth? We think that with our energy and our focus, we can play a small role in that. I’ve been happy to do that as well.

Stormy Bell (14:27): Amazing. You kinda of answered my next question. What motivates you most about volunteering? You really touched on that. This next question, it’s been woven through our conversation, but, actually you did just answer. I was gonna ask you in your opinion why people should share their time, talent, and treasure and you truly, truly spoke to that. So I have a question that’s more of a commentary. Please share a story of impact from either SEI cares or your personal journey, or if you have two, you can share both of them.

Robb Muse (15:09): For me, beyond Chester County Futures, but in a similar vein another passion that I have is youth bereavement. I’ve had the privilege of volunteering at a local organization working with kids in situations of grief for about 18 years. That’s been especially powerful for me. I find that as a society, I’m not sure that we always tackle and talk about death to the degree necessary, but the impact of a death on a young person is really tremendous, right? To lose your parent when you’re 10, 12, 14 years old or to lose a sibling around the same time is a very, very impactful thing. To me, being able to work hands-on in a group setting with kids that are dealing with the immediate and the aftermath of death is a really powerful thing.

Some of my most powerful volunteer moments have actually come out of that level of volunteering because I’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve always been focused on teenagers in that regard. Not surprisingly experiencing death enduring or, you know, before your teenage years in any of your immediate circle is a big thing. It’s a very big thing and it creates a lot of change. Some intended, some not intended. Some anticipated, some really unexpected. That’s probably where I’ve had a lot of my most powerful moments. Just listening to kids’ stories, having them share what they’re going through, their worries, their fears, their fears for the future, their concerns. That’s been an especially powerful part of my personal volunteer journey.

Stormy Bell (17:06): Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I have no words for that, but thank you. All right, my next question is supposed to be a really fun question. Tell me about a blooper not necessarily went wrong, but something didn’t go the way you thought it was gonna go and what lessons did you learn from it?

Robb Muse (17:31): I dunno that I have a funny blooper, but what I will say, one of the biggest things that sticks with me, I wish I could turn this into something funny, but I’ll just share anyway. Time is precious. Life is precious, right? So what I would encourage anyone to do is really pick an organization that they’re passionate about, pick a cause. Really think about causes that are important to them because you know, this whole blooper I can think of is that there’s been a handful of times where I have been attracted to an organization because I think they do great work. But in truth when I really step back, I realized that there are causes that are more important to me. I think placing a priority around things that are hugely important to you personally. It just creates passion. It just creates that ability to make a difference even deeper. So I would say more of a life lesson than a blooper for me. But it’s always front of my mind. If I’m gonna make the time and the energy for something, I really wanna make sure that it’s something that is hugely important to me and also that that’ll have the ability to make an impact in a positive way.

Stormy Bell (18:48): Oh, I love it. Thank you. All right, Robb, we’re at the time in the interview where I give you the mic in the sense that I want you to love on SEI Cares, whatever you wanna say about it.

Robb Muse (19:05): That’s easy for me. You know, SEI Cares has been such a part of my SEI journey and such a part of my philanthropic journey personally and professionally. The fact that SEI has empowered our employee base to take this program in whatever direction we want to take it in, they’ve truly handed us the power to do that. You know, a group of very responsible SEI employees through the last few decades have taken that responsibility seriously and the program keeps evolving. SEI continues to turn into a bigger company, a more global company. We need to take everything that we’ve done well in Oaks, Pennsylvania, and we need to apply that model to London, and we need to apply that model to Dublin, and we’re doing that. SEI Cares is a program that is a living, breathing thing, and we are in the process of successfully globalizing it. For that, I could not be more proud. Again, the support and passion that SEI gives us to work with and the flexibility that we have to turn that into whatever we want to turn it into for the benefit of our culture and our company and those organizations that surround us geographically is just massive.

Stormy Bell (20:20): Again I love it. I love everything about SEI Cares. They’re just making such an impact in the world. Robb, thank you for being my guest on The Art of Volunteering.

Robb Muse (20:39): My privilege.

Stormy Bell (20:20): Now if my listeners wanna connect with you about anything they’ve heard today, what’s the best way to reach out to you?

Robb Muse (20:39): Yeah, that would be great. I’d love to hear from people. You could definitely ping me via email, which is or find me on LinkedIn, it’s Robb Muse. Welcome to contact.

Stormy Bell (20:57): Okay, wonderful. Awesome. Thank you again, and I will see you next time on The Art of Volunteering. Have a great day.

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