September, when warm days and cool nights bring relief to the soupy ends of August weather. The leaves begin to turn and kids go back to school. It is the ending of one thing and the beginning of another. For the last fourteen years it has also been a time of mourning. It is a time when we remember the fateful events that occurred on September 11th.
The human spirit, however, is resilient. And out of such a terrible negative, people feel the need to create positives. Today, fourteen years later, we now revere 9/11 as a day of service. A day when we get away from our busy, early fall and do something positive, serving others. This year, the Taproot Foundation and the organizers of 9/11 Day initiated the first 9/11 Skills Service Day encouraging pro bono service as a high-impact way for business professionals to engage and give back, building hope in our communities. While this campaign aims to engage new skilled-volunteers in marketing, IT, finance, and strategy, there are so many who have been doing this for a very long time. John Kiker’s pro bono story began on September 11, 2001.
John was serving as the Vice President of Marketing Communications for United Airlines at the time of the attacks. His responsibilities included leading a crisis communications team – and coordinating its work with the airline’s humanitarian, operational, and investigative teams – in the event of an accident or other emergency. The communications effort undertaken by his team in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has been cited as being among the most compassionate and comprehensive in the history of the industry.
On 9/11, John’s day started with news of a possible accident. (Remember that, in the early hours of that day’s events, no one was certain what was happening or even whose planes were involved.) He immediately reported to United’s Crisis Center and activated his department’s crisis-management protocols. Although his team had trained for years how to communicate in the event of an emergency, it became apparent fairly quickly that this event was something that had never been seen before. He worked closely with the operational and investigative teams to help safely ground United’s fleet, while his team began communicating effectively and comprehensively with the press and the public – releasing all information that could be confirmed as soon as it could be confirmed.
John and his team worked around the clock for nearly a month, expressing the company’s compassion for the employees and passengers lost in the attacks, cooperating with the federal government as it investigated the crashes and communicating rapidly and regularly with the media and the public. He praised his team members for their resilience and dedication in the weeks following the attack. “You need to be sharp and focused in the face of adversity – and these individuals did just that – they went above and beyond,” he said.
When Taproot offered John the chance to work with Tuesday’s Children, an organization established to aid the children who lost parents on Tuesday, September 11th, he jumped at the chance to be of service.
Over the years, Tuesday’s Children had begun extending its services to support not only 9/11 families, but also those affected by other acts of terror. When the organization applied to Taproot for a grant to help it more clearly articulate its expanding mission and services, John saw an opportunity to provide support to some of the families most deeply affected by 9/11 – this time, by sharing his branding expertise. He understood that 9/11 was beginning to fade in some people’s memories – becoming almost a history lesson for some – and appreciated how important it was for Tuesday’s Children to share the expertise it developed helping 9/11 families, as a way of helping other families affected by tragedy and keeping the memory of 9/11 relevant and meaningful.
John and the Taproot team helped Tuesday’s Children strategically define its mission, agree on the key messages for donors and beneficiaries, and quickly identify which tragedies the organization was best suited to help families respond to–positioning the organization for ongoing success.
“Tuesday’s Children has an extremely dedicated and intelligent board,” John said. “I was amazed at how quickly they agreed on the challenges and strategic ways to surmount them, as well as their passion for continuing to be of service to others. They did an incredible amount of work in a short period of time with a limited budget – work that will benefit not only the families affected by 9/11, but families affected by other tragedies that unfold.”
I look at John’s story and see what a difference can be made when one connects their passions to service work. While following a cause can do a lot, much more can be accomplished by using your expertise to lead one. Today, John is currently the president of Kiker MarCom, the marketing communications firm he established which assists nonprofit organizations. The memories from his experience on 9/11 continue to drive him to give back both at MarCom and through his pro bono service.
Blog author Billy Moran recently graduated from St. Lawrence University with a BA in English. Billy participated in 9/11 Skills Service Day by writing this blog pro bono.