I feel like the [ICA] team consistently cares about the planet and the community, and are willing to put their time and effort into making them better. I trust their intentions and their actions, which is a rare thing.
Matt Cardoni is founder of Green Lightning Marketing, a digital marketing consultancy that works with nonprofit organizations, mission-driven businesses and educational institutions. He has been a member of Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network for six years, helped launch and organize the Uptown Garden Walk, and has connected numerous digital marketing students and volunteers with ICA.
What do you do and which communities do you represent?
I’m a digital marketing consultant and educator. I consult specifically with clients who are mission-driven, and my favorite clients are those who help the environment. Right now I’m working primarily with Farmers Business Network, which helps farmers, as well as a company that sells bedding online and another that creates software for lawyers.
The communities I represent include environmental activists and artists. As an artist, my mediums are costumes, lighting, and painting. I would also say I represent the LGBTQ community, and I’m an engaged resident in the Buena Park neighborhood of Uptown.
How did you first encounter ICA?
About five years ago, I approached my local alderman, James Cappleman, with some ideas I had to make our Uptown community more sustainable. He introduced me to ICA, which is how I first became aware of them. Our first project together was to create Eco Uptown, a group of volunteers that wanted to make the community more green.
In what other ways have you been involved with us?
About four years ago, I attended a conference on climate change at Loyola University Chicago, where I asked a representative from the Ministry of Climate and Environment of Norway what they felt was the most important way to get people to care about the environment. He said “get them to spend more time in nature.” So I worked with ICA to develop the first Uptown Garden Walk, an event that was intended to get people into nature more, which we thought would also be a great way to introduce people to the gardens and trees of Uptown. So I’ve helped to plan and execute the Uptown Garden Walk for the past four years.
I’ve also been a member of Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) for the past six years or so. My favorite thing has been the policy advocacy group, where we have collaborated with the past several Chief Sustainability Officers of Chicago and help give context and continuity around sustainability initiatives to City leadership based on our group's history and context within the local sustainability community.
I also volunteer my time to support ICA’s digital marketing directly. I teach digital marketing at higher education institutions. I teach using Google Ad grants, which give nonprofits an ad budget to gain more traffic from Google. I organized a team of grad students to help optimize visibility for ICA in exchange for ICA’s direction on the priorities of the marketing campaign. It helps the students learn digital marketing and it has helped ICA’s website get more traffic, book sales, and space rental inquiries.
Tell me more about the model you use to connect students and nonprofits.
When I first started working in digital marketing, I discovered Google’s Ad grants program. It seemed like a great resource that very few people were using. I started applying for them on behalf of nonprofits and eventually got about 10 of these grants, which was so many that I couldn’t even manage them. That’s when the University of Iowa reached out asking for my help teaching digital marketing. I mentioned that I could use help managing the grants; together we came up with this idea of having students work on them. Over the years I’ve been awarded over 50 of these grants for different nonprofits. I found just by coincidence that they happen to be a great teaching tool, because they are a sandbox that students can use to learn and practice their skills without spending client money—plus they help community nonprofits at the same time. It turned out to be this beautiful thing almost by chance that I discovered just by trying to do the right thing. It turned into this really powerful education tool that I think is a triple win because it teaches, inspires, and gives back all at the same time.
What has been a high point of our involvement with ICA?
The high point is really the people. The people that I work with—Andrew, Caitlin, Samantha, and Seva. I feel like the team consistently cares about the planet and the community, and are willing to put their time and effort into making them better. I trust their intentions and their actions, which is a rare thing.
I have found the work I do with ICA to be very rewarding on a lot of different levels, and I hope that the organization continues to grow.
Describe ICA using a metaphor.
“How may I help you?”
What makes ICA unique?
I love the fact that they go in listening—they want to listen first. I think that's really powerful because a lot of people go into a situation—whether in nonprofit volunteering, activism, or business—with a predetermined solution already in their mind, but ICA goes in listening to hear what is needed first, and I think that's what makes them unique.