Why We Support Passion Projects—And Why You Should Too

After a decade of running C5, we know how easy it is to get caught up in day-to-day tasks and lose sight of why we started this thing in the first place. That’s why we’ve always tried to incorporate practices that help us remember who we are, what we do, and why we do it. And that’s why passion projects have always been so important to us. 

Why Passion Projects Put Our Values to Work

Put simply, we don’t think you can have a successful business without a strong brand heart (aka your purpose, vision, mission, and values). We’ve refined these elements over the years, but at our heart, we’ve always focused on doing “good.” That means different things to different people, but for us it comes down to this:

Having our brand heart articulated helps us make the best decisions for our people and our business. Sometimes that means saying no to companies whose values or work we don’t gel with (sorry, fracking industry). But, most importantly, it reminds us to look for ways to align our day-to-day business with our values.

This plays out in all sorts of ways, but the one practice we’ve always prioritized is working on passion projects.

These unique projects allow us to do creative work (for free) that we believe benefits others in some way—not because we’re expected to, not because we have to, but simply because we want to.

From infographics to interactives, videos to websites, our passion projects evolve into all sorts of interesting things. If we believe in it, we put our team and resources behind it to bring it to life.

Some people might think it’s controversial, counterintuitive, or crazy, but we think it’s one of the many practices that has been the key to our longevity.

We know some businesses love sponsorships, donations, or charity runs. Personally, we feel uniquely positioned to use not just our time but our skills for causes we support, ideas we believe in, and issues that need a spotlight. Our passion projects give us a chance to truly “walk the walk” when it comes to our five values.

  • Do Good Work: The content we create helps us communicate about important issues. The better we do our job, the more effective that information is.
  • Be Good to Each Other: These passion projects encourage us to collaborate with each other in positive and productive ways.
  • Value Our Partners: We’re proud of the relationships we’ve built with our partners. The more we create content we feel passionately about, the more we attract like-minded partners.
  • Be Humble: We don’t ever want to be so busy chasing Fortune 500 brands that we can’t help out people or causes in our community that need support. Passion projects give us an excuse to use our skills for things that matter to us.
  • Experiment Often: When we’re inspired and passionate about a cause, we’re open and willing to try whatever we can to create the best piece of content we can. This sometimes prompts us to explore new mediums or experiment with techniques we haven’t tried before, which helps us add more tools to our creative toolbox.

That said, as we are still very much running a business, the majority of our time is dedicated to our awesome partners, so we are very intentional about the passion projects we choose.

How We Choose Our Passion Projects

We give the same amount of time, dedication, and creative energy to every project we take on, whether it’s for our partners or for ourselves. These projects tend to be a group effort, whether it’s our finance team giving us the greenlight or our office manager ordering extra snacks to fuel an impromptu photo shoot, so we’ll approve them as long as:

  • We have the bandwidth.
  • We have the team’s support.
  • It aligns with one of our values

In general, these projects are pitched by our team. They may be inspired by our own personal interests or one of our brand partners. They may be an opportunity to raise awareness about a cause or topic, or be inspired by a non-profit. Sometimes they’re simply a chance for us to try something totally outside our creative comfort zone. 

For example, after designing a Girls Inc. of Orange County annual report, our team decided to collaborate with the organization on a new project to give girls a sense of empowerment and self-discovery. Thus, The Popcorn Project was born, a unique team-building and brainstorming exercise to help young girls (and anyone, really) turn their big goals into manageable tasks, along with the help of their community.

passion projects popcorn project

Similarly, after learning about how menstruation stigma prevents girls from getting an education, we decided to create a project that would educate people about menstruation in the hopes of destigmatizing this completely natural female experience. That turned into our People For Periods interactive experience, which we released to celebrate Women’s Health Week.

passion projects people for periods

To celebrate Black History Month, some of our music aficionados created our Beyond the Beat interactive, which told the stories of African-American musical artists whose contributions to culture have been overlooked or ignored.

beyond the beat passion projects

Not every project is driven by a particular cause, though. Sometimes we uncover a story that must be told, as was the case in 2016 when former C5 Producer Eric Shumny told us about his grandma’s lifelong love affair with the Cubs. She’d waited 95 years to see them win the world series, and as the Cubs had made it to the finals, we were eager to capture her reaction if they did win. Luckily, we did and our short film Always a Fan, Ann remains one of the most heartwarming projects we’ve ever worked on.

Sometimes we use our passion projects as a creative experiment or opportunity to tinker with a new skill or medium. For example, after a C5 Hack Day, a crew of C5ers was inspired to design a music-themed video game. (You can play Groove Glider here.) That’s also how we ended up with the About Us video on our homepage.

passion projects groove glider 2

Above all, we view passion projects as a chance to innovate and push ourselves to do new things.

Why We’ll Always Prioritize These Projects

Some people might think it’s self-indulgent to invest in projects like these, but we think it gives us a fantastic return. It helps us build a stronger culture, it feeds our creativity, and sometimes these projects actually do turn into viable business ideas. (Our software company Visage was born out of a passion project we felt had the potential to be monetized.) That’s why we encourage everyone to bring passion projects to life—no matter your industry. 

Regardless of how they come about, we’ll always support these projects in some way, shape, or form. They help us learn, grow, and share our gifts with the world, both personally and professionally. For us, that’s a privilege.

(If you’re looking for more inspiration, you can take more behind-the-scenes looks at our projects. And if your team could use a little help to tell your story, hit us up and we can chat about it.)