HVAC Contractors Give Back
Charitable giving builds community trust, goodwill
This past December, a large group of Michigan HVAC contractors spent the day visiting the homes of about 60 senior citizens to fix their furnaces, sometimes even installing new units, free of charge, for the 30th Annual Al Keats-Project Heat Day. Once known as the Senior Citizens Service Program, the Southeast Michigan Air Conditioning Contractors Association of America (SEMIACCA) event helps senior citizens in need during the harsh winter months.
“These people truly have no resources. We’re their resource,” said Bob Hutchison, owner of Accu-Temp Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. in Howell, Michigan, and chair of the Al Keats-Project Heat day. “We’re more than willing to go the extra mile to take care of them and get them heat — safe heat. My guys have found things installed by side-jobbers or homeowners, and it’s a miracle the people in those homes weren’t dead. Those are the types of things we’ve run into.”
Hutchison said he continues to support the event because since he makes a good living, he owes it to the community to pay it back. “Last year, we went to Redford [Michigan] to install a furnace, and they were the most appreciative, thankful, and loving people I’ve ever done anything free for, which made it totally worthwhile.”
Flame Heating, Cooling, Plumbing, and Electrical in Warren, Michigan, also participates in the annual event by sending two technicians each year to perform furnace inspections. But that’s not all. Flame has also been a collection spot for Toys for Tots the past few years and keeps a Salvation Army red kettle in the office year-round for employees to pay $1 on Fridays if they wear jeans.
“It’s important to help out those in need, and I don’t tie it to the company,” said Matt Marsiglio, operations manager for Flame. “We’ve taken collections in the past to give a family a Christmas with the only stipulation being we received no public acknowledgment. We do not do these things for any self-benefit, we do them because we want to do them. For us, it ties into our culture. We are in business to help people. Our charitable giving really ties into the golden rule, ‘treat others as you would like to be treated.’”
Greg McAfee, owner of McAfee Heating & Air in Kettering, Ohio, established the McAfee Foundation for Children and Youth in 2006. He also started a scholarship program for graduating high school seniors in which 10 kids are awarded with $2,500 each year. In addition, his company has adopted a local school to provide Christmas gifts for children of low-income families and sponsored a local radiothon benefiting Dayton Children’s Hospital for the past eight years. The event raised more than $300,000 in 2015. McAfee also co-chairs an annual event to raise money for the Dayton Ronald McDonald house.
“We’ve partnered with Dayton Children’s Hospital to help kids with breathing problems since we’re in the IAQ business,” he said. “It ties in with what we do. We’ve helped families with a variety of things, including helping pay for medications, providing respirators for asthma, and we’ve even installed air conditioning systems if a child needs one at home before they’re released from the hospital.”
Overall, McAfee said his annual donations add up to about 1.5 percent of his gross revenue. “That 1.5 percent may not sound like a lot, but it’s hundreds of thousands. The more we do business wise, the higher that number is.”
While McAfee donates to many worthy causes, the highest percentage goes to children’s organizations.
“Kids can’t help themselves — they have no choice,” McAfee said. “They can’t get out of the car when two parents are smoking dope with the windows up. They don’t have a choice in the atmosphere they live in at home. And sometimes, parents just don’t have the money — for a variety of reasons — to get them the best medical care. If I can help in any little way, I will.”
McAfee added that while there are some advantages to charitable giving, such as a tax write off for 501(c)( 3) organizations. “I don’t do it for the tax break, but I will take advantage of it if it’s available,” he said.
Cedar Lake, Indiana-based Illiana Heating & Air began a new charitable program this year called Illiana Gives Back. The program allows employees the opportunity to pick a charitable organization important to them and a coinciding month. The company then donates a percentage of its revenue for that month to the chosen charity. The employee also picks a product of the month, and a portion of those proceeds goes to the organization. Some of the organizations that have benefited this year include Camp Quality, a local camp for children with cancer; the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America; the American Diabetes Association; Together We Rise, a nonprofit foster care organization; and a local humane society.
“At the end of the month, we present the check to someone at the organization,” said Mary VanProyen, office manager at Illiana. “This past September, our charity was Together We Rise, so we made a competition of building bikes with our technicians during a company meeting and we were able to present the bikes to the organization. Illiana has always participated in charitable giving, we just decided to give it a name and make it more intentional this year. And we did it to be able to help more causes. Our owners, management, and staff are Christians, and it’s just a way of life.”
According to VanProyen, each monthly check ranges around $1,000-$3,000 depending on how the month went.
“I think when the community and your customers have an opportunity to see you’re giving back, they know they’re supporting a business that, in return, supports the community and all these organizations,” she said. “It also allows you to access a better customer base because people trust you. It’s done wonders for our company morale. Our employees have become excited to choose a charity important to them, and then we also allow that same employee to present the check to the organization. That way, they see the entire process through, from start to finish.”
Through its Hearts and Heroes program, Thornton & Grooms in Farmington Hills, Michigan, donates $1,000 a month to a local charity. The organization applies through Thornton & Grooms’ website or the company is referred to them, and it holds a Facebook promotion between two charities. Whichever charity gets the most likes on the social media platform receives the donation.
“We’ve found it works really well for the charities because it allows them to get some of their past members refocused and involved,” said Matt Bergstrom, owner and president, Thornton & Grooms. “Then we go out and present them a check for $1,000. We get to hear their stories and what they’re doing for the community and thank them for what they do. The social media promotion engages our customers some, but we find it engages potential customers more. It’s just another way for us to be out there and gain some name and branding recognition.”
The company also hosts a canned food drive and gets its customers involved by offering a nominal discount off their bills if they pitch in. “We usually aim to gather 1,000 pounds of food to help fill some local food pantries,” Bergstrom said.
In addition, the company has supported Kids Kicking Cancer, Autism Alliance of Michigan, and Life Remodeled. The one thing all the organizations have in common is their location.
“All the charities we support are local,” Bergstrom explained. “It’s our community. Our community supports us by using our services, and we just want to give back. Generally, we’re not giving to March of Dimes or the American Cancer Society — not that they don’t need more help — we try to help the little guys out there who benefit our local community.
“It helps us to remember there are people less fortunate than us,” he continued. “It also helps us remember there are people out there doing different things than we do. Being able to support that helps us remember how blessed and lucky we are to have a company that can give back and have employees that want to be involved.”
Bergstrom added that he doesn’t think all HVAC companies should be involved in charitable giving. “Almost every owner I’ve talked with, and I’ve been able to speak with a lot of them, give in their own ways. They give services, furnaces, and things like that. I think charity and charitable giving is an individual thing, and you do it how you want to do it. We choose to do it through our business. I think some folks do it personally by volunteering their time and other things. It just runs through our business as an expense. It’s more of a mental and emotional advantage for us. We just want to reward the guys doing good things in the community. It also pays back in customer loyalty. For our customers who are in or part of these organizations, it gives us credibility and a higher level of trust. So there is definitely some payback, but that’s not why we do it.”
Publication date: 1/30/2017