HVAC contractors that strive to improve top-of-mind awareness among local consumers, attract new customers, and get involved in their communities have found that charitable giving is an important path to include when creating their road maps to success.
APPROACH AND RESEARCH
In order to be most successful, contractors decide to plan for charitable giving ahead of time, implementing it as a standing part of their annual budget. Once it’s in the budget, they turn to their staff members to decide where they will be giving back and how.
But the most important part of charitable giving, according to Chris Hunter, president and co-owner, Hunter Heat and Air LLC, Ardmore, Oklahoma, is the approach used.
“The approach can be summed up in one word: intentional,” he said. “It starts with budgeting a portion of your sales that you want to give back. Next, it’s time to rally the team and find out what means the most to them. At this time, we also tie in the importance of performing well, so we can help those who are relying on us to be profitable, so that we can give back. One of our core values is giving, and each month we discuss what organizations we are giving to or working with in our team meeting.”
Erik Knaak, vice president and general manager, Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Rochester, New York, also makes a point to incorporate charity into his yearly budget.
“Our charitable giving is in the line-item budget, so we make a commitment at the beginning of the fiscal year, and we donate before we take profits,” he said. “It’s really tithing.”
Once the budget is determined, it’s important that contractors do their research when deciding which charities to work with. Every business is different, and some already have organizations close to their heart, so that is where they choose to donate to.
For Roger Grochmal, CEO, AtlasCare Heating and Cooling, Oakville, Ontario, Canada, his journey with charitable giving began when he and his children cared for his ailing wife.
“AtlasCare’s involvement with charitable giving began with my first wife,” he said. “My two sons and I cared for her during her over 30-year journey with Multiple Sclerosis. Caring for someone gives you a powerful sense of what it’s like to lose life’s lottery through no fault of your own. To help those afflicted with this challenging illness, AtlasCare has raised in excess of $250,000 over the past five years.”
At Carolina Comfort Inc., Columbia, South Carolina, director of marketing, Cole Mitchell, said the company determines where to donate based on what causes are important to employees.
“Carolina Comfort donates to businesses, projects, or organizations that are close to our heart or our employees’ hearts,” he said. “We have a few organizations that we are deeply involved with and have been for many years. We find causes that we support and stick with them for a long time. Carolina Comfort researches them by being a part of them, albeit as a business or as a person. Organizations like Special Olympics touched our CEO’s heart and, in turn, we became a big sponsor.”
But other companies like to reach out to local organizations to see what’s out there, which requires doing some research to find a good fit. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in order to avoid fraud, a business should ask for detailed information about the charity, get the exact name and research it, call the charity, find out if the charity or fundraiser is registered in your state by contacting the National Association of State Charity Officials, and visit the IRS webpage to find out which organizations are qualified to receive tax deductible contributions, among other tips.
To avoid such incidents, Ann Kahn, owner, Kahn Mechanical Contractors in Dallas, makes sure to do some digging before going all in on a charity donation or partnership.
“We always make sure the organization is a 501(c)(3) and check their website if we are not familiar with their mission,” she said.
But most contractors said they don’t need to do an extensive amount of research because the charities come to them, or they are connected to someone within their company.
“Ninety five percent of the time, we are approached by our own customers to donate,” said Jeff Leone, president, Air Temp Mechanical Services Inc., Southington, Connecticut. “So, being customers of ours already, we already know them”
PLANNING AND MARKETING
While it’s not exactly an easy topic to address, charitable giving is a great way to get your name into the community. Although it’s tricky to address it as a marketing opportunity, it can be a great way to better reach your local community and make your presence known, leading to more customers and sales.
According to a 2010 study by Cone Communications LLC, 85 percent of consumers have a more positive image of a company when it supports a cause they care about, and 90 percent of consumers want companies to tell them how they’re supporting charitable causes.
Contractors don’t necessarily want the praise for giving back, but they appreciate that the public is able to see their efforts, as it helps their credibility within the community.
“Our pattern of giving is well known within the communities we support,” said Kahn. “I can’t say we have received more customers as a direct result; however, the businesses we work with are aware and appreciative of our giving. Personally, I prefer to give anonymously but accept the fact that those days are long gone. It is important for others to see the extent of our giving, as it encourages them to do the same.”
In order to properly plan out a partnership with a charity, contractors often plan meetings.
“When possible, we absolutely do sit down and create a plan with the organization,” said Hunter. “We always like to help as much as we can, whether it’s a 5K run, toy drive, food drive, or bigger event. Planning and being intentional magnifies the effort.”
Mitchell also meets and sits down with the larger caliber charities Carolina Comfort teams up with — not necessarily the smaller, local organizations.
After planning, contractors work with the charity, marketing their company as a result. While not every contractor likes to label it as marketing, it’s an effective way to become the go-to HVAC business in the area.
“Our marketing depends on the event or organization,” said Knaak. “Some include signage or social media exposure, and in reality, we probably don’t self-promote our giving enough; however, in our customer newsletter, we did decide to start sharing the information on causes that we support so as to show involvement in the community.”
Similarly, Hunter has struggled with promoting the company’s charitable giving due to his own personal religious values, but he has made peace with it because of the way it can quickly stimulate the community to help.
“Marketing our business through charity work is a tricky one, and honestly, one that I have struggled with,” said Hunter. “As a Christian, I look to the Bible for instruction. So, when we partner with an organization, or we are trying to inspire or encourage others to help as well, we do it with a heart of shining light for our Father. Of course, this isn’t for everyone, but it’s our mission, and the foundation of what our team is built on.
“Facebook has been a phenomenal way to spread the word quickly,” he continued. “It can go viral, or at least in your community it can. We have also utilized live videos to promote the programs.”
AtlasCare decided to take its marketing efforts with charitable organizations to the next level by branding its efforts.
“Seven years ago, AtlasCare branded its charitable endeavors under the banner ‘Care to Share,’” said Grochmal. “This program allows us to engage with our customers and our community in deciding where to bring our support.”
Last fall, the company used social media to ask customers to nominate a charity. Over 300 nominations were submitted, and the marketing agency made a random selection.
Kahn markets with charities by having the company name printed on the advertising materials the organizations use.
“The majority of our donations are in the form of sponsorship for major events,” she said. “Our name appears in event invitations, other materials the organization uses, and in all of the advertising the organization uses to promote its events.”
Similarly, Leone said his company also utilizes charity signage and banners as well as social media to market the business, the organization, and the charitable event.
THE PHILANTHROPIC PAYOFF
When donating to charity, people aren’t inclined to look at the “payoff” for doing so; however, with that being said, charitable efforts do indeed pay off for businesses.
“The payoff is secondary — the impact is what matters, as well as the impression it leaves on our employees and our community,” said Knaak. “Our company’s vision statement is all about improving the quality of life for the community in which we live, work, and play. We have people who contact us because they saw us at the church event, or they heard we supported a particular event or cause. There is a value to being involved, but it goes beyond what you get back.”
Leone thinks the payoff is showing your local customers you care about them and others in the community.
“Typically, the charities are for a great cause, so it’s easy to donate to them,” he said. “These donations also show our customers we care and are willing to give back.”
Grochmal said the real payoff is that giving back helps shape the company leaders because they are able to better identify the type of employees they want working for them as well as the right customer base.
“As our slogan says, we are always there when you need us,” he said. “Our involvement in, and support of, various charities is core to our family values. While it is difficult to identify any specific benefit we have received as a company, it helps us define who we are and the kind of employees and customers we want to share our values.”
Hunter agreed, stating that the real payoff comes in a variety of ways, which he finds to be very helpful in the end for the charitable organization, the team, and the local community.
“The payoff in this comes in so many ways,” he said. “The bond with our team, the customers we get to help, the community interaction — it’s all way more important than any other type of payoff we could have. The ultimate payoff for us is that it helps us accomplish one of the key elements of our mission for being in business: to keep customers comfortable, save them money, do it better than anyone else, and honor God while we do it. That’s the real reason. That is the heart behind our team’s giving. The byproduct of having a giving culture is people naturally want to do business with caring people who invest locally.”
Publication date: 4/23/2018