This fall, I spent the majority of my free time chairing a “vote yes” campaign committee for a ballot question in my hometown near Detroit. In other words, we were asking our neighbors to vote to raise their own taxes by $18.75 per month.

“Or just 62 cents a day,” my friend Jim and I calculated as we sat at Grand Tavern one night, drafting the text for our mailers. We added that at the bottom, in big, bold letters.

The harsh reality was, my little hometown was teetering on the brink of financial ruin. A series of unfortunate events — the Great Recession, mandatory pension finance updates, and a state law regarding property taxes — meant that unless we cut things like leaf pickup, snow plowing, or our cherished local museum, the city would be bankrupt in five years. And unless the tax increase went through, there wouldn’t be money for long-delayed improvements, either: parks, road repairs, upgrades to outdated 1950s water and sewer lines.

The “vote yes” mailing went out in mid-October. When we got the bill, I tried not to hyperventilate — then texted my mom, who I swear is on a first-name basis with half the city, to see if she knew anyone who might throw in a check to cover the outstanding charges.

“Remind me how much we still need?” she texted back.

We needed $700 — but $100, $20, or whatever they could pitch in would be great, I said.

A couple minutes later, her chat box popped up again.

“$0 now,” she wrote.

My jaw about hit the floor.

She’d stopped downtown at Jill’s Pharmacy, a local, independent, woman-owned business, to pick up some allergy meds for my sisters. Since she knew Jill (the owner), she’d mentioned the campaign and asked for a donation.

“Will the new millage go toward the Farmington Road streetscape?” Jill asked.

Jill’s business is on Farmington Road, where the streetscape makeover project is long overdue, as the contrast with the downtown’s other main drag couldn’t be greater: one a narrow, tree-lined street with benches, brick-paved crosswalks, and twinkling lights; the other a barren, five-lane concrete speedway with nary a flower in sight.

The answer to her question was a resounding “absolutely.”

“How much do you need?” Jill asked. “Let me get my checkbook.” And without batting an eye, she wrote out a check for $700. “There you go,” she said. “You’re covered.”

With the holiday season just around the corner, HVAC contractors can expect to be asked to support any number of charitable efforts. Maybe it’s the Girl Scouts, the Goodfellows, your church, your kid’s hockey league, the high school orchestra. Some contractors have reported getting up to a dozen requests a week.

“Nearly all of the causes you’ll be asked to support are worthwhile causes,” said Butch Welsch, owner, Welsch Heating & Cooling Co. in St. Louis. “It’s important for you to make wise business decisions regarding where and how to spend the funds you’ve allocated for such purposes … In other words, if I’m solicited by a customer to sponsor a hole at a golf tournament, I take into consideration the likely participants and question if the attendees are, or may soon be, customers, as well.”

What else to consider? Try looking for groups and causes whose work will end up giving back, in one way or another, to your business. Take Jill’s example. Thanks to the “vote yes” campaign that she helped fund, voters passed the millage at a solid 62 percent. And her investment will pay off bigtime over the next few years. When funds start rolling in and the streetscape becomes a reality, Jill’s business will directly benefit from the crosswalks, the on-street parking, and all the foot traffic that the well-lit, walkable atmosphere will bring to her storefront.

When we make a charitable donation, we’re making an investment with our business dollars. And, as with any investment, you’ll want it to be a win-win for you and the party you’re working with. Maybe it’s worth supporting the local robotics team or a program at the community college — an investment in your community’s next generation of hands-on workers. Or perhaps you’ll come up with an out-of-the-box initiative like the Domino’s “Paving for Pizza” program, where the company paid for workers to fix potholes, then stenciled the Domino’s logo onto some of the newly smoothed streets.

“We don’t want to lose any great-tasting pizza to a pothole,” the company wrote in a press release. And you don’t want to lose work hours to a flat tire on one of your service vans.

How’s that for a gift that keeps on giving?

Publication date: 11/26/2018

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