The Benefits of Giving
It's that time of year when individuals and corporations evaluate their gift-giving, donations and charitable contributions, whether it's for personal or community reasons or for a tax deduction.
Independent dealerships all over the country are inundated with requests from local or national organizations that could benefit from the dealer’s generosity.
But in a highly competitive business environment with profit margins continuing to thin, why should a dealership choose to use its time and resources for charitable donations, volunteer work or community projects?
According to independent dealers who have made contributions and volunteered their time and effort, the result is not only good for the community – it benefits their business as well.
Giving, the dealers explained, increases their employees’ engagement and morale, serves as a marketing tool to advertise the business, improves the dealership’s reputation, differentiates it from the competition and, of course, provides a tax deduction.
In addition, they said, charity and community service work raises the dealership’s profile on social media, which helps grow the customer base, leading to more sales and increased profits.
It’s the classic win-win scenario.
“There are more and more businesses engaging in philanthropy,” said managing partner Russ Hodge of the Hodge Group, which specializes in advising corporations on philanthropic programs. “That’s because the economy is up and successful CEOs know that aligning with certain charitable organizations brings prestige and excitement and positions the company as a good community citizen that cares about the well-being of the public.”
Dealers across the nation have seen the positive effects of charity and community service on their businesses, in addition to the good it does for those in need.
“I’ve been supporting a number of charities and organizations in my city for the past 25 years with donations, fundraising, sponsorships and giveaways,” said Bobby Petersen, president of Fairly Reliable Bob’s in Boise, Idaho. “Not only does it retain and increase the enthusiasm of our employees but it differentiates us in our community and sets us apart. Other dealerships see us as leaders.
“Plus, having our name on the courtesy van we donate to local groups and the local television and press coverage we receive for helping Toys For Tots or our local veterans brings in new customers who want to support our dealership and our initiatives.”
NIADA president-elect and NIADA Foundation vice chairman Henry Millinax focused some of his many donations toward students in his community attending vocational and technical schools.
For 18 years, his dealership, Mullinax Auto Sales in Oxford, Ala., paid for a weekly ad in the local newspaper to highlight two exceptional students at those schools. At the end of the school year, one of those students was selected to receive a scholarship.
“Those students are usually under- represented for scholarships,” he said. “We were helping the students gain recognition for their hard work, and all of their family members – aunts, uncles, grandparents – were clipping those newspaper articles as keepsakes and could see my dealership sponsored it.
“I could have spent more money on a newspaper ad for my cars, but this was
a better, more long-lasting return on my investment. It solidified our dealership’s name in the community and the student’s relatives came to my dealership first when they were looking for a car.”
While some dealers grumble about spending money to donate to charities, especially given today’s slimmer, tighter profits, Justin Osburn, NIADA’s Retail 20 Groups moderator and author of Used Car Dealer magazine’s Retail Ready series, has a suggestion.
Take the bottom 10 percent of the dealership’s advertising budget, he said – the part that’s not performing as planned or hoped – and use that money for charitable giving.
Dealerships new to the philanthropy area might want to discuss their plans with an attorney and a tax advisor to avoid possible compliance issues. The tax implications will depend in large part on how the dealership is set up and its state’slaws and regulations, Hodges said. Larry Alton, an author who has described effective marketing tips for corporate philanthropy in Forbes magazine, has another idea: Identify ways your business can give back without providing direct financial contributions.
Those could include employee workdays for charities or community causes, providing free services to local or national organizations, or hosting fundraising or volunteer events.
When you give your time, energy, and creativity, Alton wrote, your involvement seems more genuine in the eyes of others.
That formula works for Matthews Motors, a family-owned and operated dealership with three locations in North Carolina. Its president, Steve Matthews, said dealerships can use their talents, rather than monetary donations, to make a difference.“Fix a group’s fence,” he said, “rebuild
a veteran’s home or open your dealership for an organization’s fundraiser, such as a car wash.”
Why to donate and how aren’t the only questions to be answered when it comes to charitable giving. Another is to whom?
Hodge suggested dealers choose one particular organization or a specific area, such as health care or the arts, for their donations.
“It’s a good way to brand your dealership,” he said, “rather than being all over the map.”
Ron Rigdon has taken that advice ever since he opened Ron’s Auto Sales in Lawrenceville, Ga., in 2002. His main focus, as was that of his late wife Debbie, was to provide for children, mainly in the local community.
“We decided our mission would be to help disadvantaged children,” he said. “Since the first day we opened, we chose to operate as a Christian business impacting children. That could be through efforts at group and foster homes, women’s shelters and the VFW National Home for Children.
“We are blessed with a successful dealership and everything it’s brought to our family over the years, and we couldn’t think of a better recipient for our labor than God’s children.”
The dealership’s signature event is the annual Santa’s Toy Run, which will celebrate its 11th anniversary this month. Admission to the two-day road racing event at nearby Road Atlanta is free with the donation of a new, unwrapped toy or gift card with a value of $20 or more. Fans can also purchase ride-alongs in a race car for an additional donation.
The charity race donates the toys and money to a variety of local causes, such as Partnership Against Domestic Violence, Camp Boggy Creek and the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter.
Sometimes charity work can hit close to home, as Petersen of Fairly Reliable Bob’s can attest. He began his efforts in 1993, raising funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and soon began to help with type 1 juvenile diabetes research, donating a Corvette to be raffled off for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation each year.
Three months after he began working with JDRF, his young daughter was diagnosed with the disease.
“I spend a lot of time immersed in the community in between auto sales and managing the dealership, but it pays dividends,” Petersen said. “I’m out every weekend meeting new people who contribute funds to Camp Hodia, or bike riders who raise $5,000 each for JDRF to ride with us through Death Valley in 100-degree heat.
“This year we raised $108,000 for JDRF. It’s a great way to spread goodwill, and many of them come to the dealership looking for me.”
As social media has continued to grow, it’s become one of the most important channels for reaching customers and prospects.
It’s also more easily measured than other types of advertising – can you count how many people drove by your billboard or listened to your radio ad? But a dealer can write a check to a charity, run a photo or video of the presentation on the dealership’s Facebook page and see exactly how many people like or comment on the donation.
And NIADA’s Justin Osburn notes social media is also the perfect place for dealerships and the people or organizations they’ve helped to share information about that philanthropic work.
Take Lakeside Auto Group’s Pay
It Forward truck, which has its own Facebook page. Every Wednesday for the past four years, the site has followed a 2016 Chevrolet Silverado carrying the logo of Lakeside Auto Group in Erie, Pa., as its partners – local TV stations WJET 24, FOX 66 and their website, YourErie. com – provide clues to the truck’s location.
Those who find the truck can draw a card from dealership president (and NIADA president) Andy Gabler. The person who draws the highest card can choose a deserving recipient to receive $300 donated by the dealership.
Each donation is covered by the TV stations and runs as a weekly segment on their local news programs. It’s also promoted on social media platforms, at local events and by word of mouth.
The Pay It Forward program started as a community-based movement based on the idea of giving people in the northwestern Pennsylvania community a way to help others in need, Gabler said.
In doing so, it has also become a rolling advertisement for the dealership – as the truck drives around town, people wave, honk and even try to flag it down.
The dealership has also used its Facebook page to advertise fundraisers for other good causes, such as the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer program.
In Clayton, N.C., Matthews Motors uses a number of its social media sites to promote charitable causes and community messages, including a “We Care” note on its Facebook page for customers affected by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina.
On its Instagram account, Matthews Motors has posted several photos of Lauren Walsh, Miss Clayton, N.C., at its dealership helping raise funds for various local causes. One of them, which received 128 likes, asked those who would be coming to the sweeps pageant to donate to Clayton Area Ministries, one of the dealership’s favorite causes.
Of course, philanthropy not only attracts customers – it engages employees, as well.
Involving them in the charity work and helping them with their causes raises morale and helps retain staff. If, for example, the dealership’s sales manager coaches a local football team, buying his players new cleats would build a tremendous amount of loyalty with the sales manager – and potential customers.
During the annual Santa’s Toy Run, Ron Rigdon shuts down Ron’s Auto Sales for three days while his employees help with the event.
“Our employees are absolutely involved,” he said. “They are our eyes and ears in the community. They bring in new charities for us to help out.”
A favorite event for Fairly Reliable Bob’s employees is its annual toy drive for Toys For Tots, now in its 10th year.
The dealership works with local stores and sets up discounts of 20-50 percent off various toys. The dealership’s delighted employees take its van and the company credit card and buy $3,000 worth of toys to donate. A local Scout troop lends a hand organizing the toys and a local television station provides positive press.
Of course, the most obvious and immediate effects of philanthropy and volunteerism are visible in the community.
Matthews Motors supports more than 15 local charities and youth programs. The town’s food pantry at Clayton Area Ministries, which feeds 600-700 people a month in the town of 20,000, is a top priority for the dealership.
“The need is tremendous,” Matthews said. “We are blessed so we can be a blessing.” Randy Crump, president of Friendly Auto Sales in the small town of Jasper, Ala. – and NIADA’s 2018 National Quality Dealer – buys locally from his fellow mom-and-pop shops rather than traveling 40 miles to Birmingham to shop. His dealership donates to his local church, the local Boy Scout council and the Salvation Army, and has donated a van to a local homeless shelter.
“When you support your local community, they support you,” he said. “And they come back to buy cars from me.”
A dealership in Pueblo, Colo., found a cause to help after one of its cars was stolen. When the sheriff came to Southwest Motors, owner Mike Zavislan noticed peeling paint on the police cars.
To thank the department for its service, Zavislan spearheaded the business community’s effort to repaint the city’s older police cruisers, donating $2,200 a month until they were all painted.
“I didn’t make that donation to promote my business,” he said. “I wanted to quietly help our community and allow our police department to look good. Being in the car business, it made perfect sense for us to do that kind of work.”
His dealership has found other ways to provide for the community, too.
In the fall, it donated dictionaries to impoverished students in a third grade class. It matches dollar-for-dollar its employees’ contributions to the United Way of Pueblo County. It has donated a van to a homeless shelter. It’s also the sponsor of the Southwest Motors Events Center at the Colorado State Fair.
For dealers who don’t yet understand the value of philanthropy, Henry Mullinax has some advice.
“We all know the independent automobile dealership business is very stressful, competitive and full of pressure,” he said. “We also know our dealers have big hearts and don’t get the recognition they deserve for that.
“But I can guarantee that any dealer who begins to give back to your community will see a change in your outlook on life. You’ll be more positive, happier and more content. You’ll see the joy you bring to others.” And isn’t that what we all desire during this holiday season?