Reaping the Rewards: Brokers Give Back

Brokers take creative approaches to their charitable giving and give their businesses a boost at the same time.

November 1, 2008

Passion for a good cause helps the community; it also reinforces business success. 

If you’ve ever seen the glories of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge from the air, you’ll understand why a ride over the gorge with a local pilot always receives a high bid at the annual auction sponsored by the Oregon branch of Helping Hands Against Violence. 

The pilot is Paul Thompson, ABR®, a sales associate at Windermere Glen Taylor Real Estate in Hood River. And while his main goal is to help a deserving cause, the auction is a business booster, too.

Charity work and real estate success have long gone hand in hand (See our 2008 Good Neighbor Award winners), but today brokerages are finding creative ways to leverage their philanthropic role in their communities as a source of name recognition and business growth.

"Our sales associates really believe in the work of Helping Hands Against Violence," says Kim Salvesen, ABRM, CRB, broker-owner at Glen Taylor, "but there’s a great side benefit, especially to newer associates who are still building their spheres of influence. You could probably say 70 percent of business for our new associates is through the sphere of influence they’ve developed by working on the auction and other volunteer activities."

In 2007, the auction brought in about $15,000. The 22 associates at Salvesen’s company donated items or services to the auction and scoured the local business community for donations. Her associates also have a prominent presence at the auction itself, either as volunteers or as bidders.

A New Way to Run a Race

When her brokerage, Cardinal Realty Co. in St. Paul, Minn., wanted to raise money for a charitable organization that combats juvenile diabetes—a condition that’s been on the rise as people live more sedentary lifestyles—June Wiener, ABR®, CRS®, organized a race in her brokerage’s name around the picturesque Como Lake in the city’s downtown.

To address many people’s reluctance to pit themselves against others competitively, Wiener added a twist. Participants estimate the amount of time it will take them to circle the lake. The person whose actual time comes closest to the estimate wins. 

"We just wanted to make it an enjoyable event, not something that some people would find intimidating," says Wiener, one of the company’s sales associates.

The race, held every January, brings in about $1,000 for the charity, but for Cardinal, a family-owned brokerage that’s been in the community since the 1950s, it’s also a chance to remind past customers and its 15 associates’ spheres of influence of the company’s community ties.

"You know how people are," says Wiener. "They tend to forget about you. You want to do some things that keep your company in mind not only as real estate professionals but as people who are connected to our community."

To publicize the event, which it’s hosted for five years, the brokerage inserts a blurb in its community newspaper’s events calendar, puts up flyers in the model homes of the new-home communities it sells, and devotes one of its regular postcard mailings to the race. 

For the first time this year it also sent out an e-mail blast to its customer list.

"We get a good mix of customers at the race," says Wiener, but the marketing actually generates more donations from people who don’t attend. The e-mail blast facilitated donations because recipients had only to hit a reply button to make a gift.

Connecting with a Special Group

For the associates at Liz Moore and Associates in Newport News, Va., the benefits of their company’s high-visibility backing of the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk has become a key way to promote their relocation business.

"When relocating families are thinking of where in the Virginia peninsula to go, the hospital is an important factor," says Liz Moore, who has made the hospital her chief charitable focus since she launched the brokerage in 2003.

The brokerage has raised $40,000 for the hospital and promotes its involvement in listing presentations, on its Web site, in print marketing materials, and even on fax cover sheets with the tag, "We support the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters with more than just applause." The company donates a small percentage of each commission to the charity. 

Donations also come from several fundraisers including an annual gala. Last year, Moore’s company promoted the event with a postcard mailing to its 15,000-person marketing database and netted 250 attendees.

"Our gala marketing was just to our clients, but we do general marketing for the hospital as part of our regular print media campaign," says Moore. 

These campaigns are tied in thematically with the same tag line used on the company’s fax sheets and include a recurring graphic image of two children, created by her company’s graphic designer. "We just rotate promotions for the hospital with our institutional print ads," she says.

One of the unintended results of the company’s effort is the awareness of the brokerage among the medical community. "We’ve relocated a couple of the local doctors, so the folks at the hospital are very aware of what we do. I think that definitely raises our brand awareness at the hospital," says Moore.

Joining an Influential League

Although many of the hundreds of sales associates at Prudential Carolinas Realty in the Triad area of North Carolina were already deeply involved in their communities—especially in the Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas—the company embraced the chance to partner with the area Junior League as a major sponsor of the charity’s annual rummage sale.

"We believe so much in the mission of the Junior League," says Emily Workman, the brokerage’s marketing director. "And it’s a great opportunity for us to touch some people we wouldn’t ordinarily reach with just our general marketing. Junior League members had something like 20,000 volunteer hours in our area last year, so these are people out in our community."

The Junior League rummage sale, held every spring at the Dixie Classic Fairgrounds in Winston-Salem, is a giant affair, spread out over 60,000 square feet and attended by as many as 5,000 people over the course of its weekend run. Since becoming the event’s chief sponsor two years ago, the brokerage has been leveraging its marketing muscle to keep turnout strong at the sale.

"We include the rummage sale in all the advertising we do in the weeks leading up to the sale," says Workman. "That includes everything from television to radio to weekly listing advertising in the newspaper to Web advertising. For our newspaper advertising, we always include special headers for all of our listing pages with the Junior League’s special logo for the rummage sale next to ours, as well as the date and time of the sale," she says. 

In return, the Junior League displays the brokerage’s logo prominently in its marketing material and at the event itself. Many associates also work at the sale.

The result: "We’re in a lot more positive news stories that we don’t necessarily push ourselves," says Workman. "And we definitely get a lot of goodwill from it. We hear people when they talk about the rummage sale say, ‘Oh. You sponsor that.’ So, I think it’s becoming more obvious to people in the community that this is a project that we’re working on."

Charity that Fits the Business

Mark Deutschmann, CRS®, GRI, broker-owner of Village Real Estate Services in Nashville, Tenn., integrated charitable giving into his operation by giving a 5 percent equity stake in his company to the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation

The foundation takes its share of the company dividends and cuts checks to dozens of organizations whose missions are closely aligned with the smart growth focus of Deutschmann’s company. That focus—walkable communities, historic preservation, inclusive land use, sustainable economies—is charitable. But it also directly impacts the environment in which Deutschmann’s company does business.

"Our corporate mission is to counter sprawl and move Nashville back toward to its downtown core," says Deutschmann, who launched his brokerage in 1996. Today, the company does development, home finance, escrow, rental management, and commercial brokerage in addition to residential sales.

Last year the company’s dividends to the Tides Foundation, coupled with donations from the company’s 190 sales associates and their customers, totaled $220,000 and helped to fund 75 nonprofits. Associates can recommend which recipient organizations they want to receive their funds and tie these choices into their own marketing efforts.

In one case, Deutschmann’s company helped an environmental group raise money by donating Village Real Estate’s commission on one property to the group. The company later received referrals from members of the nonprofit.

"I do think that consumers, particularly those tied to some of the groups we’re supporting, think, ‘Wow, they’re doing a great thing; I’d like to sell my house through them.’"

For each and every one of these brokers, doing good is its own reward. Still, by being out in their communities, employing their own marketing muscle to promote charitable causes, and gaining positive brand recognition as a result, these companies are helping themselves do more business.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.