Beth Franken is a writer, editor, and associate broker with Weichert REALTORS®-Nickle Group in Oak Park, Illinois.
It Takes an Army
REALTORS® Joseph and JoAnn Callaway multiply the effect of their good works by harnessing the power of an entire industry.
August 30, 2017
Husband-and-wife real estate team Joseph and JoAnn Callaway have earned remarkable success since starting out in the business 20 years ago. They’ve become known affectionately as “those Callaways,” a nod to the company Joseph and JoAnn, both CRS, built in Scottsdale, Ariz., called Those Callaways Real Estate. As Joseph likes to joke: “Between the two of us, we make one good agent.” But together, the two REALTORS® have enlisted an army of Good Samaritans to mobilize for a larger cause: the Salvation Army.
It started around 2013, when their real estate business was booming and they had just published a bestselling book, Clients First, which sums up their business philosophy. But in the back of their minds, they were still looking for something more fulfilling.
“We were donors and check-writers,” Joseph says. “But all my life, I wanted to make a difference,” JoAnn adds. A mutual friend suggested the couple meet with Marlene Klotz Collins, an advisory board member of the Phoenix Salvation Army. Over lunch, Collins described the organization’s work with the homeless, victims of domestic violence, disaster relief, substance abuse recovery, low-income senior housing, and after-school programs.
“I talked for two hours about how the Salvation Army meets the needs of whatever is dictated by the community in which it serves—in every ZIP code in America,” Collins recalls. “Then I got to the part about the kettles …”
It’s a familiar sight during the holidays: people standing outside a store, ringing a bell next to a large red kettle and soliciting donations. Sometimes, they are Salvation Army volunteers as opposed to paid workers. Often, that increases donations because people like seeing someone they know at the kettle.
“We learned that it was easy to get volunteers to ring the bells on weekends,” Joseph says. “But Wednesdays were a challenge. The Army was paying minimum-wage workers to ring bells on Wednesdays. So JoAnn said, ‘We can do Wednesdays.’ And by dinnertime, she had volunteered everyone in the real estate community in Maricopa County.”
The Callaways dubbed their effort “Real Estate Wednesdays,” and word quickly spread. In four short years, more than 2,000 REALTORS® have volunteered to ring the bells, generating nearly $1 million in donations to the Salvation Army. “There isn’t an industry in America [where people have] bigger hearts than REALTORS®,” JoAnn says. “We just highlighted an opportunity for others to give.”
A Feat of Supply-Chain Ergonomics
But that was just the beginning. As they deepened their commitment, the Callaways toured a Salvation Army warehouse where donations are sorted and readied for thrift stores. Next to the warehouse is the residence for the Adult Rehabilitation Centers, a six-month housing and work program for recovering drug addicts. The free program is fully funded by Salvation Army thrift stores.
“As REALTORS®, everyone we know is moving. We felt it was our mission to help the Salvation Army fill their trucks. It’s something as an industry we can do.” —JoAnn Callaway
So the Callaways’ next big idea was to enlist real estate practitioners to generate more donations. After all, they know people who are downsizing and decluttering. The trick was to figure out how to ensure that Salvation Army would be top of mind for the pros whose help they solicited.
They created an initiative called “Real Estate for Rehabilitation” and came up with a simple yet beguiling marketing device: an eight-inch toy replica of a Salvation Army vehicle. The figurine’s trailer holds a stack of Salvation Army business cards with information for scheduling donation pick-ups. The Callaways created the prototype themselves, ordering hundreds of plain white toy trucks from a manufacturer and having their own art department design and apply Salvation Army decals. Then they sent the trinkets to be placed in real estate and title offices around the country.
The results have been significant. In Phoenix, donation pick-ups have grown from 38,000 in 2014 to more than 45,000 in 2015 and almost 49,000 in 2016. The increase in quantity has been accompanied by an increase in quality, which, in 2016, translated into a revenue increase of a half-million dollars. This funding has enabled the Salvation Army’s men’s rehabilitation program to more than double in size. A women’s program also has been added.
Taking the Show on the Road
These days, the Callaways attend two to eight real estate events around the country per month, bringing their signage, collateral, toy trucks, and testimony with them. Their goal is to let others in the industry know how easy it is to get involved in their charitable movement—and how great their impact can be.
Vote for the Callaways to win up to $2,500 in bonus grant money for their charity at realtor.com/goodneighbor.
How do they balance their work life with such a brutal travel schedule? “The truth is we don’t,” JoAnn says, “but we wouldn’t have it any other way.” They credit a supportive office staff, who has backed them up since they first started their business. The 30-person team now does more than $100 million in sales annually.
It’s also energizing for the Callaways to see their message resonating all over the country. In Orange County, Calif., for example, REALTOR® groups have promoted the Salvation Army during estate clean-outs, which helps increase donations. “We’ve averaged five to seven Real Estate for Rehabilitation estate clean-outs per week in Anaheim,” says ARC administrator Major Grady Brown.
In Tampa, Fla., REALTORS® have joined the Salvation Army’s advisory council, promoting the organization’s services and elevating its brand visibility. “I have no doubt the REALTOR® community has contributed in a positive fashion to our overall donor base,” says Major Katherine Hodder-Reed, director of special services for the Tampa ARC. In fact, the Tampa ARC program has been so successful that it is breaking ground on a new facility exclusively for women and adding to the 163 beds in the men’s facility.
A 31-year-old man named J.J. recently graduated from the program after losing everything to drug addiction—his job, home, and connection to family and friends. He enrolled in the Tampa ARC on Jan. 1. “At first, I was skeptical about the program,” he says. “But then I realized how much impact it could have to be able to work and build confidence.” J.J. says the program’s work schedule provided structure, purpose, and stability. Also helpful was “the fellowship of other guys also trying to stay in recovery,” he adds.
Today, J.J. is transformed. He’s clean and working, and he’s reconnected with his family. “People should come and see the place,” he says. “It definitely provides a lot of hope.”
But perhaps the greatest transformation of all has been with the Callaways themselves. “We didn’t know something was missing from our lives,” JoAnn says. “But when you get into what we do now, you find out what’s missing. It’s truly changed our lives 1,000 percent in every way.”