Commitment to the Community: Why it Matters
By John Caron, Senior Marketing Manager for Sports Fields and Grounds, The Toro Company
“Our American tradition of neighbor helping neighbor has always been one of our greatest strengths and most noble traditions.” – Ronald Reagan
Many of our days are so full that the thought of pursuing community service is overwhelming. When we have our own work to do, how could we possibly help others? At Toro, we have learned that helping others, actually helps ourselves – both personally and with our business objectives.
Being philanthropic doesn’t have to be too costly. The right community partnership can increase your company’s visibility, increase sales and be a great feel good activity for employees.
Active community partnerships reflect a company’s brand and mission, and can build its business case. In fact, 82 percent of business leaders say good citizenship has helped their bottom line, according to a 2003 report by Center for Corporate Citizenship, Boston College, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Corporate Citizenship. More than half of these leaders say corporate citizenship is part of their business strategy.
Mowing for a Cause: Toro and Notre Dame
For example, this past fall, The Toro Company united efforts with the University of Notre Dame for an event called “Mow for a Cause.” This national day of service was carried out by the Notre Dame alumni association, which solicited the help it members to help beautify local communities in Indiana, Oregon and Florida. Toro helped sponsor “Mow for a Cause” by providing equipment to help with the clean-up efforts in each of the cities.
As part of the event, alumni in South Bend, Ind., partnered with local volunteers to rake, trim shrubs and collect debris in a local neighborhood undergoing revitalization. Meanwhile, in Portland, alumni spruced up the yard of a home for young mothers. Postponed until January 2005 because of the hurricanes, nearly 100 alumni and volunteers in Ocala, Fla., plan to team up with youth to mow, trim shrubs and clean up the grounds of a local high school devastated by recent hurricanes.
In addition, the participating organizations invited local media to the event to tell the story of how Notre Dame and Toro were working together to make a difference in communities across the country. As a result, the event received media coverage in local newspapers and on TV stations.
By partnering with a visible organization like Notre Dame and leveraging media opportunities, Toro was able to get some low-cost publicity, showcase its products and most importantly, leave the communities it touched and its client, in this case Notre Dame, with a positive feeling about the company and the turf equipment industry.
Toro’s dedication to community has influenced our distributors to develop their own programs. These are a couple of examples of great work being done in Pennsylvania and Indianapolis.
Keeping Little League Green
Since 1959, the Howard J. Lamade Stadium in Williamsport, Penn., has hosted the annual Little League Baseball World Series every August. More than 30 games take place during this 10-day event that takes place at Lamade Stadium and the Little League Volunteer Stadium. While the Little League organization employs two full-time turf professionals to maintain the fields leading up to the World Series, the full-timers depend on a mass of volunteers and donations from across the country to ensure the turf stays in top playing condition throughout the tournament.
Although the largest and most popular venue, Williamsport is just one of eight Little League World Series events held across the country that depend on volunteers to make the playing field conditions nearly perfect for this pinnacle event in youth baseball.
“Volunteer participation is essential to help us meet the expectations of the players, coaches and fans who come to play on and experience the greatest Little League field in the world,” said Chris Downs, spokesperson for Little League Baseball and Softball.
A good number of those who support the Little League World Series events are businesses and professionals from the turf and landscape industry who lend their equipment, expertise and experience to help prepare and maintain the fields during the competition.
One of those businesses is Philadelphia Turf Co. (PTC), a turf and irrigation equipment distributor that services homeowners, golf courses, schools, parks and sports facilities in Eastern Pennsylvania. Through the years, PTC has loaned turf utility vehicles to the Little League World Series in Williamsport so volunteers can quickly and easily haul infield mix and other supplies used to recondition and prepare the fields during the competition.
Tom Drayer, PTC sales director, says his organization gets involved in the youth baseball tournament and other community activities because it’s fun and raises the profile of the turf industry.
“When we help with community events, we’re doing what we know best. It’s good for our industry and it’s good for the people we help,” said Drayer.
In addition to the Little League World Series, PTC offers free turf management seminars for grounds personnel at schools in their service area.
Drayer admits that community involvement doesn’t always lead to increased sales for his business, but he believes being seen as a good neighbor can have a significant impact on the business’ sustainability.
“Our focus is customer service and customer satisfaction,” he said. “Doing things in the community makes everyone feel good about doing business with you. They see you as someone they can get help from and depend on.”
Lending Turf Expertise = Good Neighbor
Nationally, turf and landscape organizations are getting involved in their communities because they see unmet needs and the positive impact of lending their expertise. Volunteering is a “feel good” experience for turf professionals, plus it beautifies the community, elevates the turf industry and can even lead to additional or increased business opportunities.
For example, Dan Gamble, commercial sales manager for Indianapolis-based turf and irrigation equipment distributor Kenny Corporation, is proud of his organization’s involvement in a number of community activities, such as revitalizing inner-city baseball fields and leading sports turf education programs for students. Currently, Kenny is working to establish a summer internship program with a major university in Indiana.
Gamble says the company gets involved in these activities because giving back to the community is the right thing to do. And, he believes community involvement has the potential to contribute to his company’s bottom line.
“Part of living in the community means you have to give and take,” said Gamble. “Turf is our area of expertise, so we have to give back to the community what we take. Our involvement has provided opportunities for sales growth, which has allowed us to expand our sales force.”
As demonstrated by these organizations, getting involved in the community doesn’t require a lot of resources. However, if and when an organization decides to become a community partner, there are steps they can take to maximize the positive impact of their efforts on the community, their business and the industry. Community involvement should be well thought out and pursued in a way that’s beneficial to the professional and his or her business.
Following are four important principles to consider to ensure an organization gets the most value out of its community relations efforts:
1. Go in with the right attitude. Do a project for the right reason, which is first and foremost to be of service to your community. There’s no question that making a commitment to help out in the community takes time and resources, but when you focus on the positive difference it makes in the lives of those you’re helping, the community will notice – especially those whose lives you’ve impacted directly.
2. Be selective. Each community has its own unique set of needs, and one organization obviously can’t meet them all. To have a successful community relations program, where possible, seek out and help organizations that have a natural connection to the turf and landscape arena. This allows you to use your knowledge, expertise and resources where they will be most useful and appreciated. Finding an organization that is visible or attractive to the media may also be a key factor to use when selecting where to direct your resources.
3. Show your pride. People have an appetite to hear the good news that goes on in their communities. While it may sound a little self-serving, finding a community organization that attracts media attention is good for enhancing the reputation of your organization, as well as offering exposure for the organization you’re supporting. Getting attention in the media is a great way to show you’re a good neighbor and an organization worth doing business with. Where possible, use some creativity to add spice to the event to make it unique and interesting for those involved.
4. Make a consistent commitment. If you have success with a project (and the resources to keep it going), find a way to make your project a regular event. A consistent pattern of involvement helps build lasting relationships with the community, and can often lead to relationships with future customers. For example, volunteering time at a school may lead that district to see you as a trusted partner and want to do business with you when they have turf and landscape needs in the future.
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