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Charity Driven

January 1, 2007

The sense of gratitude you experience after improving someone else’s life makes it clear: Charity work is often its own reward. But when Realtor® associations get charitable, they often garner media attention and improve the perception of Realtors® along the way. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Going with what you know

Most Realtor® associations are involved in various charitable activities throughout the year. Although these projects have a positive impact on the community, many associations are realizing the extra benefits of charitable work with a real estate-related focus.

“Years ago, [we] conducted a plethora of charitable efforts, from planting trees to gathering items for the homeless, to the typical food and clothing drives,” says Melanie Green, communications director for the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors®. Then, five years ago, their Community Affairs Task Force recognized the need to put a greater focus on real estate-related charitable activities. “With more narrowly targeted efforts, we achieve greater success. [We also wanted] to be recognized for the industry in which our members work and thrive—as a real estate association, it made sense to devote our charitable efforts to real estate-related areas.”
In conjunction with the Housing Partnership of Northeast Florida, Green and her team developed the Realtors® Ramp It Up! program in 2004. Through members’ volunteer efforts, and with the aid of contractors provided by the Housing Partnership, the program builds wheelchair ramps for homebound citizens across several counties.

When the Hospitality Committee at the Midwest City-Del City-Moore Association of Realtors®, Okla., discussed upcoming charity events, one thing was clear: The desire to do something connected to the real estate industry was universal.

So the association tailor-made a Realtor® charity event that tied into the upcoming Oklahoma centennial.

“We scraped and painted a home for an elderly woman in the community who could not physically or financially keep her home up to city code,” says the association’s Peggy Missel. “We also mowed, cleared brush, and trimmed after completing the painting project. We called this our ‘100 Hour Blitz.’” By connecting the home-improvement project to the state’s 100th birthday, the Midwest City area was able to help an individual while improving the real estate of an entire neighborhood.

The fringe benefits

Aside from the sense of fellowship and service derived from charity work, Realtor® associations can attract valuable media attention as a direct result, especially when the events are industry-related. Welcoming this fringe benefit isn’t selfish—it’s smart.
“Giving back helps put our presence in the public eye,” says Amy DuBose, association executive for the San Marcos Area Board of Realtors®, Texas. “We’re included in many editions of our local newspaper throughout the year for the work that we do. When we do charity work for our community, it solidifies the Realtor® image as a positive one and promotes our organization. It adds to the already positive relationship we have with our city leaders and chamber of commerce.”

DuBose says that events such as her organization’s well-covered poker tournament, which raised more than $5,000 for Habitat for Humanity this year, are “win-win” projects. The association gets positive media attention, and Habitat for Humanity receives a sizable donation.

Although reporters and journalists know a good story when they see one, there’s nothing wrong with giving them a little nudge. In fact, without it, your association’s event might go largely unnoticed.
As education director for the Iowa City Area Association of Realtors®, Bonnie Hendrickson put a lot of effort into promoting its latest charity event, the association’s second annual “Scrub Your Paws for a Cause.” For the event, Realtors® and friends washed dogs for Iowa City residents, with all proceeds going to a local animal shelter.

“It seemed a natural fit,” says Hendrickson. “We’re in the business of helping people find homes. It seemed appropriate that we support efforts to find homes for our furry friends, as well.”

So how did they get the word out? “We sent press releases to all local media: print, radio, and television,” Hendrickson explains, with the goal of not only getting on as many calendars as possible, but also alerting the media to the photo-friendly aspect of the event.

The association also e-mailed reminders to the participants from the previous year, as well as association members and affiliates. “We created posters and smaller flyers to post at the dog park, in vet offices, pet supply stores, and any local businesses that were supportive.”

Thanks to all their hard work, the press took notice of this fun, family-friendly event.

Community support

Local businesses, like the ones that helped make Iowa City’s event a hit, can help by fostering greater visibility for the charity events Realtors® associations sponsor.

The Navaree Area Board of Realtors®, Fla., chooses to focus its charitable efforts on supporting the needs of the community’s large military presence. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a Navaree resident who does not have some kind of affiliation with the military,” says member Angela Campbell. That’s why Campbell’s association chose to lend support to Fisher House, a nonprofit organization that provides temporary living accommodations to injured servicemen and women returning home from duty.

“Probably the most gratifying part of the whole fund-raising experience has been the way local businesses have wholeheartedly embraced coming together in this shared cause,” says Campbell.

Building membership community

Brandy Purcell, executive officer of South Dakota’s Northern Black Hills Realtor® Association, notes that community support isn’t limited to the surrounding area—Realtor® offices come together, too. “It’s amazing how we’ve benefited from our program,” says Purcell, who helps organize the association’s Closings for Kids program, which gives Realtors® the opportunity to donate a portion of their closing fee to a children’s charity. “This program has brought the offices together. Competition aside, members work together to make the Northern Black Hills a better place for those in need. Offices are now working together on other community projects.”

This cooperation doesn’t go unnoticed outside the office, either. “We have changed the perception of our industry and our status within the community,” says Purcell. “We are perceived with a new level of professionalism and recognized as caring businessmen and -women who are not afraid to give back. The community knows who we are and calls upon us as a resource.”

And that kind of charitable reputation is its own reward, too.

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How to establish a charitable foundation

Establishing a charitable foundation can be one of the most rewarding projects an association undertakes. It may also involve a substantial amount of research and legalities. At REALTOR.org, there’s a wealth of resources accessible through the “Field Guide to Establishing a Charitable Foundation.” This data, including e-books, Websties, and legal tips, researched by NAR’s Virtual Library, should help those considering such an undertaking in deciding whether to do so—and how to accomplish this mission once that decision has been made.