December 1, 2011

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What Goes Around

Giving Helps Companies Strengthen Ties to the Community

Tom Haraldsen

December 1, 2011

It is better to give than to receive. So we’ve been told from an early age, though few of us as youngsters truly understood that principle. Corporate America does, however.

Each year, particularly at Christmastime, businesses and corporations team up with local and national charities and nonprofit organizations to spread the wealth. In 2010, that generously amounted to just under $300 billion in goods and services, according to a report in the Huffington Post

Why do companies do it? Does charitable giving help enhance their brands, and does it have any long-term benefits for those companies beyond just the simple initial recognition?

“I think all businesses have an obligation to give back something to their communities,” says Greg Willis, director of marketing for commercial real estate broker NAI West in Salt Lake City. “We’ve always placed an emphasis on being involved in our communities, and having our employees be involved as well.”

As an example, NAI West, which also works in property management and business acquisitions, allows its employees to have two paid days off each year for volunteer service—for non-religious, nonprofit service projects. NAI employees have also collected non-perishable food items for local shelters as part of inter-office competitions, such as this past fall’s Utah-BYU football game. Employees voted for the team of their choice through food contributions.

“We have donation boxes in our office for The Road Home, and a lot of our agents serve on boards of charitable organizations,” Willis says. “It gives them a chance to network with others, and there are a myriad of pluses that come out of it. The simple fact is that these efforts offer all of us a chance to give back.”

Perhaps there’s no greater example of a Utah-based business that actively gives back to the populace than that of the Harmons Grocery. Long-time supporter of the Special Olympics of Utah, the Lions Clubs’ Gift of Sight efforts and the Utah-Southern Idaho chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Harmons works with a myriad of nonprofit organizations each year.

“Working with community groups has always been very engaging and very moving for us,” says Bob Harmon, vice president for the 15-store chain that has locations from Ogden to St. George. “A lot of the dollars that we help these organizations raise stay right in their individual communities, and we see the good work they’re doing.”

Each holiday season, Harmons conducts its Food for Families campaign, where shoppers can purchase a preloaded bag of non-perishable food for needy families, subsidized in large part by Harmons. The program has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds of food to the Utah Food Bank. The annual turkey drive Harmons runs each fall with the Crossroads Urban Center grew to more than 8,000 birds donated to needy families last year.

For Harmon, the connection between what his company does and what the community needs seems obvious.

“It’s quite humbling to be in a business so closely tied to the community,” Harmon says. “Grocers are, by nature, a lot more grassroots than many other companies, and there’s a unique opportunity for us. There’s not a tremendous amount of places where people do gather, but the grocery retailer is typically a gathering place. And we Utahns are always glad to give back to others.”

Both Willis and Harmon agree that such philanthropic efforts benefit more than just the recipients of their goodwill.

“It helps all of us bond within the company,” Willis says. “Everyone seems to enjoy working for good causes—our agents, our leaders, everyone.”

“We feel a loyalty to our customers and the communities in which they live, and programs like we’ve developed and work with, I believe, help them feel loyal to us as well,” Harmon adds. “When you give back, you strengthen the community as a whole, and everyone benefits from that. We’re very blessed to be in a place where we can help others.”

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