Charity involvement reflects the character of your company
It was eight years ago that then-TC West Football Coach Tim Wooer approached me about a grand plan to make the big cross-town rivalry football game in Traverse City even bigger. Tim had been shaken to the core when one of his former players from Kingsley, Justin Hansen, had been killed serving his country in Afghanistan. Tim wanted to use this big game to honor Veterans and all those in active duty military. My then-boss, Bill Marsh Jr., and I fully embraced his idea. From that meeting came the T.C. Patriot Game.
It’s a game that has grown far beyond anything any of us had ever imagined. 10,000 to 13,000 people wildly cheer and support our Veterans, active duty military and first responders, in a pre-game ceremony that includes a fly-over by a Coast Guard helicopter. Players from both teams shake the hands of hundreds of Veterans while the name of Justin Hansen and 13 other northern Michigan residents who have recently been Killed In Action are read to a somber crowd. It brings so many Veterans to tears, and gives goose bumps to the thousands in the stands. It also raised $81,000 to support a variety of Veteran causes through the sale of commemorative shirts and sponsorships.
The TC Patriot Game has become the highlight of my year. I’m proud to have played a part in the game, along with a group of organizers that are dedicated to help Veterans.
The TC Patriot Game is just one organization I have been blessed to be involved with over the years. Bill Marsh and his brothers are generous in so many ways, with so many organizations. Sometimes their participation was shown by writing checks, other times it may have been rolling up their sleeves and asking their employees to do the same for a worthy cause. I was constantly told that as a company, we did not compete with other dealerships on the charities we supported. We got involved because we believed in the cause. As a results we asked our competition if they wanted to join us in events like the TC Patriot Game – we were always much stronger as a group, rather than as an individual company.
So we did things like teaming up with Fox Motors, Williams Chevy and Serra of Traverse City on Toys for Tots and the TC Patriot Game. We worked with our competition on the Katie Heintz Tournament, the Walk Against Suicide, Jobs for Vets, Gladhander and so many more events.
Due to their support of community events, the Marsh family was the first stop for any group doing a fundraiser. Like all successful businesses, we had to make painful decisions on which worthy organizations to support, and which ones to reject. Because the reality is, you can’t support them all. I was involved in many of those discussions and in some cases became an advocate for many of those events and organizations.
So how do you decide which ones to support?
- First, you need to determine if the cause is worthwhile. You can be dragged down in a public relations nightmare if the cause you supported ends up being a scam, or run by shady people.
- Secondly, ask if you, your staff or maybe your customers have a passion for the cause. It’s easy to get employee involvement if they strongly support what you are doing. Charity events and fundraisers can be an excellent team-building exercise.
- Third, ask if your involvement can make an impact. If you are just providing a small drop of water to a huge ocean of need, it can be tougher to get support.
- Fourth, can you get media support for the cause? Your media partners can be a critical key for the success for any event. Is there a chance you can bring them in as a sponsor?
- Fifth, is there a public relations “halo” that you can give to your business as a result of your involvement? There are plenty of times it’s not appropriate to take credit for your support of a cause. But that “halo” can speak volumes about the character of your company and your people. If the “halo” is appropriate, go ahead and claim it.
- Sixth, can your involvement help shine a spotlight on a chronic problem in the community. I witnessed that through support of the Walk Against Suicide last year. On average, one person dies by suicide in the US every seven-hours. But it’s a subject we don’t like to talk about it. By supporting the walk we helped create a public discussion about suicide prevention. The event was one of the biggest suicide prevention fundraiser walks in the country.
- Seventh, and it probably goes without saying. Do what you can, and do it for all the right reasons.
Involvement in the local community can make any business stand out. Amazon will probably never support the local suicide prevention walk, the Big Brothers Big Sisters Bowl For Kid’s Sake, the annual toy drive of Toys for Tots of Northwest Michigan, the TC Patriot Game, or other causes that local businesses backed. It reinforces the reason why your customers should shop locally.
You are judged by the company you keep. If that company is critical to the backbone of the community, then that judgment should be very kind.