Finding a charitable niche

Though many construction industry people desire to give back to their communities, no one has unlimited resources.

Choosing the “right” cause can help generous people make the most of their charitable efforts. But what criteria should companies consider before getting involved?

For Mike Bugbee, sales vice president of Simpson Strong-Tie, a worldwide provider of structural connection products based in Pleasanton, Calif., the company’s decision to support Habitat for Humanity was due to a common vision.

“Simpson Strong-Tie and Habitat share a similar goal of building safe, strong and affordable housing,” Bugbee points out. “By working together, we can spread that message more effectively.”

In evaluating charitable projects, Bugbee advises builders to “look at the value derived from a contribution,” both the value for the recipient and the satisfaction received by the giver.

“We wouldn’t tell another company what to do. But it should be something that relates to your products or services and that resonates with your employees on a personal level,” he explains.

Since Simpson Strong-Tie’s chief market is residential construction, the partnership with Habitat for Humanity is a natural fit.

“Like any good partnership, everyone benefits,” Bugbee says. “By our involvement we can help those who are less fortunate and create a better society by providing more opportunities for people to have safe living conditions. But our company also gets a lot of intangible benefits by working with Habitat.”

To illustrate the strength of this partnership, Simpson Strong-Tie participated in Habitat for Humanity’s 25th annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. The company contributed cash and structural connector products for 30 new homes along the devastated Gulf Coast, and recruited a team of 18 Simpson volunteers from across the country.

By making clear its corporate commitment to charity, the leadership of Simpson Strong-Tie has set a positive tone for its entire workforce.

Leading through example

“Our employees enjoy making a difference in their local communities. They can even point to Habitat houses they actually helped build,” Bugbee relates, “and this enhances morale because employees take pride in belonging to a company that’s doing something tangible.

“Volunteering for a Habitat project is a very rewarding experience and we’ve heard many positive comments from employees who have gotten involved,” Bugbee continues. “They’re able to truly help a family in need, which ultimately makes a community that much stronger.”

The experience is also educational. “It gives many employees their first exposure to how our products are actually installed, so that they gain a greater appreciation of how the manufacturer is an integral part of the building process.”

Being involved with Habitat for Humanity has given Simpson Strong-Tie, which has been in business for half a century, a greater focus for its charitable efforts.

For example, to honor a longtime employee who passed away in 1994, the company launched a memorial golf tournament. Funds raised through that project each year benefit local Habitat chapters across the San Francisco Bay area.

“Even our raw material and industrial services suppliers enthusiastically support our annual golf tournament,” Bugbee adds.

Finally, having a clear charitable focus, rather than a scattershot approach, has allowed Simpson Strong-Tie to increase its involvement over time.

“Until a couple of years ago, our Habitat efforts were primarily focused on a local level,” Bugbee explains. Since the company has branches nationwide, such local initiatives “result in stronger connections with the communities where we live and work,” he states. “But last year we became a national sponsor and committed a $1 million donation to Habitat for Humanity International over a four-year period, including  cash and gift-in-kind products.”

Commitment that lasts

Now involved in both local and national projects, the company’s resources are placed where the need is greatest.

“In addition to the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, we participated in the Home Builders Blitz, a week-long build that occurs nationwide,” Bugbee reports. “Many of our regional operations are aligned with local affiliates, providing labor, money and products to support local Habitat around the country.”

Spreading the wealth today is more important than ever. “In a tough economy, charitable giving is not always a priority, especially when some business owners are just trying to stay afloat,” Bugbee believes. “But making a commitment is so important because tough times are when charitable organizations like Habitat need your help the most.”

Yet, Bugbee admits, tough times have an impact on his company’s charitable strategy, too.

“Time, energy, and resources are always limited,” he notes, “and so the challenge is to ensure donations generate the maximum benefit. One reason we chose to work with Habitat for Humanity is because they amplify the charitable value of our gifts. They’re very effective at maximizing the resources donated.”

Bugbee points out that now might be the best time to investigate how you can make a difference. “If you’re less busy, then invest some of that extra time into your community. If you’re able, be an active participant in your local charitable projects. Profit isn’t the only thing in the world that’s rewarding.”

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