Why values-driven companies are leading from the front
The impetus for businesses to balance profit with altruism is becoming more prevalent as employees and customers increasingly come to expect it.
Nelson Alexander, a Victorian real estate firm of 390 staff, has successfully put in place a solution that serves their employees, business and the community.
In 2005, Director Duncan McPherson saw how many of his colleagues were involved in fundraising and volunteering individually.
“We already had the values within the business, but I decided it would be more effective if we put a corporate framework in place,” he says. So he took the idea of creating the Nelson Alexander Charitable Foundation to the board.
“From the moment I brought the idea to the board they were unanimous and passionate about it,” says McPherson, “Having leaders who actually walk the talk was essential in getting the foundation up and running.”
Incorporating fundraising into the business
A little strategic thinking is all it takes to effectively give back to the community without disrupting your core business.
Giving back to the community is our priority. They support us and we support them.
Nelson Alexander set up their foundation with two revenue streams: regular giving where each of the 16 offices donates a fixed amount from every sale throughout the year; and Foundation Day, an annual event-based fundraiser.
For Foundation Day, each office donates the professional fee from one premium house auction to a local cause. “It’s the perfect way for each office to connect with their local community and the clients love it,” says McPherson. “It gives their house great exposure to the marketplace.”
A recent Foundation Day beneficiary was a local primary school, which needed significant refurbishment. The participating homeowners’ children had gone to the school. “They were thrilled to see the money going straight back into the community,” says McPherson.
This year the company raised $270,000 on Foundation Day.
Choosing your cause
The focus of the Foundation’s beneficiaries is children, families, education and individuals in need. Applicants can apply for monthly grants of $500 to $2,000 or for Foundation Day grants in the vicinity of $10,000 to $30,000.
“Giving back to the community is our priority,” says McPherson. “They support us and we support them.”
A local secondary school receives regular funds to support under-privileged but musically talented students, helping with the costs of instruments and lessons. And orphaned refugees in the care of their aunt, who was struggling to support them, now have a secure future.
To assist the family financially, the Foundation approached a landlord and guaranteed to pay half the rent for the duration of the students’ schooling, to ensure they had a stable home environment.
“When those stories filter through the business, it really makes your heart sing,” says McPherson.
A foundation with freedom
Because the Foundation is not a registered charity, it can donate the money to non-registered charities and act quickly without any red tape.
We really want to be good corporate citizens. It’s about generosity of spirit – it’s part of our being.
Recently a staff member sprung to action after hearing the story of a local coffee shop worker. “The woman’s husband had been in a motorbike accident,” says McPherson. “And she’d just been told her car wasn’t roadworthy by police, which meant she couldn’t pick her children up from school that afternoon.”
So after a few quick emails, the Foundation stepped in. Through a local mechanic they arranged for two new tyres, a service and car detail so on the very same day the woman was ready to get back on the road.
“Being able to provide that kind of help within hours is a huge benefit to everyone,” says McPherson. “Not only are we helping someone in need, but it makes our staff feel empowered too – that they can really make a difference.”
Satisfied staff leads to success
McPherson says the program is hugely attractive to staff and has led to very high retention rates.
“It gives everyone such a sense of pride and purpose in what we do,” says McPherson.
Along with fundraising, staff are given two extra days a year to volunteer for a charity of their choosing – and are supported with $750 for any personal fundraising events.
“We really want to be good corporate citizens. It’s about generosity of spirit – it’s part of our being,” says McPherson.
In 2015 Nelson Alexander won REIA’s Community Service Award plus the REIA Large Residential Agency of the Year Award, showing how effectively a values-driven organisation can make a difference in their community without compromising on success.