Kathleen Crowther joined Cleveland Restoration Society as its president in 1987. In the 12 years prior to her arrival, CRS had been primarily a volunteer-run organization. In 1986, the annual budget of CRS was $3,500.

During the course of 25 years with Crowther at the helm, CRS has grown into a vibrant organization with an operating budget of $1 million, an engaged board of trustees, a restored Victorian home as its headquarters and a full-time staff of nine.

CRS offers historic preservation programs and expertise throughout Greater Cleveland. One such program is the Heritage Home Program initiated by Crowther in 1992 in three Cleveland neighborhoods. The Heritage Home Program was designed to enable homeowners of 50-year-old houses or older to make historically and architecturally sensitive repairs to their homes. CRS preservation experts visit the homes and advise homeowners about appropriate restoration and preservation techniques.

A second aspect of the program is a low-interest loan that homeowners can apply for to use toward the renovation efforts of their homes. Throughout the years, the Heritage Home Program has been a big success and has expanded into other areas of Ohio.

Crowther is exploring partnerships with preservation organizations in other parts of Ohio such as Columbus to offer the program in new areas while still utilizing the experience of CRS.

Since its inception, the program has provided technical advice to more than 4,200 homeowners relating to restoration projects that total more than $90 million. In addition, the program has resulted in $33 million of low-interest Heritage Home loans to more than 900 homeowners. The program has been instrumental in stabilizing and strengthening certain neighborhoods in Cleveland.

 

How to Reach: Cleveland Restoration Society, (216) 426-1000 or www.clevelandrestoration.org

Published in Akron/Canton

Philip Alexander wants his employees at BrandMuscle Inc. to do their part to help out in the community, but he doesn’t want them to do it for him. He also doesn’t want employees to feel forced into work that doesn’t touch their heart and feels more like a pet project of the company, rather than a meaningful life experience for the employee.

It’s for that reason that Alexander, the president of BrandMuscle, puts the power to determine what causes the company will support in the hands of his employees. He wants them to find that cause that means so much to them and be able to do something that makes a difference. When that happens, they bring all their passion into their support and the cause, whatever it might be, is the beneficiary.

Alexander has causes that he supports, too, and he has witnessed the power that his dedication and commitment to community service can have on his employees. They see what he is doing and how much it means to him, and it just fuels their spirit to do their own good work.

By keeping the discussion active about what charities BrandMuscle supports, Alexander and his team ensure that their efforts change as the culture changes and as employees come and go, they are always working toward that special cause that is close to their hearts.

New employees learn right away how much community service means at BrandMuscle as Alexander goes over the history of the business and the values that it’s been built upon.

He challenges each employee to get involved in the company’s philanthropy and explains that if each one of them “turns on a light in someone’s life by giving back, all those lights can light up the world.”

 

How to reach: BrandMuscle Inc., (866) 464-4342 or www.brandmuscle.com

Published in Akron/Canton

Money is central to pretty much every aspect of our lives today, including acts of community service. Without proper funding, charitable organizations couldn’t do all that they do for those who really need it. But Eric Hauge, the company’s vice president and general manager and his employees at ArcelorMittal Cleveland are firm believers that a company’s philanthropic efforts have to be more than just a check.

It’s why the company’s strategic direction cannot begin to be shaped without including the work that company employees will take on that year to make their community a better place. It’s a comprehensive effort that includes representation from both ArcelorMittal and the communities that the company calls home.

These partners meet to identify problems that need to be addressed and then discuss plans to solve those problems. The money is a part of that but the time and the commitment to finding solutions is what can really make the difference.

One of the most recent projects for ArcelorMittal is an effort to help preserve the Cuyahoga River and take steps to ensure it remains the valuable natural resource that it is today for so many people.

The company has partnered with the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization to work on developing sustainable approaches to manage sediment in the river. There are also talks about what can be done to support fish habitats in the river’s shipping channel.

But that’s just one aspect of what ArcelorMittal is doing. The company actively supports developing science, technology, engineering and math skills through the STEM program. Financial support has enabled Cleveland schools to purchase Smart Boards, robotics equipment and other tools that help students learn.

The relationships continue to grow and that’s good news for those proud to have ArcelorMittal in their town.

 

How to reach: ArcelorMittal Cleveland, (216) 429-6062 or www.arcelormittal.com

Published in Akron/Canton

If you’re an employee at AkzoNobel Decorative Paints North America, you’ve probably helped paint a classroom, donated school supplies or brought a new shine to a school playground. It’s just what you do when you work at AkzoNobel.

The paint company led by Bob Taylor, the company’s president and general manager, has more than two dozen volunteer initiatives that are supported through its community program.

When it’s a painting project, AkzoNobel typically donates all of the paint, stain, tools and materials for a project. Employees donate their time and energy, sometimes during the workday or on evenings and weekends. In 2011, employees in Greater Cleveland used nearly 700 gallons of paint and gave more than 2,300 hours of time to help make the lives of their neighbors a little bit better.

In some cases, the painting is about more than just freshening up a room with color. Studies have shown that certain colors in the classroom can be more conducive to learning and can help students perform better. A brochure helps volunteers work with the schools they’ve chosen to come up with a color scheme that best fits their room.

But not all the good will is spread with a brush. AkzoNobel has been a valuable contributor to area food pantries, including the Strongsville food bank. The company also raises more than $100,000 each year to support the United Way and took part in an effort to help the Cuyahoga Valley National Park rid an invasive plant species from its grounds.

It’s those personal connections made from neighbor to neighbor that make all the difference. When each person does their part, so much can be accomplished and that’s the mindset that AkzoNobel employees bring each day.

 

How to reach: AkzoNobel Decorative Paints North America, www.akzonobel.com/us

Published in Akron/Canton

Thomas M. Laird Jr. was a founding member of the ACE Mentor Program of Cleveland, an affiliate of the ACE Mentor Program of America. Since 2008, the ACE program in Cleveland has provided mentors to students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District who are interested in pursuing careers in the architecture, construction and engineering fields.

As part of his efforts, Laird organized the principals of leading Cleveland design and construction firms, providing the foundation for the program’s outreach efforts in area high schools, which begin with mentoring and continues in the form of scholarships and grants that allow students in the program to continue their advancement in the industry.

Laird was not only critical in helping to raise funds for the organization’s scholarship program but also in convincing Kent State University, Cuyahoga Community College and Cleveland State University to provide matching scholarships for CMSD students interested in entering the architecture and engineering fields.

Over its nearly five-year existence, Laird has led the effort to bring the ACE program from a few participating first in its inception to a current pool of 35 participating firms in the architecture, engineering and construction fields.

Together, the participating firms provide more than 50 volunteers who serve as student mentors. For the 2012-13 school year, the plans include programs at West Technical High School, East Technical High School, John Hay School of Architecture and Design and James Ford Rhodes High School.

Mentors introduce students to a broad range of people, projects and career possibilities within their field of interest. Through personal example, explanation and tours of offices and construction sites, ACE mentors educate students about career paths and professional life in the design and construction professions.

 

How to reach: Ace Mentor Program of Cleveland, www.acementor.org

Published in Akron/Canton

Businesses give back to the community for many reasons: social responsibility, brand enhancement or just because it feels good. For Clark-Theders Insurance Agency, community involvement is all these things, but it’s also a key to attracting star employees and keeping them engaged.

“For me and my predecessors, doing community service as a teenager was something you usually did when you were in trouble,” says Jonathan Theders, president of Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. “Now, community service hours are often part of the high school curriculum. It’s much more societal. I was just talking to a recruiter of the younger generation — Generation Y and younger, the millennials — and how a company interacts with the community and its presence on social media are the two top criteria for how they choose an employer.”

Smart Business spoke with Theders about how to set up a community outreach program.

How do you decide what kind of community service program to create?

When we started our CTIA Cares program, we looked at it from two perspectives. First, you have to determine what to give. You can give time or money, or both. Your company may be so lean that you can’t give time to your employees, so you just write the check. Other people can’t write the check, but they can give the time to their employees to volunteer once a week, or once a month or once a year.

From there, there are two ways to go. Do you want your program to have one mission, focused on one initiative like The United Way or American Cancer Society? If you put all your resources toward one initiative you can have a big financial or physical impact on that organization.

Or, do you want each employee to have the opportunity to give to something that is personal to him or her? For instance, if you love the arts, you may want to pour your energy into the arts. The person sitting next to you may want to pour his or her heart into animal rescue. You won’t have as grand an impact, but it will be a more personalized impact.

At Clark-Theders, we chose the individual route, but neither is right nor wrong. Using our example, the CTIA Cares program gives each employee 30 hours a year to donate to nonprofits of his or her choice. Then, we focus our efforts on quarterly service projects in four different service areas to help the community, in addition to the hours given individually.

How do you make that work with your business?

If they do their volunteering on the weekends, we comp them time during the week. If they do it during the week, we allow them that time off. Realizing we still have a business to run, employees must fill out a document stating how many hours they will work and when. Human Resources then has to sign off on it because our company has to be staffed appropriately, and the charity signs off that they worked the time. Also, it is a great way to gauge your community impact. For us, our only criterion is that their chosen charity organization must be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

What are the benefits from a business perspective?

You can gain increased revenue and customer loyalty. The company’s involvement in the community drives brand awareness. People who see you as good stewards of the community are more likely to do business with you.

There are also personal gains for your employees, from improved interpersonal skills and self-esteem to better knowledge of social issues. I have seen the positive experiences it has had on our team over the years, which has also impacted our workplace culture. Our clients, co-workers and the community are very appreciative and take notice of our program. It was a great business decision that continues to reap rewards.

Jonathan Theders is president at Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc. Reach him at (513) 779-2800 or jtheders@ctia.com. Connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/theders/.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Clark-Theders Insurance Agency Inc.

Published in Cincinnati

The employees at Ashton Staffing Inc. regard every vacant position presented to them as an opportunity to bring the right people together. Headed by President and CEO Melissa Hulsey, Ashton has a customer service philosophy that instructs its associates to treat every job as if they were placing their best friend at their parents’ company.

Ashton employees often tell potential clients that their firm will probably not be the cheapest staffing option they will find and that if they are shopping for price only, Ashton is not the service they should partner with.

Ashton’s commitment to quality is demonstrated by the many professional certifications it holds. One of the most important is the Workers’ Compensation Risk Certification. The requirements for obtaining WRC include having strict application and screening protocols, conducting mandatory drug and background checks for all associates, and allowing a third party to audit all employee files for compliance once a year. A minimum score of 85 percent must be achieved to obtain and maintain the certification.

Customer retention is important to Ashton, and one way the company rewards its customers is by contributing to things that are important to those clients: sponsoring baseball teams, contributing prizes to special events, making charitable donations in their name. In so doing, Ashton has retained customers well. The company has many clients with more than 10 years’ tenure.

“For more than 10 years, Ashton Staffing has been the first choice for our staffing needs,” says David Agan, senior accounting and finance manager with KCMA Corp. in Kennesaw, Ga. “Their courteous professionals are attentive and always provide the proper person to meet our requirements. No matter what the opening, Ashton has been able to assist us with qualified candidates. We have enjoyed working with Ashton and have been very pleased with the results.”

How to reach: Ashton Staffing Inc., (770) 419-1776 or www.ashtonstaffing.com

Published in Atlanta

“What’s important to you?” That’s the question employees at Today’s Business Products know to ask every time they meet with a client for the first time. Recognizing that every customer has unique and specific needs, the national provider of office supplies and furniture approaches customer service by focusing on the things customers say are important to them. They call it a “roll up your sleeves and get the job done mentality.”

Under the leadership of President Richard Voigt, Today’s Business Products recently celebrated its 27th anniversary, continuing to drive its goal of being the first name that people depend on for their office products. Today, the organization provides more than 50,000 business items for clients and taps its network of 40 regional warehouses to deliver to 98 percent of the population nationwide. Even with such a vast reach, transcending the competition hasn’t been easy. Two words have been critical in helping the company differentiate itself with customers: unsurpassed dependability.

Whether it means coming in early or staying late, the company’s customer service team members are ready to do what it takes to get an order right, meet a client deadline or make life easier for a customer or co-worker. This mentality stems from a culture that engages employees in partnership, customers, the community and the company.

The company rewards employees who embody customer-driven attitudes with programs such as its “Gold Star” awards, which gives team members gold stars to put on the wall to signify a job well done from clients, and the Bravo Award for employees who go above and beyond their job duties for a fellow employee or client. In order to help employees see their role as a partner outside of the company’s products and services, Today’s Business Products also works with many education and nonprofit clients, donating cash and auction items to local charities and organizations.

How to reach: Today’s Business Products, (216) 267-5000 or www.todaysbusinessproducts.com

Published in Cleveland

The city of Roswell, Ga., is in the final stages of creating its first strategic economic development plan, with an eye toward more aggressively attracting small companies to do business within its borders.

A major component of the plan will be finetuning the list of business types the city seeks to target, says Bill Keir, Roswell’s economic development manager.

“We have a list we’re looking at that will be refined,” Keir says. “It includes health care and social assistance, technical research, consulting and corporate operations, entertainment and recreation, and local and regional data and goods distribution. And each of those categories have a number of subgroups within them. We’re going to narrow that list down, based on who we have here now, who’s been moving here, what companies are in a growth mode, those kinds of factors.”

Asked to list the characteristics of Roswell that draw small businesses, Keir cites the city’s highway accessibility, labor costs, tax exemptions, occupancy costs, construction costs, state and local incentives, crime rate, and the quality of its schools. Roswell consistently ranks high in all of those areas in surveys conducted by the trade magazines Site Selection and Area Development.

One important incentive the city offers businesses is the Roswell Opportunity Zone, a job tax credit program administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

“We have the only Opportunity Zone program in Fulton County north of the Chattahoochee River,” Keir says. “That has been a competitive advantage for us.”

In order to become eligible for the program, a company needs to create two new jobs in a single year.

“Those jobs receive a $3,500 tax credit per job for five years,” Keir says. “We’ve had the program for a year, and we’re in it for at least another nine years. So anywhere in that period of time, if a company adds a couple of jobs or more in one year, they can get into the program and stay with it. Obviously, that can add up to significant savings.”

Roswell doesn’t have much vacant land available for development. It’s a city of small businesses, and it’s destined to remain that way. So attracting small companies will remain its focus.

“We’re fairly well developed,” Keir says. “We have a few parcels that are not fully developed, or not developed at all — but just a few.

“So that’s who we are. We have approximately 5,200 businesses. Twenty-seven of those have 100 or more employees. All the rest have less than 100. That’s normally considered small business. That’s who we cater to.”

HOW TO REACH: Roswell Economic Development Department, (770) 594-6170, www.roswellgov.com/index.aspx?nid=173

QUICK INFO

County: Fulton

Incorporated: 1854

Population: 88,346 (2010 Census)

Land area: 42 square miles

Government system: Mayor-Council

Mayor: Jere Wood

City Administrator: Kay Love

Phone: (770) 641-3727

Web: www.roswellgov.com

Published in Atlanta

As the economy took a hit over the last few years, Fred Stock saw the demand for his organization’s services grow dramatically. That’s because the result of a down economy is more and more people seeking out more of the services that Jewish Community Services of South Florida has been providing for years. But keeping up with the higher demand has not been easy, especially when coupled with the funding challenges of operating as a not-for-profit entity.

“There’s an increased need corresponding with a reduction of available dollars,” says Stock, the president and CEO of the Miami-based social services agency, which services the Dade County community.

As fundraising in the overall community has dropped, so has the amount of funding dollars coming into the organization.

“So we need to figure out ways to cover the overhead for the agency,” Stock says. “One of the ways is that you reduce those costs by being more efficient.”

Stock says that this is a challenge many more not-for-profit organizations are dealing with today.

One way he says these agencies can manage costs is by providing a mix of free and paid services. By expanding in areas that have a “fee for service,” such as home care, the organization is able to cover costs of the services that it provides for free.

“We’re trying to expand our capabilities to provide services that can reimburse us for our costs, and we can generate some surpluses to pay for the programs that people don’t have the ability to pay for,” Stock says.

However, the crux of the agency’s strategy to become more efficient involves developing partnerships with organizations that share its service goals and funding model.

“We have definitely taken on the belief that in order to be successful, we need to partner,” Stock says.

“By combining, we can serve more people, create operational efficiencies, expand our reach, and it will allow us over the long haul to create more opportunity to serve people.”

While many smaller not-for-profit agencies are quality organizations, they are often limited in what they can do because they don’t have the infrastructure or funding sources to expand and grow. Leading a larger agency, Stock is now working harder to partner with smaller entities so both parties make progress on shared goals. An example is how the agency is partnering with assisted living facilities and HUD 202 housing projects where there are large constituencies of people who need its services.

Stock says you want try to align yourself with agencies and programs that relate to where you can provide services but also with agencies that have a similar mission.

“You maximize their capabilities and their expertise,” Stock says. “You bring that expertise now into this affiliated entity … and then you can expand your service capability because potentially that service can be located in a community that you’re not serving.”

The other advantage of partnering is the potential to combine operations or share resources where appropriate, which can increase efficiencies for both parties. So if two entities are doing billing with a number of grants, there is an opportunity to combine that billing for cost savings.

Stock says constantly monitoring and improving efficiency is something that not-for-profits and businesses should be doing whether or not there are funding issues. By partnering up, the agency continues to find strategic ways to carry out its mission and deliver its services more efficiently.

“We’re a $15 million agency,” Stock says. “We can bring some of that infrastructure — the funding, the marketing, to that new agency and enhance that agency’s effort to create revenue. And then you can create revenue for a larger organization and you have a whole lot more clout, because you have a whole lot more reach. You’re serving more people. In that process, you can find savings within that entity that you can then put back into your programs to yet provide more services.”

Start inside

Many not-for-profit entities have faced funding challenges as a result of the economic recession. Jewish Community Services of South Florida, which provides its services at no cost, is funded primarily through grants and fundraising. But that funding is limited and most of the agency’s funding sources do not provide enough money for its administrative component. To maintain services as money becomes scarcer, president and CEO Fred Stock has led a number of initiatives to be more efficient in this area.

“We’ve had to become much more efficient in the way we provide services and in the way we fund our administrative component,” Stock says. “In an agency, you have direct services and then you have the infrastructure that you need in order to run these services, things like billing, rent, offices and all of that, which are fixed expenses to some degree.”

To increase efficiency in the administrative component, the agency has consolidated some of its offices and begun looking at ways to utilize space better. It’s also started to streamline processes in internal operations such as billing, maintenance and systems.

“We’ve been able to save a substantial amount of money in these areas that has allowed us to continue to provide services at the same rate,” Stock says. “So even through we’ve suffered from reductions in funding, we’ve been able to still maintain the levels of service that we’ve provided over the last few years.”

How to reach: Jewish Community Services of South Florida, (305) 576-6550 or www.jcsfl.org

Published in Florida