Pillar Award for Community Service Featured

10:02am EDT July 22, 2002

"A business has a responsibility to give back to its community."

How many times have you heard some variation of that phrase? How many times have you said it yourself?

Most business owners seem to agree with it, for a variety of reasons.

First, a company's success is built on the strength of the people and resources in its community. Giving back is, on the one hand, a way to show appreciation for that, and on the other, a way to assure it continues.

Besides, a market-based community is not a fair or perfect place. It can only be at its best when those who have seen success choose to put some of their hard-won resources to work for everybody.

But there's more, and you well know it: Good deeds generate good will, and good will is good for business.

At the same time, has it ever been harder to make an honest dollar, and to find time or money to give back to the community?

But plenty of businesses are doing so every day. They operate on the doctrine that you don't need to be a corporate giant to make an impact, and that if you wait until it's easy to get involved, you'll wait forever.

That's why Medical Mutual of Ohio and Small Business News have created the Pillar Award for Community Service. Its goals are to:

  • Honor and reward companies that have made a commitment to community service;

  • Encourage other companies to get involved with the community;

  • Identify and share creative ideas that companies of all sizes can use to make the community a better place to live and work.

The following companies are the first class of Pillar Award winners. They were identified through an open nomination process publicized through SBN in August and September, then evaluated by an independent panel of judges.

Their stories of community service follow.

Donating the know-how
Pubic Relations Partners, Independence

Since its founding in 1994, Independence-based Public Relations Partners has leveraged the skills and interests of its employees (now numbering 13) to assist local organizations with their public relations needs. The company subscribes to the old adage, "To those whom much has been given, much is expected."

In January 1997, PR Partners implemented a continuous public service campaign for the Substance Abuse Initiative of Greater Cleveland, which included planning, image development, special event support and publication of a quarterly newsletter-all pro bono.

"Most of us have children, so the drug abuse resistance program touches us all," explains Kathy Sluzewski, vice president and senior program manager. "We see the problems are out there and we want to help avoid them."

PR Partners worked with the Cleveland Academy of Finance-an inner-city four-year high school program based at East High School-to develop recruiting posters and organize a public finance career day at City Hall. Those efforts brought much needed attention to the underutilized program, and helped lead to a four-fold increase in enrollment.

Among its other contributions, PR Partners wrote and designed the 1997 Leukemia Cup Regatta entry forms and programs for a fund-raising event of the Leukemia Society of America; developed a corporate gift matching program for its employees; designed a new school logo for St. Ignatius High School; and prepared and printed a Media Relations Guidebook for the U.S. Coast Guard.

PR Partners' work has translated into more than 750 volunteer hours, conservatively valued at $60,000-no small amount of time or money for a young and growing agency.

The judges say: Most PR and advertising agencies have some sort of link to the community, usually contributing in-kind services. The fact that PR Partners has a matching gifts program puts it a step ahead of the field. - J. Lee Bailey

Helping schools - and students - succeed
PPG Industries Inc., Barberton

Over the past four years, Barberton's PPG Industries has made a strong commitment to education, both financially and through the volunteer efforts of its 150 employees.

Through the chemical company's Partners in Education program, PPG's efforts reach every aspect of learning-specifically in the fields of science and mathematics. It provides instructional materials to Highland Middle School teachers for use in science classes. PPG employees act as mentors and tutor students twice a week as part of the school's After School for Kids program. Other employees participate in career days, science fairs, Earth Day programs, a quarterly Breakfast Club for academic achievers and the Perfect AttenDance for students with excellent school attendance records-all sponsored by PPG.

In a cooperative effort with Barberton City Schools, PPG established an Ecosystem Learning Center and Educational Trail at the company's Lake Dorothy. The center and trail are used as outdoor classrooms for Barberton's students.

The company estimates that collectively, employees donate 1,000 hours each school year to the programs. Based on a conservative estimate of $10 per hour cited in its Pillar Award nomination form, that equals $10,000 a year in volunteer time. In addition, it took approximately 1,000 hours to help plan and build the ecosystem learning center and trail.

PPG allocates $2,400 a year from its facility budget toward the Partners In Education program. The money is used to pay for science and math books, science kits and other materials PPG donates to the schools.

The company's continuing efforts are aimed at helping to improve educational quality and performance in Barberton's schools, says Betty Naswadi, facilities administrator in charge of the Partners In Education program. "Our employees have really stood up and taken the challenge to give back to the schools. It's been exciting to see the results."

The judges say: PPG has shown very consistent leadership, and this is an excellent commitment to a nonheadquarters community of a multinational corporation. - Kent Clapp

Cause of the Month
Connecting Touch Therapy & Wellness Center Inc., Cuyahoga Falls

Each of Jack Hayes' 2,000 clients gives to charity. That's because since 1997, Hayes' Connecting Touch & Wellness Center Inc. has earmarked money from each massage for charity.

At first, Hayes says, the business donated 5 percent of revenue from each massage. But the company is small-less than $250,000 in revenue for 1998-and the size of his monthly gifts were beginning to choke the young enterprise.

He has since modified the program, donating $1 from each massage, for a total contribution over two years of more than $4,500. And Connecting Touch has spread those donations across the community.

Every month, a new charity is designated to receive the proceeds. Explains Hayes, "We try to educate people. Few people have heard of the smaller charities so they don't get the funding the big ones do."

To further that cause, Hayes sets information about that month's charity in his office waiting room, so clients can learn about the different organizations.

Among the groups that have been recipients of Connecting Touch's philanthropy are Victim Assistance of Akron, Project Learn, the Battered Women's Shelter, the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation, Cuyahoga Falls Cancer Club, YWCA Rape and Sexual Assault Services, Haven of Rest, Good Neighbors of Cuyahoga Falls and Project Linus.

Hayes also provides gift certificates to any organization looking for prizes or auction items for fund-raisers. "I've never turned anybody away who asks for a donation," he says. "When I give, it makes my heart smile."

The judges say: This is an example of a very strong commitment on the part of a start-up. It's quite impressive that charitable giving was a founding tenet of the company. - Kent Clapp

Recommitting every day
Arnold & Co. Communications, Beachwood

At Arnold & Co. Communications, giving back to the community is ingrained in the company's everyday philosophy. Over the past decade, the Beachwood-based public relations firm and its 10 employees have donated time, money and efforts to more than a dozen local organizations.

Ongoing annual financial contributions total more than $3,000 a year, on top of in-kind contributions from A&CC employees who regularly coordinate, design and implement public relations projects to raise money and awareness for the organizations.

"We don't press it upon our employees," says company president Doug Arnold. "It's done by example. We have a lot of people who are individually involved in efforts and donating time. Everyone sees that. So it's really become part of our corporate culture to be committed to the community."

Among its efforts, A&CC has designed and produced invitations for the Rainbow, Babies & Children's Hospital children's fashion shows. Last year, show proceeds were used to purchase new equipment for the neonatal intensive care unit.

A&CC organized and ran public relations activities for Arthritis Foundation events from 1993 to 1995. It designed programs for the American Cancer Society's annual golf tournaments, which raise more than $1 million annually in Ohio.

Employees also regularly contribute to the United Way-more than $2,000 a year-and the agency has received the United Way's Pacesetter Award for 14 consecutive years.

Other organizations the company is involved with include the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center, Leadership Cleveland, the Special Olympics, Ursuline College, Holy Rosary Church, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, University School and the University of Vermont.

The judges say: The in-kind contributions of this company relative to the staff size are very impressive. They seem to love using their professional abilities to make a difference. - Nelson Bardecio

Finding a theme with many angles
Ross Equipment Corp., Cleveland

Cindy Ross Trotter is a passionate woman when it comes to her business, Ross Equipment Corp. Sixty-plus hour workweeks are the norm. But Trotter is just as passionate about her involvement with charity, specifically the American Cancer Society and other organizations that serve those who suffer from cancer.

Over the past several years, Ross Equipment-which sells and rents aerial work platforms in Northeast Ohio-has forged an ongoing relationship with the American Cancer Society, sponsoring many of its large fund-raising events. Most recently, Ross was the major sponsor for the 1998 American Cancer Society Gala, La Vie en Rose, helping it raise more than $150,000 for the society's cancer control efforts.

Trotter believes it's important to give both time and money locally, and Ross makes regular financial contributions to organizations such as Camp Ho Mita Koda, Fairhill Center for Aging, the Hospice of the Western Reserve, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation Cancer Center and the Ohio Chamber Orchestra.

Trotter herself is a member of the Board of Directors for the American Cancer Society and serves on the governing board for the Cleveland Museum of Health. She's also on the board of her alma mater, Gilmour Academy, which was Glen Oak when she graduated.

"Being in the construction equipment business, we feel we're part of the city's renaissance," she says. "It's mutually beneficial and very rewarding to help make a difference in Cleveland."

But Trotter's not one to let her company rest on past success. "Giving," she says, "is an ongoing process."

The judges say: This company shows how one person, CEO Cindy Ross Trotter, can use her position to make a difference in the community. - J. Lee Bailey

Generating lots of cash
Cleveland Grand Prix Charities, Cleveland

When a group of Cleveland business leaders founded the Cleveland 500 Foundation in 1982, the idea was to host the city's first Indy Car race and generate local support for charity. Sixteen years later, the organization's donations have totaled nearly $1 million.

Because the organization was created for a single purpose-to raise money for charity through the auto race-the Pillar Award judges looked especially hard at the size of its contributions, reaching a near unanimous conclusion: This organization is an overachiever.

In its first six years, the group contributed a total of $40,000 to the United Way and Arthritis Foundation. The real growth began in 1989, when the donation totaled $28,000-most going to the Achievement Center and $3,000 to the Rainbow, Babies & Children's Hospital.

Since then, the organization-which changed its name to Cleveland Grand Prix Charities Inc. in 1995-has added other annual events that complement the Medic Drug Grand Prix and increase the potential to bring in revenue for charity.

In the last nine years, annual contributions have averaged $100,000, and more than 30 organizations have been beneficiaries of that money.

"All the funds through our events are earmarked to stay in Northeast Ohio," says Lori Robinson, manager of special events. "So we know what we're doing helps local groups and the city of Cleveland."

Among the groups Grand Prix Charities helped this past year are the Providence House, Ohio's first licensed crisis nursery for infants and toddlers; the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland; the Western Reserve Historical Society; Ronald McDonald House Charities; and Shoes for Kids. In 1997, CGPC donated more than $200,000 to charity.

The judges say: I knew the Grand Prix race raised money for good causes every summer, but I was not prepared for the sheer volume of the financial contributions. - J. Lee Bailey

Pick a cause and make it count
Mr. Hero/Restaurant Developers Corp., Independence

For the past 10 years, Mr. Hero/Restaurant Developers Corp. has been the single largest corporate sponsor of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland-earmarking 2 percent of annual revenue to the organization.

Mr. Hero's philosophy has been to establish a strong identification between itself and one local charity. Financial donations so far have exceeded $400,000.

The gifts not only come from the corporate office, but through franchisees and the community-through coin canisters, in-restaurant promotions and the annual "Tee Up for UCP" Mr. Hero Golf outing.

The restaurant group has provided service personnel and a luncheon for the golf outing each year. It also sponsors an annual picnic held by the Children's Programs and The High School/High Tech kick-off celebrations.

"Given the retail nature of our business, we draw all our revenue from Northeast Ohio," says Ronald Wolfe, president and CEO of Restaurant Developers Corp., parent company of the Mr. Hero chain. "We see a total integration with our business and how we spend our money.

Wolfe is personally involved as well. He's president of the UCP Board of Directors and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra. Wolfe was directly involved in UCP's $6.5 million capital campaign, which raised funds for a new facility.

Says Wolfe, "People need to work for more than just profit. They need to count for something and make a difference within the local community."

The judges say: This company is a good example of a restaurant chain that goes beyond handing out free sandwiches at community events. The management takes leadership positions in the causes it supports. - J. Lee Bailey

Giving every which way
Cohen & Co., Cleveland

Organizations that have benefited from Cohen & Co.'s philanthropy span the areas of social service, education, health, economic development, civic affairs and the cultural arts. Over the years, there have been hundreds. Community involvement has been such an integral part of the company that principals say they wouldn't know how to measure the impact of the services offered.

"We are very appreciative and grateful for what the community provides to us," explains Ron Cohen, senior partner. "We feel we owe a whole lot back. Good citiz enship should be part of a license to practice in the community."

In addition to financial contributions in the past year, Cohen & Co. employees have participated in at least nine not-for-profit events, including the March of Dimes WalkAmerica and building for the Lake County MetroParks Penitentiary Glen. Cumulatively, employees spent more than 3,000 business hours on community service, which translates into approximately $750,000 in billable fees.

Employees are also offered incentives to donate money; if they give more than 1 percent of their salary, they receive extra vacation time.

The Cleveland-based accounting and consulting firm also regularly purchases tables at fund-raisers and annual meetings, sponsors fund-raising events and purchases ads in program books. Its employees serve on boards, committees and task forces for all types of not-for-profit organizations.

It leverages its employees' expertise in not-for-profit organization knowledge and currently performs audit and consulting services for 17 groups on a pro bono basis. It also offers a greater than 50 percent discounted fee for another 10 organizations. Those contributions represent more than $150,000 a year in normal fees.

The judges say: They have been extremely charitable in their giving of time and money, and they support an impressively wide range of organizations. In addition, they simply have a long tradition of being very generous. - Fred Koury

Doing the heavy lifting
SS&G Financial Services, Cleveland, Akron

When Saltz, Shamis & Goldfarb approached the Alzheimer's Association two years ago with a proposal to put on a golf outing, representatives of the Cleveland and Tri-County chapters were a bit skeptical of the regional accounting firm's motives.

But SS&G executives promised to handle everything: event planning, participant recruiting, organization, providing volunteers and rounding up prizes. All that anyone from the Alzheimer's Association would have to do is show up and tell participants about the association's good work.

They were astounded, says SS&G Marketing Coordinator Kathy Sautters.

"It's so easy today for a company to throw money at things," Sautters says. "It takes more effort to become active participants in events."

SS&G's first annual Alzheimer's Association Golf Outing raised more than $15,000 for the organization, and employees spent more than 400 hours preparing, organizing and implementing the event.

This year's outing raised a similar amount and helped increase awareness about Alzheimer's disease. The charity was chosen after one of the firm's founders, Marvin Shamis, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

But SS&G, with offices in Akron, Solon and Cincinnati, has been involved with other causes, too. Its Harvest for Hunger campaign resulted in the donation of 480 pounds of food to the Akron-Canton Food Bank, 590 pounds of food to the Cleveland Food Bank and 120 pounds of food to the Cincinnati Food Bank.

Other organizations that have benefited from SS&G's efforts are the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Inventure Place, Case Western Reserve University, First Night Akron and the JCC of Akron.

The judges say: Outstanding for me was the fact that, although only one of the partners was directly impacted, they all banded together in this service effort.

  • They do the work as well as lend presence and financial support.

  • Rather than use their commitment to pressure employee commitment to the same cause, the managers appear to use it as an example to encourage employees to participate in venues meaningful to each of them. - Nelson Bardecio

    Creating an endowment fund
    Conley Canitano & Associates Inc., Mayfield Heights

    When employees at Conley Canitano & Associates Inc. raised $10,000 earlier this year to create the CCAI Endowment Fund, owners Ken and Karen Conley, and Annette and Nicholas Canitano, didn't hesitate in their response-they matched the $10,000 and promised to match additional employee contributions every year.

    The CCAI Fund is administered by The Cleveland Foundation and is earmarked to meet the needs of children, families and the needy. While the company, an information technology integration firm (and a 1998 Entrepreneur of the Year winner) has been involved with the Bellflower Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse as its primary cause, the new continuing fund will donate proceeds to many organizations.

    As for CCAI's involvement with Bellflower, Karen Conley is a member of the board, and Annette Canitano and Ken Conley are past board members. They have chaired numerous fund-raising programs for the center and held fund-raising activities within CCAI to benefit Bellflower's programs.

    "If you've been given lots of opportunities, you owe something back," says Karen Conley. "We feel a very strong need because we've been blessed by the community."

    Other beneficiaries of the company's efforts are the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, the Cleveland Orchestra, the University Settlement, the Great Lakes Science Center and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. The Conleys and Canitanos have also supported the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.

    The judges say: The endowment fund is an interesting way to make sure their work has a lasting impact. And the matching gifts are simply an impressive case of putting your money where your mouth is. - Fred Koury

    Channel 3/WKYC TV, Cleveland

    In the past year, Channel 3 claims to have helped match thousands of volunteers with local organizations. Its "3 Cares" campaign, organized in concert with the Business Volunteerism Council, has helped raise awareness and educate television viewers about community service groups and the opportunities available for viewers to get involved.

    Every month, 30-second public service announcements are broadcast during prime viewing hours. The spots provide an overview of a specific organization, the services it needs, and a phone number for people to call.

    Channel 3's news department complements those spots with additional stories about the organization, including volunteer profiles and suggestions of how viewers can get involved.

    Among the groups featured are the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland, Christmas in April, Cleveland Foodbank, Business Volunteerism Council, American Red Cross-Northern Ohio Region, Project: Learn, Alzheimer's Association, Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure, Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Coats for Kids.

    In September, Channel 3's efforts with the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure helped increase attendance from 6,000 in 1997 to more than 10,000 participants in 1998.

    Channel 3 has also adopted a Cleveland elementary school, John W. Raper Elementary, and started a tutoring program-Peacock Pals-with the goal of raising 4th grade proficiency test scores.

    The judges say: I am impressed by the innovative way in which TV3 has taken the mandatory institution of the PSA and molded it into a focused campaign for volunteerism. - Nelson Bardecio

    How the winners were selected

    In August and September, SBN solicited nominations from nonprofit organizations, professional service firms, communications companies and the business community through a direct-mail program as well as publicity in the magazine.

    Nominations were turned over to a panel of independent judges, who were asked to select as many as 15 top choices. When the judges returned their selections, the votes were tallied, and nominations receiving the most votes were named Pillar Award winners.

    The judges were:

    • Lee Bailey, executive director, The Citizen's League;

    • Dr. Nelson Bardecio, executive director, El Barrio;

    • Kent Clapp, chief executive officer, Medical Mutual of Ohio;

    • Polly Clemo, associate director for institute advancement, Benjamin Rose Institute;

    • John Hairston, external programs directorate, NASA;

    • Patricia Horvath, associate executive director, The Health Museum of Cleveland;

    • Fred Koury, chief executive officer, Small Business News Inc.