During a standing ovation highlighted by popping flash bulbs, Bob Enright, CFP, received a lifetime achievement award in recognition of his 19 years of volunteering at The Janet Pomeroy Center, a pioneering San Francisco-based organization that helps developmentally disabled individuals. Enright, who spent the last three years as chairman of its board of directors, describes his experience there as a “19-year labor of love.”
In 1989, when Enright co-founded the Burton-Enright Group with partner Peter Burton, part of their mission was to make themselves “visible” in their community by lending a helping hand. In 2006 Burton went with fellow parishioners to help rebuild a church in the Eastern European nation of Bulgaria. In addition to remaining active with his church, he’s also a youth baseball coach.
“When we arrived in Bulgaria to help restore a church that had fallen into disrepair during some 50 years of communist rule, the looks on the people’s faces were unforgettable,” Burton recalls. “It truly changed my life.”
But aside from the undoubtedly rewarding feeling that comes from knowing you’ve helped those less fortunate, can community service actually grow your practice? While the answer according to the senior advisors interviewed here is a resounding “Yes,” each of them also agrees the payoff that comes from such involvement goes far beyond a boost to one’s bottom line. Will your practice grow as a result of making the right community connections? Can you help yourself while helping others?
“There’s something very good about working to help others,” says Bradford Pine, an advisor with New York-based Cantella & Co., Inc., and who’s also a metro-area volunteer for Ronald McDonald House Charities, Inc., which creates and supports programs to improve the health and well-being of children. “I do not get business from my McDonald House efforts,” Pine says. “That’s not why I do it. While volunteering is rewarding, volunteering for a reward is the completely wrong reason to become involved.”
In addition to helping to raise funds, Pine’s group also organized a visit by area children to a nearby Ronald McDonald House to see the organization’s activities up close and to visit with the kids staying at the facility. “It was a good experience for all of the parties involved; for our kids as well as those at the Ronald McDonald House.”
Richard Pombo, CRC, an adviser in Latham, N.Y. went with his church in April to help construct buildings in a remote section of the Congo. Pombo, who’s also twice visited the Ukraine to help restore a church and other buildings and traveled to Louisiana with Habitat for Humanity after Hurricane Katrina, says doing good to grow business has “never crossed my mind.” He does admit that it can help, however. “When people learn of my experiences they realize where my heart is,” Pombo says. “When you try to give back it makes a statement about the kind of person you are.”
Mark Snyder, ChFC, CSA, of Medford, N.Y., worked on the local level with Boy Scouts of America for over 20 years, an area college for 10 years and, most recently, for a local theater group. He started volunteering with the Boy Scouts when his son joined and stayed with the program, working up the organization as a volunteer in his home region. In recognition of his service he was awarded the Silver Beaver — the highest volunteer award. At the college, he’s served as treasurer, vice president and president of its alumni association.
“I primarily became involved to help the organizations,” Snyder says. “Being involved may bring in business but being involved just for business will not. I’ve gotten clients through my volunteer work but the main reason is for the good feeling that comes from helping the organizations.”
A veteran for 20-plus years, Snyder offers the following caveat: “Be prepared to donate time and energy to whichever group you choose to help. If the other volunteers sense there’s not a sincere commitment on your part they will not respond to you.”
Community involvement is indeed a facet of relationship marketing and should be viewed as a part of one’s total integrated marketing efforts rather than an unrelated or isolated event. Many clients express a desire to have an active relationship with their advisor; by being affiliated with a charity or non-profit group a positive reputation can be created.
“When you give back you build a name that describes what type of person you are and what your business represents,” Enright says.
“This can lead to referrals and stronger client relationships. It definitely pays to be involved with an activity you enjoy so you’ll be inclined to spend a good amount of time with it, hopefully helping to fulfill its mission.”
Judy Allen, author of “The Executive’s Guide to Corporate Events and Business Entertaining,” agrees. “It is possible to grow a practice and do good for the community as well,” she says. “People like to support those who contribute time, money and energy to important causes. There are many ways to do this and some require little or minimum cost on a company or individual advisor level. Contributing a gift to a silent auction for a local fundraising event or getting sponsorship recognition in promotional literature buys potential customer good will and support.”
When done properly, giving back to one’s community can in some cases actually make a huge impact on both business and the charitable organization. When properly promoted, branded and used as part of an integrated marketing initiative, it can make help create a significant sales pipeline.
For others however, finding success through the non-profit channel has been more of an indirect phenomenon. John A. Kailunas II, LUTCF, president and COO of Regal Financial Group in Kentwood, Mich., has combined his love for the outdoors with charitable efforts. Through his “Hunt for a Cure” program, Kailunas created his Camouflage Ball in 2002 and since then has raised several million dollars to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. “I’m a big supporter of events to help grow one’s practice but there’s more to it than that,” Kailunas notes. His firm, which maintains an events calendar on its Web site (www.regalfin.com), offers both serious dealings such as educational seminars and roundtable discussions on issues like identity theft and college funding as well as purely social and/or recreational events such as wine tastings and fly-fishing trips. Guests are encouraged to bring family members or friends to any Regal Financial event.
“We keep a lot of staff on hand at each event. The result is a deeper client relationship,” says Kailunas, who adds that his charitable efforts have helped grow his practice. “Under these circumstances we’re seen in a positive light and clients learn we’re not all about business. We’re appreciative of the success we’ve enjoyed and want to share that by helping others. But success is about a lot more than numbers.”
“What’s key is that the event runs smoothly because that reflects on the attention to detail by the sponsor. This is what financial customers want to see,” Allen says. “Press coverage of the event can bring additional name recognition and further branding.”
What makes a good community involvement plan? There’s no one answer but in fact there are several. As noted above, understanding an organization’s needs and putting them ahead of your own remains a basic building block. View such a plan as a way to elevate your image and client communication efforts beyond traditional promotional markerting. In today’s financial planning world, nearly everything we touch is a form of communication. With community involvement you’re doing more than selling. You’re motivating and building your company, your team, your clients and prospects and at the same time, helping to make the world a better place.