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Making Community Outreach a Win-Win for Local Networks

Charities ArticleAcross the country, local Women’s Council Networks are making a difference in their communities by supporting community organizations. In doing so, they raise awareness of the organization’s cause as well as their own – advancing women as professionals and leaders in business, the industry and the community. 

Earlier this year, the Women’s Council surveyed its 230 local networks. Fifty-four completed the survey from 22 states, providing a 30 percent response rate and a solid basis from which to extrapolate meaningful information and share best practice approaches to engaging in outreach. National leadership encourages local officers to be thoughtful about altruistic initiatives. If a local group wishes to support a cause, look for opportunities that deliver a win-win outcome.

Survey Findings Snapshot

Time Committed. Women’s Council members collectively give a great deal of their time for worthy causes, but on a Network to Network basis, the number varies from as little as one hour to hundreds, depending on the activity. On average, local Networks spend 32 hours annually on community outreach. In some instances, the dedicated time is concentrated around an event; for others, it is spread across months.

Funds Raised. Much like time, the reported amount of money raised for designated causes ranges from hundreds to thousands, along with in-kind donations. The total amount reported for 2016 from the surveyed chapters was nearly $200,000, with the average amount raised per local Network being $3,680. 

Beneficiaries. Among local Networks engaged in outreach, roughly half do so on behalf of a single organization. The other half is roughly divided between supporting two groups and supporting three or more groups. Women, children and family-related groups are the overwhelming focus of local Network-designated projects. Sixteen of the groups surveyed reported that their cause was dedicated to women’s issues, e.g., breast cancer, women’s shelters, etc.

Choosing a Group to Support

Aside from the theme of women and family interests, local Networks take very different routes to choosing a groupCharity Article2 to support. For some, the current year president designates the organization for that year. For others, there is an established community organization that continues year to year. 

In 2016, some local Networks opted to follow NAR’s example and align themselves with a local Boys and Girls Club, or with a group designated by the local Board of REALTORS®. There are also instances where the personal situation of a member (or member’s family) impelled the Network to support a cause. Similarly, individual members who are heavily involved with a cause (outside their Network leadership) may impact the Network’s decision on where to direct support. 

Following are a few program examples that reflect strong approaches to selecting an organization and implementing activities for the benefit of both the designated non-profit and the Network.

Efforts that Deliver Mutual Value. Greater Rochester Area (MI) provides financial support to several area non-profits, including OPC (Older Persons Commission), which helps area seniors with a wide range of needs. The initial connection stemmed from a broker member who served on a panel for OPC but the relationship soon expanded, including OPC's participation in a Network program about the aging baby boomer population and resulting need for more senior housing. This month the Network will hold a six-hour CE program at OPC, which will include a tour of the Commission’s facilities. OPC is making their meeting space available at no cost. The Network anticipates that it will continue to support OPC, fostering a relationship that delivers value to both groups.

Engaging the Community Group for Volunteer Support. Springfield (MO) holds an annual auction to raise funds for local community groups. Beneficiary groups are selected based on their work, their need, and one additional, important criterion: a willingness to be involved and help with the fund-raising event. The Network has found that an actively engaged charity results in a more successful outcome. Their involvement helps reduce the volunteer burden, which is recognized and appreciated by Network members. It also introduces new people into the fund raiser, which encourages greater participation by Network members and exposes community leaders to the Women’s Council. The selected groups have all responded enthusiastically to the request for their participation.

Mirroring the Women’s Council Mission. The synergy between the missions of the Scottsdale Area (AZ) and the Girls Rule Foundation is obvious. The Arizona-based non-profit works to help girls become the next generation of leaders. It’s five programs serve girls age 12 to 18, with the goal of teaching positive skill sets that will influence healthy choice making, create strong self-esteem and build bright futures. Local Network members have opportunities to engage directly with participating girls. The Network’s involvement stems from the 2015 president who was active with the Foundation and proposed it as a designated Network charity. Now in its third year of support, Network enthusiasm remains strong for the organization that helps build future leaders – perhaps preparing some of them to continue their leadership growth in the Women’s Council of REALTORS®. 

Tips for Leveraging Activities

Supporting local groups doesn’t need to require a lot of time or effort. Among other initiatives, Montgomery County (TX) routinely “passes the hat” at its meetings and donates proceeds to a local women’s shelter. Regardless of how a local Network goes about choosing a worthy cause or organizes its community activities, it’s advisable to be strategic about the choices. Here are a few tips to consider:

  1. Think local. Charitable efforts typically have a greater impact when the results are seen or felt in your own community.
  2. Spend volunteer time wisely. Consider all that you ask of members and avoid commitments that will exceed available volunteer time or detract from your core mission.
  3. Recognize your volunteers. They will remember this when you ask again for their time – perhaps for committee or workgroup participation.
  4. Create visibility. Use your website, social media, local press, etc., to promote your activities. A recent study found that 90 percent of Americans are more likely to trust and stay loyal to companies that actively try to make a difference. Be careful, however, not to appear self-serving or disrespectful of the privacy of individuals who benefit from your efforts.
  5. Capitalize on networking opportunities. Look for ways to connect members with allied business groups to network. For example, partner with one of your sponsors or a local title company on an activity that physically brings people together in support of a cause.

Altruistic projects have the most impact at the local level and, therefore, is best left to the local Network to determine whether to take on such activities and, if so, for which group(s) and to what degree. As you plan, be strategic and look for ways to raise awareness about the Women’s Council of REALTORS® and its core values, including professional credibility, leadership, diversity, and the power of relationships, among others. Activities that benefit both a deserving organization while reflecting the mission of the Council is a true win-win.

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