For real estate managers, being successful leaders now means much more than achieving financial profitability. As more emphasis is placed on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, leaders know that their social responsibility is another primary measure of effectiveness. And one way they are making a positive impact on the outside world is through community and charitable engagement.
Robust community engagement initiatives have many benefits, including tangible impacts on a particular charity or cause and increased tenant and customer engagement and satisfaction. Property management companies across the U.S. have been fine-tuning their community engagement initiatives, new and old, and are seeing the many advantages of this approach.
Living the mission
Many professionals agree that a robust community engagement plan brings a company’s social mission statement to life. For instance, Granite Properties, a developer, investor, and manager of primarily office space, focuses on inspiring people to flourish, whether that’s their customers, partners, stakeholders, or the communities they touch. A few years before the pandemic, Granite launched their customer engagement program, TogetherWeConnect®. This program allows development of meaningful connections in the workplace, giving back to the community, and improvement of overall wellness. It includes two large annual philanthropic events, known as TogetherWeGive, and multiple pop-up and virtual events throughout the year.
“We feel a direct responsibility to the communities where we live, and we love to contribute in partnership with our customers,” says Jessica L. Warrior, CPM®, RPA, who oversees Granite Properties’ five markets. “Our hope with TogetherWeConnect was to engage with our customers as well as the greater community. We’re creating a place where we can all flourish.”
In the summertime, Granite customers and employees join to pack snacks and write uplifting notes for children participating in local Boys and Girls Club of America summer programs. This past summer, Granite employees and customers packed over 9,700 snack bags for the kids, who often don’t have access to meals or snacks during the summer unless provided to them by the club.
“It’s such a cool way to bring everybody together in the building and make a difference in so many kids’ lives,” Warrior says.
During the holidays, Granite customers and employees collect donations for local assisted living facilities and nursing homes. “We send toothbrushes, aftershave, deodorant, and other personal items,” she says. “Our customers love participating, writing individualized notes, and delivering the products. The groups who make the deliveries also get the added benefit of spending time with the residents.”
Since 2009, Granite employees have contributed 33,765 charitable hours—14.5 hours per person per year. Warrior says that engaging their communities has always been important to Granite. “When our customers are happy within their own building and feel part of the greater community as well, it serves two benefits: It makes the buildings more profitable, and we do good deeds in the world. It’s an easy choice to make.”
Making the biggest impact
Some companies can look to their own property portfolio for areas to do the most good for their surrounding communities. Bradley Company manages commercial and multifamily properties throughout the Midwest. Most of the 94 multifamily properties that Bradley manages are affordable housing communities, and helping the residents of these communities is a shared passion of the Bradley team.
Heather Turner, executive managing director for multihousing with Bradley, says the company partners with local agencies to share resources, including enrollment assistance for state benefits, health screenings, and education on healthy living habits and how to care for a home.
“At our senior housing properties, we coordinate meal services for lunch every day,” Turner says. “It creates a nice sense of community because it allows residents to get out of their house, meet each other, and enjoy a hot meal every day.”
Bradley also works with local companies to donate food and hygiene products for their properties’ pantries, similar to small convenience stores. “Our residents can come in and get whatever they need for free,” Turner says.
The Bradley team also hosts back-to-school drives to collect school supplies for the children living in their buildings.
In addition to their work within the affordable housing communities, Bradley has other philanthropic initiatives to engage all their employees.
“We do many things throughout the year, such as volunteering at Oaklawn Psychiatric Center’s Camp Mariposa, a camp for kids affected by a family member’s substance abuse, or partnering with Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen to support those in need of meals in Ukraine,” says Kim Collins, CPM®, executive managing director for commercial asset services and interim COO at Bradley.
Collins says that their efforts have a ripple effect in the community. “When we do a spring cleanup at a low-income or affordable property, it’s great for those residents, but it’s also beneficial for the surrounding buildings and anybody who lives nearby. Bradley’s purpose is ‘building partnerships, improving communities, and changing lives.’ So as a company, we take community engagement seriously.”
Adds Turner: “Our involvement puts our money where our mouth is—actually living out our initiatives.”
In addition to making a difference at their respective companies, IREM members are making an even more significant impact with their IREM chapter initiatives.
Over the last 16 years, the IREM Indianapolis Chapter has raised almost $260,000 for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, which offer housing and support for families of sick or hospitalized children. Every Father’s Day weekend, the chapter holds the “Heroes for the House” 5K run/walk, an event that has attracted as many as 450 people.
“We just want to leave a positive footprint in our community,” says Viki Hamblen, CPM®, the 2023 Indianapolis Chapter president. “Our brand stands to educate and develop people, and we want to give that to the community as well.”
Nicole Blanton, CPM®, IREM association executive, says she loves seeing the camaraderie at these 5K weekends. Some teams, such as “I Love Lucy,” gather to support children who stayed at the Ronald McDonald House. “It’s amazing to see them all out there on race day with their matching shirts,” she says.
Hamblen says chapter members also donate time by cooking meals for Ronald McDonald House residents, though they haven’t done this as much recently because of COVID-19 safety protocols.
“Going into the Ronald McDonald House and being a part of what takes place there really hits home and reinforces why we do what we do,” Hamblen says. “These families are already going through such a hard time, so making someone’s life a little better in any way at all is definitely impactful.”
They say that some of the industry partners who support the cause have been inspired to donate even more and offer free or discounted services, like painting or maintenance, to Ronald McDonald House.
The chapter raises funds through sponsors, many of whom are vendors or industry partners. Depending on their sponsorship level, they receive logo visibility on event signage, email blasts, or the event website. “Many of our corporate sponsors have been with us since day one,” Hamblen says, adding, “Our initiative is key to our consistency. Over the years, a lot of charity 5Ks have decreased in size, but we’ve stayed consistent.”
Where to begin
Property managers have plenty of insight into creating an impactful community engagement strategy.
Partner with building owners. Collins says many owners already have their own initiatives, so this is an easy way to get started.
Reach out to your professional organizations. “Many, like IREM, have philanthropic arms, so see how you can engage them,” Collins says. Hamblen and Blanton say that IREM chapters can share a wealth of knowledge with one another, and their leaders love to share their own tips and success stories.
Work with a local expert. To make the event as successful as possible, partner with local event coordinators and experts who know all of the detailed requirements—think proper event permitting—to ensure the event goes off without a hitch. Says Turner, “Many resources and third parties are already doing the work and looking for partners. Don’t do it by yourself.”
Whether within a company or an IREM chapter, leadership involvement is essential for successful community engagement. Warrior says that Granite senior leadership makes a point to attend the events. Granite sees customer engagement opportunities as a priority for everyone on the team, not just the onsite management staff.
Turner explains that Bradley emphasizes servant leadership. “If your leaders aren’t out there with everybody else, doing the cleanup and participating, it’s hard to get buy-in from all the other professionals,” she says. “But it’s part of Bradley’s core values. Our leaders are right there; they are the professionals leading by example.”