Thought Leadership

Doing Good Business by Doing Good

Successful businesses should add community involvement to their business plans

Doing good is more than a feel-good enterprise for companies. According to Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s report “State of Corporate Citizenship 2017,” companies that incorporate corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their overall business strategies find that they are successful in achieving all other business goals, including reducing employee turnover and operational costs, and attracting new and retaining current customers.

Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.

No one knows that better than Bonnie Engler, president of Pilgrim Dry Cleaners. Founded 75 years ago by Engler’s father, Don Rosen, Pilgrim Dry Cleaners has 25 locations and nine free home and office pick-up and delivery routes throughout Minnesota. Although its focus is on garment care, it emphasizes caring for the community, as well.

“My father, both personally and in business, truly believed in giving back to the community,” says Engler. “He taught people about charitable giving and helping others.”

This desire to give back to the community resulted in the company’s Coats for Kids Drive, a 30-year-old program that provides coats to children in need. Pilgrim also organizes Scouting for Uniforms, a collection drive for Boy Scout uniforms, and Costumes for Kids, a Halloween costume drive. In addition to those clothing drives, they host “A Prom to Remember,” a dance for children with special needs.

“We care about kids and communities and have developed a number of community programs to help them thrive,” she says.

Building Your Program
For companies looking to give back, Engler notes that it’s critical to explore not only what people in the community need, but also your own interests and passions. Engler’s father was deeply troubled about the many children who are forced to go without suitable coats during Minnesota’s severe winters. So, a coat drive was a natural fit for Pilgrim. Today, the company collects and cleans nearly 10,000 coats every year.

“You have to identify what’s the need out there,” she says. “Don’t just do a charitable program. Make sure you understand what the
need is and that you have a passion for it.”

Building Team
Engler also encourages employers to ask their employees what their favorite charities are. Every year, Pilgrim provides its employees with a specific dollar amount to donate to the nonprofits of their choice.

To create that sense of belonging and camaraderie, Engler encourages companies to keep employees in the loop on every aspect of their charitable efforts. Talk about the programs’ significance and share updates as often as possible. Pilgrim’s employees are involved every step of the way with its coat drive — from fall kick-off to the final experience of providing the children with much-needed coats.

“They’re working extra hours and all feel like part of our team,” she says. “I want people to understand how good it feels to help others. So we do whatever we can do to let them know we want to give back.”

And of course, be sure to thank your employees for their involvement, she says. “Let them know how much you appreciate them. You want them always to feel a part of what you’re doing."

Building Community
Initiatives such as Pilgrim’s clothing drives not only supply a need; they also strengthen the bond between companies and the customers they serve. For example, rather than simply dropping off the clothes and driving off, donators for Pilgrim’s drives stay and chat because they genuinely appreciate the business’s efforts. That is something organizations should strive for, says Engler: being more than just a business — being a friend that people can rely on.

Coats for Kids has become such an institution, customers will scout summer garage sales for coats to give to Pilgrim in the fall. “It’s gotten to the point where the community feels like our partner,” says Engler.

A strong relationship with the community helps ensure longevity for a company. But for Pilgrim it’s much more personal than that. “We are doing what we can to try to make life better for people today,” she says.