When times are tough, many members of the lighting industry step up to help out.
By Susan Grisham
When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast, lighting companies ‒ particularly those based in New York and New Jersey ‒ were quick to respond with products, funds, and personnel.
Long Island, N.Y.-based Satco Products teamed up with City of Industry, Calif.-based Maxim Lighting and retailer Capitol Lighting in New Jersey to donate bulbs and fixtures to the Morris County, N.J. Habitat for Humanity ReStore facility to help families rebuild. WAC Lighting, also based on Long Island, established a program with a link on its Web site encouraging industry friends and employees to help communities impacted by the storm.
“Many of the lives of our employees, customers, and specifiers [were] affected dramatically and we [worked] vigorously to get them back on their feet,” says WAC president Shelley Wald.
This is only one example, but the responses are typical of the industry, which has a long tradition of giving – whether it is to aid families devastated by hurricanes, tornadoes, illness, or other adversities or when promoting eco-friendly causes. Those companies that have active charity programs say involvement creates more than good will and community recognition; it’s also good for business.
Jilla Farzan, executive vice president of Commerce, Calif.-based Nora Lighting and head of the company’s community outreach program, has offered support for many types of causes through donations of product and financial aid. When the Recession started, however, Farzan realized that many charities were being adversely affected.
“They were losing their donor base, and that’s when we really started donations to projects that supply a home for those who may otherwise not have one,” Farzan explains. Last year, Nora Lighting made a major donation on behalf of its customers, reps, and staff to Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, one of southern California’s oldest children’s community service organizations. Its activities span a spectrum of services for families with children who have significant social, learning, and developmental disabilities as well as providing a home for up to 200 kids.
Nora Lighting also donates close-out fixtures to the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Gardena, which resells those building materials at low cost back to the community. And like many manufacturers, Nora donates product and time to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Farzan’s father, now age 100, has founded several charities in their homeland of Iran, so organizing and screening charitable causes comes naturally to her. “You have to educate yourself on a charity and find out where the money goes and how much actually reaches those in need,” she advises. “Charity can also begin on a very local level. For example, one of our employees is an assistant coach for a local soccer team in a less-advantaged community. They needed equipment and uniforms, and we were more than happy to help.”
Lucy Dearborn, co-owner of Lucia Lighting & Design in Lynn, Mass. agrees that charity can be done close to home. “It’s our company culture,” she says. “Everyone who works here feels passionately about the community – and it’s a two-way street. We support our employees and the community, and the people always give back. I’m very fortunate to have a business partner, David Solimine, Jr., who is also a very generous man. Most of the time we give products for raffles,” Dearborn explains. “In one case, we were fortunate to come across a pair of Boston Red Sox tickets, which we raffled off to raise quite a lot of money through social media and in our store for tornado relief benefitting a town here in Massachusetts.”
Lucia Lighting also began the Cynthia Balesteri Ray ’03 Memorial Scholarship at Endicott College (Ray’s alma mater), in memory of Ray, an employee who was tragically killed in an automobile accident.
“If you open a business in a community, you need to be a part of it. That community supports you,” Dearborn remarks. “People do want to help and if you ask a lot of people to do [just] a little, most won’t say no.”
Catherine Schlawin, CLC, manager of Dominion Electric’s Chantilly, Va. showroom, knows a lot about fundraising. An avid participant in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training half marathons, she also promotes Dominion’s causes through her blog for the company. “We are always donating lamps and fixtures for silent auctions. Most recently we were involved in a new shelter for the HomeAid of Northern Virginia, which provides temporary housing for families in crisis,” she comments. Dominion donated $10,000 in lamps and fixtures that completed eight apartments and the hallway for the nearby Loudoun County Transitional Shelter.
Wald of WAC Lighting has been involved with the New York Asian Women’s Center (NYAWC) for several years and the company has donated lighting products to enrich the center’s residences for women and children recovering from domestic violence. Wald and her mother, Tai Wang, have both received many accolades for their work with the Asian community. Wang’s work has centered on providing surgery for children with heart defects and cleft palates.
The NYAWC will receive another financial boost thanks to Bob Bazan, director /business development for WAC, who has joined Team Phoenix to raise funds by participating in the ING New York City Marathon this fall. He was also part of the WAC Lighting team running in the Marcum Workplace Challenge, a Long Island-based fundraising event held this summer at Jones Beach State Park.
“Giving back is who we are and part of our company philosophy of Responsible Lighting,” Wald affirms. “We want to work with like-minded people, and it fosters an environment that is creative to work in.”
WAC has also turned its resources to the sciences, funding a grant at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “Initially it helped us explore more lighting technology, but we also developed relationships with other partners such as NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority),” Wald notes. For two years, the company has sponsored the Invitational Science Fair involving Long Island high school students. “Our engineers have fun getting involved with the fairs, and it invigorates them seeing the kids so motivated. One fair project involved nanotechnology that we are actually interested in.”
Another home-focused charity that has received a financial boost is Dallas-based Dwell With Dignity, a group of interior designers and volunteers dedicated to creating inspiring homes for families struggling with homelessness and poverty. It has welcomed the Dallas Market Center (DMC) as its newest partner.
For the past three years, the DMC has also sponsored The Next Big Give, a search for specialty retailers that make a difference through volunteering, raising funds, or donating goods. This year’s winners are Mary Liz Curtin of Leon & Lulu in Clawson, Mich. and Jean Haller of Journeys of Life in Pittsburgh.
When Curtin and her husband, Stephen Scannell, first opened their hybrid furniture/home décor boutique in a remodeled roller rink, their marketing budget was minimal. “We had no mailing list initially, but decided to team up with a charity for our promotions,” Curtin explains. “The charity attracted people from the community and also had its own following, bringing new customers to the store. The results were so beneficial we decided to continue. Now it’s how we spend our marketing dollars.” In fact Leon & Lulu held 60+ charity-sponsored events in the store last year.
Besides individual company efforts, the gift and home furnishings industry supports the Gift for Life, an organization founded in 1992 by several people who lost friends and colleagues to AIDS. Since then the group ‒ with a board run by volunteers ‒ has raised more than $5 million. Retailers and manufacturers can participate through its major fundraisers: the Party for Life, held during the winter in New York City; Up on the Roof sponsored by International Market Centers during its Summer Las Vegas Market; flash sales at the NY NOW® gift show; and donations from manufacturers based on sales of merchandise purchased during key markets such as High Point.
One event that has special meaning for the lighting industry is the La Grange, Ill.-based H Foundation’s Goombay Bash, held every August to benefit basic cancer research through the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University. The H Foundation was founded by John Rot, owner of Horton’s Home Lighting, and in 12 years has raised $5 million ($500,000 in 2012 alone). Spurred by the loss of two Horton’s employees who were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other, Rot has relied on industry and local friends and celebrities to support this and other fundraisers. This year’s event generated a record $540,000.
Whether it’s because the industry supplies one of the major essentials for any residence or that its people are always quick to respond to others’ misfortunes, it’s a given that when it comes to charity, it always seems to start at home.
Avoid Donation Fatigue
For most people, wanting to help in the name of a good cause is natural. According to retail marketing guru and founder of WhizBang! Training Bob Negen, however, donation fatigue can quickly grow as organizations discover your generosity. Negen has several tips to turn the negatives of charitable affairs into solid retail boosters. Among his suggestions is donating gift certificates instead of merchandise – but tying the number of certificates cashed in to a donation to the charity. Find more suggestions at www.whizbangtraining.com