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Giving back benefits the givers, too

“Give one hour of your time (or contribute $10 dollars) and join us in packaging 100,000 holiday meals,” the sign read in the service department at Crown Automotive Group.

Joe and Susan Lewis of Mount Dora Boating Center and Marina say “it’s one of the ways we can give back to our community,” speaking about their 1 million Christmas lights and displays that literally cover the marina grounds, buildings and docks.

The employees of one of the industry’s largest finance and insurance outsourcing providers, Priority One, volunteered their time to prepare and serve meals to 100 people at a center for homeless people in Tampa.

What did they all have in common? Giving back.

These days, we often see news coverage of professional athletes, for example, using their celebrity status to make a positive impact off the field. In fact, they’re giving back by doing something that matters in their community or for their favorite cause or to help a worthy group get a boost in fundraising through more exposure. But it’s really not just about publicity, although that usually comes with it. Rather, it’s about reaching out beyond one’s individual world and for businesses possibly taking your customers and suppliers along with you.

At the risk of oversimplification, giving back is a realization that there’s a bigger picture and a bigger idea in play. It lets people around you see a passion evidenced by the fact that you take action.

Giving back can be as modest or as complicated as you make it. For example, the Crown Automotive Group simply tied in with a local “Feeding Children Everywhere” organization, providing Crown employees and customers with the location and format to assemble the meal packages. Similarly, the Priority One employees teamed up with the well-established Homeless Emergency Project that provides housing and services to the homeless and needy veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

One the other hand, you can jump in with both feet like the Lewis family. Have you ever seen the classic movie “Christmas Vacation” in which Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) blankets his house with lights? Well, quadruple that for the Lewis’ marina (I’m not exaggerating). The tall dry-stack buildings are literally covered in a sea of blue twinkle lights, the extensive grounds feature displays like a ferris wheel, carousel, train, sleigh, reindeer, wake boarder, lighted boats and docks, dozens of decorated trees, fences and much more.

It takes weeks to put up all the lights. There’s even a large “Elf Shop” dedicated to assembly of all the Christmas gear tucked on the property. Susan quickly points out the “Elf” is Joe. He puts up most of the lights, although he’s occasionally successful at recruiting help from their teens, Joey and Julia.

So why does he do it? “I love Christmas and I believe the lights bring joy to lots of people,” he confesses. Indeed they do. When I traveled to Mount Dora to see the lights for myself, I also witnessed the continuous flow of people stopping to see the marina.

But it’s also a serious give-back to this small central Florida lakeside community that’s very much dependent on tourists visiting its quaint downtown antique and art shops. There, the town park features a variety of beautifully lighted trees and gardens. Just five blocks from the park is the Lewis’ marina. While there, I met the city manager, Mike Quinn. He revealed his plan this summer to install new sidewalks and lighting that can be decorated with Christmas lights to create a sparkling walkway connection with the park at one end and the marina displays at the other.

Though clearly not the Lewis’ purpose, the business has benefitted, too. “When talking with boat sales or docking prospects on the phone,” says Joe, “we usually hear: ‘You’re the marina with the Christmas lights, right? I know where you are’.”

What the Lewis family and the others noted here have discovered is how to give back in the community and impact lives in a positive way. The fact is all dealers can identify a cause that means something to them.

For 2013, why not do some homework? Then make contact and explore how your dealership team can become part of something good, not just for a moment but for the long haul. Because it’s the latter commitment that will become a way others come to know you. And, it could be good for business, too.


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