Community contributions and construction marketing

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Robert Merkley and Michelle van Vliet

Robert Merkley with Michelle van Vliet, director, communications and marketing at The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

This morning, I’ll join more than 600 others in a 100 km bicycle ride to support cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital.  The Ride the Rideau community project, initiated by Robert Merkley at Merkley Supply Ltd. and Claude DesRosiers of Boone Plumbing and Heating Supply, has attracted contributions of well over $1 million, with incredible support from the local construction industry.

I have a “bit” role in this story.  Robert induced me to join his team (the Brick Peddlars) with a commitment to raise $1,500 for research.  After agreeing to this commitment, I discovered (to my surprise) that Robert had personally funded $250 of my commitment, and his company another $250.  I imagine he provided the same support for other team members, and has contributed additional resources for relevant sponsorships, so I imagine the real financial contributions here are quite incredible.

Initially, I thought I would replace my 20-year-old bike, which has sat unused on hook in our garage for more than 12 years.  But after a $30 tune-up, the bike seems okay — and I decided the cost of a new bike could better be applied to a $1,000 contribution to the hospital foundation.

Robert said, “no, you don’t have to put in all of your own money” and sent a sample fundraising letter.  I modified it slightly, sending it to friends, family and members of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders’ Association (of which Merkley is this year’s president).  I offered to match contributions up to $100.

oca re ride the rideau

The Ottawa Construction Association (OCA) hosted a pre-ride reception in the association’s boardroom for riders who are also members of the association.

Much to my (pleasant) surprise, several individuals have stepped up to the plate, including some who contributed much more than the $100 matching number.  Although my totals are still puny in comparison to the overall, the net contribution has reached more than $2,000.00.  Of course, we’ve also contributed substantially in “kind” in media sponsorship, publicity and promotional considerations.

Now, you might wonder how all of this effort to raise money for cancer research has anything to do with our businesses or this blog’s construction marketing theme, especially since most readers here are far from Ottawa and you would likely have no reason to support a hospital research initiative in a mid-sized Canadian city.

The answer is simple:  If you want to build your brand and reputation, I know of few better and potentially less expensive self-promotional methods than to genuinely make a contribution to your local community, without any selfish intent  or expectation.  The contribution is best if it involves leadership and, if not, actual physical action, more than contributing some money to worthy causes.

The reason, of course, is by putting yourself beyond your business and short-term self-interest, you make connections with others in a manner that cannot be duplicated in a conventional selling model.  You show you really care about bigger things, and earn the trust, recognition and respect of both your peers and current and potential clients.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m expecting nothing more from today’s ride than a rather sore butt and stronger muscles My own matching contributions, coupled with the funds raised through my own network, are just a small drop in a big bucket.  Yet, I know the effort is 100 per cent worthwhile and is far more important than any conventional “marketing efforts” we could pursue.

Can you think of ways you can take a leadership role in community and charitable contributions?  If you are, please let me know, as I’ll be happy to share the news.

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