Circle of giving

As the holiday season becomes a distant memory, the frenzy of charity drives and donations fades.

But for some companies, incorporating philanthropy into their business plan does more than just help the needy. Putting owners and employees in touch with local movers and shakers can integrate an organization into its community with a reputation that helps translate into success at its most important level — the bottom line.

Our daily bread

In 1996, when Randy and Gerri Verdi opened a bakery in Lake County, they sought to join the community where they grew up. Since then, their continued fund-raising activities have become a core ingredient of their business success.

The mission statement of Great Harvest Bread Co. incorporates Randy Verdi’s personal philosophy: “Bread is our excuse and our opportunity to connect and care for our community and one another.”

Verdi is one of more than 140 owners of the Montana-based franchise that offers fresh bread products from wheat milled in each store. While on the fast track to success with an investment brokerage firm, Verdi says he realized that reaching the top was not bringing him personal satisfaction. Simply put, he needed more from his work than just a paycheck.

I lost the passion for corporate America,” he says.

Verdi describes his Mentor shop as a ministry that offers him the opportunity to touch and serve people. Through that process, he shares his good fortune with local and national nonprofit organizations.

“I believe for whatever you do, there can be a higher calling,” he says.

While donations are typical, unusual programs bring Great Harvest’s 17 employees together with the people they serve. The net result is that those in need get help, and the corner building is turned into the community bakeshop.

“Baker for the Day” is a popular fund-raiser held several times a year on days when the bakery is normally closed. Verdi and his employees donate their time, leading nonprofit groups such as the Mentor Rotary Club through the bread-baking business.

Verdi supplies the ingredients, and about 30 people prepare, shape, bake and sell bread from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The day’s profits go directly to a designated charity; to date, the program has raised more than $15,000.

Another annual program teams Great Harvest with United Way of Lake County. At the Ugliest Gift Exchange, household items are exchanged for a free loaf of bread. Plans are also underway for a sports competition to promote the American Red Cross blood drive.

A strong foundation

Russ Masetta and his wife, Antonia, took a different approach in 1989 when they founded Nature Stone. The company, with offices in Bedford and Columbus, promotes giving through its Good Neighbor Program.

One percent of every sale, or a minimum of $10 per sale, is donated to any charity designed by the customer.

Nature Stone repairs and beautifies cement flooring with an epoxy resin combined with natural stone such as quartz, river stone or pebbles. While it corrects uneven and cracked cement, the granular flooring also offers designs and patterns.

During the start-up process, Masetta had more good ideas than good sales. The former cement layer says, “There’s some benefit helping us by letting the community know we’re involved and trying to give back a little bit.”

To date, the company has given $250,000 to local organizations, and as sales increase, so do the donations. Nature Stone distributed approximately $60,000 last year alone.

Catholic Charities has been a popular destination for the funds, and Patrick Grace, vice president of development for that organization, says he appreciates the consistent and unusual method of donations.

“There’s only a handful of businesses that operate under that premise,” Grace says.

Nature Stone representatives do not use the program as a sales tool, discussing it with customers only after the sale is confirmed. The company’s growth reflects its reputation; what began with two people has grown to 46 employees, 3,500 yearly installations and about $6 million in annual sales.

But cutting a check is not enough, says Masetta.

“Going out of our way to make sure customers are satisfied ties in with the philosophy of charitable giving.” How to reach: Great Harvest Bread, (440) 205-8199; Nature Stone, (440) 786-9100

Deborah Garofalo ([email protected])is an associate editor at SBN Magazine