By The Editors
Ace Hardware Foundation’s president talks charity initiatives and how other businesses can follow their lead.
When it comes to serving communities on a global scale, Kane Calamari understands the value of entrepreneurship and creating unique buyer experiences. /4s president of the Ace Hardware Foundation, and vice president of human resources, organizational development, and communications at Ace Hardware, Calamari oversees the world’s largest hardware cooperative.
The “cooperative” designation means that more than 4,800 of Ace’s stores are locally owned and operated by entrepreneurs all across the globe. The organization hopes that this business model will bring added value to communities and allow each store to give back through local, philanthropic initiatives.
Companies are increasingly becoming more aware of how important giving is. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, corporate giving in 2015 increased to $18.46 billion—a 3. 9 percent increase from 2014. Here, Calamari discusses the ‘why’ behind the co-op structure and how philanthropy plays into the company’s commitment to corporate responsibility.
CR Magazine: How has Ace Hardware’s unique co-op structure influenced its philanthropic initiatives?
Kane Calamari: Founded more than 92 years ago. Ace was established by five independent hardware store owners who decided to come together to generate increased buying power. Our business model makes us one of the most unique retailers in the marketplace; in fact, no two stores [around] the globe look exactly the same or carry the same selection of merchandise. Retailers are encouraged to localize their stores to meet the needs of the communities they serve. That same approach also applies to how our retailers choose to give back. In fact, a recent study revealed that 99 percent of surveyed retailers actively choose to donate money to a charitable organization or cause. The company not only supports the community with in-kind donations, but also through product donations, volunteerism, and community involvement. From a corporate perspective, the Ace Hardware Foundation—the company’s philanthropic division— supports Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and the American Red Cross.
CR: Tell us a little bit about the Ace Foundation— when was the foundation launched and how did it get involved with Children’s Miracle Network?
KC: Founded in 1991, the Ace Hardware Foundation is the official charitable division of Ace Hardware Corporation. The foundation is 501c3 chartered to support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals (CMN Hospitals) and the American Red Cross during times of disaster.
The foundation provides support and philanthropic opportunities to store owners and their teams, customers, suppliers, and corporate team members, enabling them to give back to their local communities through fundraising efforts. To-date, Ace Hardware has raised more than $80 million for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars of product to the American Red Cross during times of disaster.
The reason we selected Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals as our charity of choice is because their hospital system emulates our business model so perfectly. All of the proceeds that are raised for a CMN Hospital stay local—just like our locally-owned stores. We feel strongly that when someone enters their local Ace Hardware store and generously donates to CMN Hospitals, those funds should remain local to families served by their local CMN Hospital. Every store across the country has an affiliated local CMN Hospital that their funds benefit; watching the relationships between our store teams and hospitals grow is something we are very proud of.
The vast majority of the funds we raise are undesignated, meaning each CMN Hospital uses the funds where they are needed most— whether it be child life therapies, research, equipment. We recognize that the hospital knows best in terms of where and how they use the funds. Undesignated funds are extremely valuable to a hospital and often cover many of things that insurance doesn’t.
One example of the relationship between the stores and hospitals comes from our groups of stores in Spokane, Wash. Stores in the area appoint an associate to serve as a fundraising champion, who helps advance the store’s philanthropy efforts. In addition, stores hold many of their meetings at the hospital where they learn about the hospital’s needs and programs.
At the last meeting, teams met with a handful of patients and their families and even helped lead some activities. Last Christmas, the group donated dozens of wagons that were used as “stockings” and wheeled to patient rooms on Christmas morning. Teams from the stores went to the hospital to help fill the wagons with donated gifts. Separately, when the hospital wanted to light a nearby park area this holiday season, they immediately turned to the company to help with the procurement of all the Christmas lights, and Ace was pleased to assist. The relationship between these stores and their local hospital is a true partnership that the stores are proud of, and this pride enables them
to speak firsthand about their impact when they ask customers for donations.
CR: Can you provide an example of a local philanthropic effort from an Ace retailer that worked?
KC: Our best ideas come from our store owners. For example, one of our best philanthropic ideas recently came from a store owner in New York City.
Matt Mazzone, an Ace Hardware retailer in Brooklyn, had tremendous success with a unique fundraising initiative in his store selling World’s Finest Chocolate Bars. The effort was so successful that he introduced the concept to leadership at the Ace Foundation, with the vision that it could be scaled and used as an additional fundraising lever across the entire organization.
The idea took off quickly, and todate, over 1.5 million bars have been sold in stores generating more than $750,000 for CMN Hospitals across the country in just 24 months.
CR: Are there any specific Ace Hardware events or programs to encourage retailers to partake in CSR efforts?
KC: In 2013 we launched the first-ever Ace Cares for Kids All-Star program. Every year, CMN Hospitals are invited to nominate a child patient that they feel would serve as a strong ambassador to help Ace fundraise for CMN Hospitals. Now entering its fifth successful year, we’ve found that when stores, team members and vendors feel connected to their Ace All-Star, really amazing fundraising efforts happen. I think the entire team can collectively agree that welcoming the newest Ace All-Star into our own family is one of the most rewarding parts of our year.
Our 2016 All-Star, Kasey Harvey is a truly amazing girl. Kasey Harvey is a cancer survivor. When she was 14 years old, Kasey visited a doctor to be treated for what she thought was a sinus infection, but soon learned she had an aggressive form of cancer in the maxillary sinus below her left eye. Thanks to a team of dedicated doctors and nurses at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, and after a year of chemotherapy and radiation, Kasey is now in remission. She has resumed her active lifestyle including playing goalie for her traveling soccer team and has inspired a nation by sharing her story and raising awareness of the lifesaving care that CMN Hospitals provide every day.
Since the All-Star program started, we have seen more than a 200 percent increase in store participation and our stores have tripled their funds raised. We’ve also noted that the market that the All-Star lives in has over doubled in their fundraising in the year of their “reign” every year since the program’s inception.
CR: Why is it important that Ace retailers participate in philanthropic initiatives? Specifically, how does Ace Corporate encourage its retailers to give back to the communities in which they serve?
KC: From a “corporate” standpoint, we have never had to do anything to encourage our stores to give back, it’s part of the Ace DNA. And we’re incredibly proud of that. Our goal is to equip stores with the tools and resources to effectively fundraise for their local CMN Hospital. We’ve always found that building connections between the store and the local hospital further inspires teams to want to fundraise even more. For example, we often work with the local CMN Hospital to provide statistics for the local stores that show how many patients from that store’s zip code were treated there in a given year—that number really hits home for both the store team and our customers.
CR: For you specifically, why is it important for organizations to have philanthropic divisions?
KC: When your brand stands for the word “helpful,” there’s a certain responsibility that comes along with it. We take an incredible amount of pride in being helpful in our stores, but also by making sure our stores have a lasting impact on the communities they serve.
In addition, when we talk about employee engagement, one of the highest drivers of engagement and satisfactions comes from when our teams feel that their contributions and efforts make a difference. Our employees tell us how much they appreciate our commitment to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across the country. And one of things we have heard from our retailers is that when they started fundraising, it changed their culture—it gave their employees something other than selling hardware to form a common bond over, which in turn, creates a more engaged and loyal employee.
While managing a 501c3 within a corporation can add complexities to your business model, and requires the knowledge of skilled professionals, the rewards most certainly exceed the challenges. Based on the fundraising results, levels of engagement and personal reward we have all taken away from growing the Ace Foundation, I highly advise my peers in the industry to consider what ways your organization can start giving back.
Calamari’s tips as on how other businesses can grow their CSR platforms:
• Your cause should fit your business. When you look at Ace and its passion for being helpful, hospitals and the Red Cross are a good fit. It’s also important to have focus. We have made the commitment to stay laser-focused on its current partners.
• Connect your people (customers, employees, retailers, etc.) to the cause. The company works hard to get employees, vendors, and retailers to visit local hospitals and meet the team and patients. When that connection is made, they understand the cause and the mission and they become more passionate about fundraising. Also use video to share stories of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
• Get competitive. Stores and team members are encouraged to compete against one another to see who can raise the most funds for CMN Hospitals. A little bit of friendly rivalry, when in good taste and to benefit a great cause, is a great motivator.
• Ensure company leadership is connected to the cause and believes in the mission. The Ace Foundation team is 100 percent committed to CMN Hospitals and the Red Cross. For example, I had the chance to do a radio interview with four-year-old Kenzie Ford and her mom from Arkansas. She had achondroplasia—and the neurosurgeons and others from her local CMN hospital saved her life. I won’t ever forget that radio interview with her.