Your Charity Shouldn't Be Secret

Thanks to the rhetoric of politicians, the image of builders as land pillagers is widespread. Thus, when builders use some of their hard-earned profit for charity, they should do so in a very public way.

By Stan Ehrlich, Contributing Editor | June 30, 2003


Stan Ehrlich

On the whole, these have been good times for builders virtually all across America. New home sales, building permits and selling prices are pointing up, and many builders have found the past few years to be among their best. But who is sharing in your success, and are you making your largesse known to the community?

I have been in and around the residential construction industry for 18 years and have seen builders do incredible things with their talents. I've also seen many builders accumulate extraordinary sums of money.

But I have not witnessed enough public acts of charity that would endear home builders to the general public.

Charitable acts can earn builders significant political capital to be stored for future use. In my home state of New Jersey, builders are waging a battle that, for some, will literally turn out to be a fight for survival. The governor has decided that a moratorium on new home construction in most every suburban and rural community is the best way to implement smart growth.

Even though I am a life director of the New Jersey Builders Association, I hasten to think that the struggle being waged by New Jersey builders would be easier if builders had a better image in the public eye.

When people sit bumper to bumper on one of the state's roadways, all they see is the end result of residential construction: vehicular traffic.

Short-term memory dictates they will not recall moving to suburbia for the same reason as everyone else on the highway -- a better quality of life for their family.

They also tend to forget that a builder constructed their home, but they do know they don't want anyone else moving to their municipality effective the day after they move in!

I am fully aware that many builders are charitable in their own ways. Many work for and contribute to religious organizations or donate significant sums to groups such as Special Olympics or the Boy and Girl Scouts.

But most of those acts are out of the public eye. While the deeds are good, the acts are known to but a few.

But what of the builder who lends his or her company name to the building of a new playground? Or the construction of a Little League field? Or puts the name on a highway marker and is responsible for cleaning up 2 miles of roadway every few months? Or donates funds to construct a "Welcome to" municipality sign that greets visitors to a community?

These types of public acts can provide builders with positive exposure within their community and can humanize their employees in the eyes of the public.

Thanks to the rhetoric of politicians (who warmly take builder/PAC contributions), the public image of builders as land pillagers is widespread. Thus, when builders use some of their hard-earned profit for charitable reasons, they should do so in a very public way.

It might not be the unassuming method you prefer, but it might be the best way to get public support to combat the zoning and permitting problems more and more of you will face in the coming years. Do good things with your money, and don't keep it a secret.


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