It all started 10 years ago with a small food drive, explained Regency Cigar Emporium owner Michael Correia shortly after handing over a $30,000 check to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank at their Niantic Avenue headquarters in Providence.
At the start, Regency solicited their customers for donations and didn’t set a real goal, simply wondering how much they could gather for those in situations less fortunate than their own. The competitiveness of their clients to one-up one another, along with the full buy-in from the company’s employees and management, led the cigar shop to an unexpected problem to have; one born from benevolence.
“The last couple years we raised over 20,000 of pounds of food each year,” Correia said. “It became too much for us and a little overwhelming. It took over our facility to a point where we were unable to operate and I said something needs to change.”
The change was to turn to seeking monetary donations rather than physical food this year. Correia said he faced some skepticism from customers and past donors, but after informing them of the operations of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank - how they turn every dollar into three pounds of quality food, and how 88 cents of every dollar goes to their core mission - the donors ran with the idea.
With a goal of $22,000 - in celebration of 22 years in business - the donors from Regency Cigar Emporium blew the goal out of the water with $30,000 raised in just 10 days.
The methodology is nothing out of the ordinary for those in the nonprofit field. They solicit donors who are already loyal customers, in the past they’ve incentivized donations with chances at prizes or merchandise giveaways, they make the donation process easy - allowing donations in person, over the phone or online - and utilize social media to help get the word out. What makes the effort special is that they aren’t a nonprofit, and they are simply doing as a means to raise money for what they deem a worthy cause.
“We maximize on every opportunity, so when we're asking our clients to donate, we use the tax implications, the generosity factor, a little element of competition - anything to get them to donate, it all factors in,” Correia said. “We really put all the effort into it. The team is absolutely phenomenal. We focus on it like it's a business opportunity. Instead of making sales, it's collecting donations.”
Still, Correia said the most important motivation for their customers and donors continues to be the desire to make a difference and help out those in their local communities that need help.
“It's typical human nature,” he said. “If you inform them and you educate them about what's really needed and what's going on out there, they are happy to contribute and help make a difference.”
Andrew Schiff knows a thing or two about the importance of charitable donations. As CEO of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, donations are a necessity not only to the continuing life of his nonprofit organization, but for the lives of the 53,000 Rhode Islanders who rely on the shelves remaining stocked in order to stave off hunger.
So when Schiff calls a particular charitable effort from a local business a “model” for what he hopes other businesses can try to accomplish, he’s not simply being polite.
“The people that they turned to and the way that they did fundraising was so successful and so good and really a model for other companies,” Schiff said of Regency’s donation. “This is what we hope other companies will do, is step up and figure out how they can engage their community of customers and colleagues in a food drive or a fund drive for us and then set a goal and make it happen.”
The efforts of Regency Cigar Emporium, with locations in Barrington and East Greenwich, resonate particularly because of how they continue to grow their donating efforts year to year.
“It's become a culture. We like to aim big,” Correia said. “We kept setting bigger goals. When you set a goal, it makes all the difference in the world.”
The Rhode Island Community Food Bank has an $8 million budget, but only receives $175,000 of that through state funding - a number that didn’t increase in Governor Gina Raimondo’s recently released budget proposal for FY2020. The remainder must be found through donors, 50 percent of which are individual donors.
The efforts from Regency Cigar Emporium alone will contribute toward nearly 100,000 pounds of food being purchased for Rhode Islanders at risk of hunger. For context, the Rhode Island Community Food bank has set a goal for 10 million pounds of food in a given year to be acquired and distributed. In just over one week of fundraising, one small business helped contribute nearly 1 percent of the needed food for the state’s biggest food bank.
“We need a lot of companies like this to step up and help us, and the fortunate thing is that Rhode Island companies have been really generous,” Schiff said.
Schiff said that, despite changes in tax laws possibly affecting how charitable deductions are handled, the food bank hasn’t noticed any changing trends in people’s desire to give. The same motivation as always - selfless, not selfish in nature - is what keeps the engine running.
“People have continued to be very loyal to us as donors and it has not affected giving,” he said. “I think people think first about where there is a need, second about where personally they can have the biggest impact, and then what particular cause is important to them.”