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Make a Difference: 35 association community outreach programs that build, beautify, and inspire

October 24, 2016

From planting community gardens to hosting home ownership seminars, REALTORS® and their associations contribute countless hours of community service every year. They raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for local and national charities. They also raise awareness for issues ranging from walkable communities to workforce housing. They grow, beautify, and enrich their communities in many ways. On the following pages we feature just a sampling of the REALTOR® association–led community and consumer outreach efforts shaping communities nationwide.

Building & Beautification: Helping communities become more livable, sustainable, and desirable.  

Build homes. Working closely with the Bend Area Habitat for Humanity, the Central Oregon Association of REALTORS® helped raise $75,000 ($40,000 from members) this summer for a project called “The House that Real Estate Built.” REALTORS® also volunteered to help build the house, on which construction will begin later this year. To help facilitate raising money and coordinating volunteers, Habitat for Humanity created a custom webpage for the association, which took the burden of tracking financial contributions and organizing volunteers of the 1,700-member association.

Promote walkability. The Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS®, S.C., partnered with the city of Myrtle Beach on a two-day walkability study of the community and a workshop with nationally recognized consultants, REALTORS®, city planners, engineers, the mayor, and city administrators. The goal was to improve walkability and biking in the city’s main corridors. As a result of the event, the city is enacting plans to make the community a more desirable place to live.

Plant Community Gardens. Helping conserve open space and transform a local rural property into a natural community gathering space, the Plymouth and South Shore Association of REALTORS®, Pa., funded and planted an organic community garden. A $2,500 Placemaking Micro-Grant from the REALTOR® Party supported the construction of multiple raised garden beds, which were built over two days by volunteers including about 20 REALTORS®. The garden features a dedicated “demonstration” bed for teaching gardening skills. The remaining beds are available for public gardening, and the community is encouraged to donate excess produce to area food pantries. The garden is one component of a larger site that also features benches, picnic tables, and a tree swing to welcome visitors to the scenic open fields and nearby complex of walking trails.

Help needy home owners. Rebuild Day is an annual event at the St. Louis Association of REALTORS® in conjunction with Rebuilding Together St. Louis, a community revitalization organization. This year more than 100 member volunteers tackled day-long rehab and beautification tasks for the community’s needy and elderly home owners. The association also presented the organization with a check for $20,000. “Volunteering to help Rebuilding Together St. Louis mend these homes is a true labor of love for our organization,” says John Gormley, association CEO. 

Support Habitat for Humanity. The Greater Chattanooga Association of REALTORS®, Tenn., raised more than $73,000 in 2016 for Habitat for Humanity through its well-attended charity golf tournament and wine tasting event. Tickets sold for $49 to $69 and the golf tournament entry fee was $150 per person ($600 per team). Additional tickets were sold onsite for whiskey tasting and ball-toss events. The association alternates every year between hosting a Habitat for Humanity fundraising event and a home-building event where members help with construction.

Rehab picnic areas. YPNers at the Northeast Association of REALTORS®, Ma., teamed up with a local National Historical Park and youth group to refurbish a meeting and picnic area this year. The project was funded by the association and a REALTOR® Party Placemaking Grant.

Build family homes. In September, when the Habitat for Humanity in Eugene, Ore., sent out a call for volunteers, the Eugene Association of REALTORS®’ Young Professionals Network responded. Nearly a dozen members helped with construction and painting at a home that is expected to be occupied by a needy family in time for the holiday season.

Charity & Fundraising: Caring for the disadvantaged, homeless, and hungry. 

Collect food donations .The Northeast Association of REALTORS® in Westford, Mass., holds a food drive every year to benefit a local food bank. Members work with local grocery stores and the food bank to coordinate a day to staff donation tables outside the stores. This year, the association collected 3,306 pounds of food and $575 in donations to purchase additional food.

Support law enforcement. To encourage its community to show support for local fallen police officers, the Coeur d’Alene Association of REALTORS® in Idaho participated in its local “Paint the Town Blue” event by asking members to install blue lightbulbs in their porch light fixtures. The association ordered blue lightbulbs for each of its 1,100 members and sold additional bulbs to members to give to clients and friends for $2. Each bulb box explained the goal of the event and provided a spot for the agent’s business card. Members purchased more than 6,000 bulbs. Proceeds went to the Kootenai County Police & Fire Memorial Foundation, which helps families of fallen or health-stricken police and firefighters.  

Help the homeless. Fundraising in public places brings attention not only to the charity but also to the volunteers asking for donations. At the REALTORS® Association of Lincoln, Neb., dozens of members pinned large REALTOR® badges to their charity-branded T-shirts and hit the street corners to raise money for Matt Talbot Kitchen & Outreach, benefiting the area’s homeless. “We know REALTORS® do more than sell houses. They care about this community, and we know individuals in the community who are homeless or nearly homeless are just as important as home owners,” says Diana Schilf, chair of the association’s community relations committee. This year’s event in October coincided with the Nebraska vs. Wisconsin college football game. Volunteers wore black “Huskers Helping the Homeless” T-shirts and stood outside of Sam’s Club, Walmart, and other stores.

Encourage Giving. The fifth annual sock drive sponsored by the REALTORS® Association of Lincoln, Neb., collected more than 8,000 pairs to be distributed to the poor, homeless, and near-homeless population using the services of the People’s City Mission and Homeless Prevention Center. Dropoff sites this year were at members’ offices and throughout the city. 

Rally members to give. Communication is essential to the success of any charity program. Regularly inform members and encourage them to participate. Invite the local media and send them post-event coverage and photos. Post photos of members on social media and thank them for their service. At the San Antonio Board of REALTORS®, Texas, the communications department creates fliers, social media graphics, and emails to promote each year’s charity and fundraising events. This year, information was posted on the association website and in the online and print newsletter about several events, including a holiday toy drive,  breakfast with Santa, a school uniform drive, and a karaoke fundraiser, benefiting SAM Ministries, a local interfaith organization offering shelter and services to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.  

Housing Opportunity: Introducing renters and families to their  homeownership possibilities. 

Promote affordable housing. The REALTOR® Association of Pioneer Valley, Mass., worked with community partners to host an affordable housing and resource block party in the town of Springfield, where more than half of the residents are renters. Music, food, and children’s’ activities attracted a crowd to the event where REALTORS®, bankers, and lenders handed out information and answered questions about homebuying. The association received a $5,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party to host the event while dozens of members volunteered.

Tour for workforce housing. The Madera Association of REALTORS®, Calif., teamed up with the local school district to hold a bus tour of affordable homes for new and potential teachers. All attendees received a home booklet with listings, advice on using a REALTOR®, and advertisements from affiliate sponsors including lenders and insurance companies. The post-tour luncheon gave the association a forum to educate teachers about the homebuying process and area housing options.

Fight veteran homelessness. This summer the Austin Board of REALTORS® responded to its mayor’s call to end homelessness among its U.S. veterans. With a $15,000 Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party, the association funded a program to transition homeless veterans into long-term housing. The association’s many property management members were an invaluable resource for securing rental housing stock for the veterans. The association’s charitable foundation also provided $5,000 to a fund called Housing for Heroes that mitigates risk for potential landlords. Association CEO Paul Hilgers says the project has been a great opportunity for REALTORS® to demonstrate their leadership in Austin’s business community. “It has been politically meaningful, as well, being involved in an area not typically thought of as ‘REALTOR® territory.’ Our involvement has helped to establish important relationships with civic leaders working to solve the problems of homelessness.”

Host a housing expo. Partnering with the city of Joliet, Ill., the chamber of commerce, and local employers, the Three Rivers Association of REALTORS® used a $4,000 REALTOR® Party Housing Opportunity Grant to host a housing expo in April that showcased local housing stock, the area’s high quality of life, and the amenities of the city. Expo attendees took part in guided tours of area affordable homes on the market. The event was prominently featured in local media.

Youth & Opportunity: Inspiring and encouraging the neighbors of tomorrow. 

Feature dreams homes. The Santa Cruz County Association of REALTORS®, Calif., partnered with the Soquel Unified School District to produce an 18-month calendar called “Protecting the American Dream,” which promotes the use of REALTORS®. “Elementary and middle school students drew what their home would look like,” says association CEO Kathy Hartman. “We had 135 submissions and could only choose 18, but we will be doing this again with the Boys & Girls Club next year.” Calendar sales have been robust as members buy copies to use as a closing gift or a “thank you.” The project budget was $5,000 to produce the calendars, buy prizes for the participants, and host a launch party. Calendar proceeds are split between the association and the school district.

Fulfill wishes. REALTORS® with the Greater Piedmont Area Association of REALTORS®, Va., asked their four local Boys & Girls Clubs for a wish list of needed supplies. “REALTORS® collected all the items, including sports equipment, arts and crafts supplies, books, board games, school supplies, and an impressive $6,565 in donations,” says association CEO Debbie M. Werling.

Raise kids’ spirits. Putting their home staging and interior design skills to work, members of the Lakeland Association of REALTORS®, N.Y., create bedroom makeovers for local children in need. Over the past four years the association has offered this spirit-boosting program to kids from the local Boys & Girls Clubs of America, a local school for developmentally challenged children, and this year to two children from police families and one child with cancer. Members donate their time and money, and sponsors provide furniture and supplies. Local media covered the event.

Fund deserving charities. Aiming to maintain member involvement in its community outreach programs, the Capital Area Association of REALTORS®, Ill., selects a different organization every year to be the primary benefactor of its many fundraising events. The association’s Community Service Committee this year chose the Refuge Ranch, a horse ranch offering programs for at-risk children and families in central Illinois. The association raised $17,000 from a trivia night fundraiser, live and silent auction, holiday raffle, and sale of mulligans at its annual golf outing.  

YPN Groups Expand Outreach Activities: YPN (Young Practitioners Network) groups at associations nationwide have expanded community outreach efforts, AEs report. These groups gravitate toward social events with a purpose.

At the Bay East Association of REALTORS®, Calif., its YPN is working to end childhood hunger thousands of meals at a time. On Aug. 5, Bay East YPNers gathered at the Kids Against Hunger Bay Area facility to pack nearly 8,000 meals, network, and have fun. “Bay East YPN prides itself on not having only networking events over cocktails, but rather doing something good and giving back,” says David C. Stark, the association’s public affairs director. At the Chicago Association of REALTORS®, its YPN group hosted a “Give Back” day at the Union League Boys & Girls Club where 60 kids between the ages of 11 and 16 enjoyed pizza, chips, drinks, and games, while REALTORS® answered questions about pursuing a career in real estate.

Support children in need. Proving that no association is too small to have a big impact in its community, the 82-member Greater Mason City Board of REALTORS®, Iowa, partners with its local food bank, The Salvation Army, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Meals-on-Wheels. A recent addition to its community outreach program is My Happy Place, a local nonprofit that provides room makeovers for children suffering from illness, disease, or emotional distress. “The REALTORS® raise every dollar they use in each project, and then donate their time and talent to paint walls to transform a child’s bedroom,” says association EO Amber Scholl.

Sometimes a charitable organization will contact the board for help; in other cases, a REALTOR® will suggest a cause that could benefit from the board’s involvement. “Our members live here, and have family here, and have a reason to be invested in the community beyond the benefit that it brings to their business,” says Julie McQuaid, 2016 president of the board. “This is a group that understands the importance of being a positive influence in the community.”

The association established a Community Outreach Task Force from a handful of REALTORS® and two staff members who meet monthly with area groups to implement plans for broad-ranging and frequently occurring volunteer opportunities and fundraising events.

REALTORS® and staff who volunteer for these projects proudly wear their blue REALTOR® T-shirts or jackets, and the community is very much aware of the good that REALTORS® are doing, says McQuaid. The board promotes its volunteer opportunities through its website, its Facebook page, email blasts, and direct phone calls and in its monthly membership newsletter.

Drive backpack donations. Members of the Knoxville Area Association of REALTORS® presented 241 backpacks, filled with school supplies, to the nonprofit Youth Villages on Aug. 5. This was the sixth year in a row that KAAR sent hundreds of local, disadvantaged children to school with brand-new backpacks and all the school supplies they need to succeed. The association’s community involvement committee raised more than $15,000 to fund the effort.

Give to the Boys & Girls Club. This summer the St. Louis Association of REALTORS® solicited school supply donations to fill 500 association-branded backpacks for kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater St. Louis.

Volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club. A member of the Royal Palm Coast REALTOR® Association, Fla., paints at a local BGCA. In all, REALTORS® have contributed their time or funds to support 205 local Boys & Girls Clubs that serve nearly 20,000 kids. REALTOR® associations, individual members, and brokerage firms have donated more than $100,000 to local clubs.

Grant Money: REALTOR® Party grants from the National Association of REALTORS® fund hundreds of local association outreach programs every year. Apply at  realtoractioncenter.com.

  • Housing Opportunity Grant
  • Smart Growth Grant
  • Diversity Grant
  • Placemaking Micro-Grant
  • Game Changer Program Grants

The REALTOR® Party has awarded $500,000 in grants so far this year.

Voice for Real Estate: Speaking out and providing data about housing, neighbors, and the value of using a REALTOR®.

Promote members. “REALTORS® Make It Right” is the slogan for the outreach campaign from the Charlotte Regional REALTORS®, N.C., that includes digital, mobile, and print advertising, social media outreach, a website (realtorsmakeitright.com), local TV spots, and outdoor digital billboard advertising all aimed at promoting the use of a REALTOR®. “We increased the budget from $100,000 last year to $175,000 this year,” say association president Maren Brisson-Kuester. “That’s an extremely modest spend by advertising standards, but because of our creative approach (engaging, light-hearted animation) and using association staff and our members for voice-over narration, we can devote a high percentage of our dollars to actual ad purchases, not production costs. It’s a great value that is yielding results.”

Be the source for home sales statistics. Like many local REALTOR® associations, the Greater Tulsa Association of REALTORS®, issues monthly home sales statistics to members and the media. The association’s statistics are based on the Northeast Oklahoma Real Estate Services’ multiple listing service data and are often picked up by local media and used in online articles and blogs, which establishes the association as a credible source of data for the media. 

Put the facts on social media. The Orlando REALTORS® Association regularly creates shareable market snapshot infographics for social media, and monthly market report videos with easy-to-understand data tables and comparisons.

Make media appearances. The West Michigan Lakeshore Association of REALTORS® took to the airwaves this year to promote benefits of working with REALTORS® in a series of commercials running on five radio stations. “The public seems to like these, and members find them to be a ‘feel good’ about their association,” says CEO Dale Zahn. Association President Doug Klaasen (above right) and Zahn (left) made guest appearances on radio stations several times in 2016. In September the association hosted a “Media Day” luncheon for local print, radio, and TV journalists highlighting all that the association is involved in plus the monthly housing market updates.