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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Philanthropy and marketing

Last night, you could find a virtual who's who of key decision-makers in Ottawa's construction, architecture, engineering and development sectors; approximately 100 people all enjoying dinner at the Rideau Club. Certainly, this elegant event provided a truly high power networking environment.

Of course, like most really good networking events, if your objective in attending is to network, you are missing the point. The 100 or so people in the room had either made truly substantial contributions to The Ottawa Hospital, were key employees and representatives of the hospital, or were like me -- supporters and facilitators of the generous donors.
Robert Merkley of Merkley Supply served as Master of Ceremonies. Merkley, like two other key organizers, Roger Greenberg of Minto Developments and Architect Barry Hobin, have poured countless hours into the process of gently arm-twisting industry leaders into supporting the hospital goal to raise $100 million in community contributions. The hospital has almost reached its goal, and the construction and development industries have contributed about 10 per cent of the total; not an insignificant amount.

Some contributions came from contractors involved in the multi-million hospital development and expansion work -- these contracts are indeed lucrative. The largest contributions, however, were from my company's landlord, Peter Foustanellas of Argos Carpets and Olympia Homes (his companies also own several industrial and commercial buildings), who gave $350,000 at the dinner and over the past four years has contributed about $2 million. (The hospital's Heart Institute saved his life.)

As I sat at the table with representatives of an architecture firm actively involved in hospital work, a major general contractor, and one of the key people in the hospital responsible for construction projects, I mused about the quality of contacts and relationships here -- and in fact, did some gentle selling (as did other guests at the table). You can see the difference the quality of relationships in this environment from the brutal coldness of lead services, cattle call RFPs and insincere and artificial 'networking' functions. This room reflected power and authority -- and confidence and connections. If you are 'in' here, you are really in.

(This is one thing I enjoy about my work. We don't presently have the resources to make big financial contributions to the hospital , but we can still do useful things. After profiling a hospital project earlier in the year, I arranged a free large "Thank you" ad for the hospital's development team to commemorate the industry; then went a step further -- I granted the hospital a free ad in every issue. This contribution had special value -- it served to reinforce the good-will between the hospital and its generous donors. Of course that good-will provokes more donations, and more support.)

If you try to use this type of community service cynically as a marketing ploy you will fail. But if you really want to rise to the top, think of where you can share and give without really expecting any return, and put your best efforts forward. The contractors, professional services, architects, engineers, developers and sub-trades at the Ottawa Hospital dinner last night showed they have the stuff to be community leaders. You can, too.

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