Any business leader who thinks they don’t have the time, energy or manpower to lead community action should speak to Dottie Fitzgerald, President and Principal Dealer of Fitzgerald Subaru of Gaithersburg, Maryland . His automotive retail group has held an animal adoption event once a month on Saturdays (the busiest day of the sale week) since 2014, right in the showroom.
Yes, it took a lot of effort, but his business saw a net gain, Fitzgerald told TriplePundit. First of all, she’s happy that her automotive group can contribute to a cause close to her heart – that’s how it all started – but she’s also seen her business thrive as she serves her community in a meaningful way. She says that when customers see their store donating resources to a cause they care about, they feel better about their purchases and about the niche the business fills in the community. And when it comes to Automotive Group employees, well, Fitzgerald says it’s all about convenience at these pet adoption events. The teams are committed and ready to help when needed.
When asked if other companies would benefit from giving back to their communities, even if it seems like they just don’t have the bandwidth, Fitzgerald answered a resounding “yes” — and she has a story to prove it. When the retailer’s shelter partner, Humane Rescue Alliance, asked Fitzgerald to help them find another retailer to support adoptions, she made calls on their behalf. Speaking to a retailer, noticing the management’s absorption in work, she said: “Look, I know how busy it is, so let me tell you what it’s like to do an adoption event.” This team has since hosted at least three pet adoption events, receiving great attendance and feedback.
Start with the seed of an idea and persist
Fitzgerald Subaru didn’t begin his philanthropic activities with adopting pets. In addition to other activities, the retailer has a long history of participating in the Subaru Share the Love event, whereby retailers donate to a charity chosen by their customers. One year, customers in the brand’s retail network overwhelmingly chose the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which inspired Fitzgerald to combine his passion for animal welfare with his work. Her team contacted the ASPCA for advice on how to set up an adoption event a few years later. Since then, there hasn’t been much to hold back events, other than pandemic restrictions. The Fitzgerald Automotive Group spans three states and monthly events rotate from location to location.
As you’d expect, Fitzgerald’s team also goes above and beyond during Subaru Loves Pets Month, the automaker’s pet adoption campaign held each October. After preparing all year, Fitzgerald Subaru is ready to spring into action when the time comes. To celebrate the automaker’s dedication to supporting “Underdogs,” pets with special needs, the team created t-shirts listing senior dogs, blind dogs, deaf dogs, tripod dogs and shelter dogs as examples of dogs with special needs and in need of a loving home. Fitzgerald sees every shelter dog as an Underdog, ready for love.
Last year, more than 20,000 pets found refuge at the Subaru Loves Pets event, including thousands of Underdogs. Over 600 participating Subaru Retailers nationwide donate $100* to a local partner shelter for every dog or cat adopted during Subaru Loves Pets. Over the years, Subaru and its retailers have donated more than $30 million to support the adoption, rescue, transportation and health care of more than 250,000 animals.
Why not be a good neighbor to yourself?
The effects of active corporate social responsibility (CSR) are manifold, affecting the whole company, as well as the community, says Fitzgerald. She recommends that companies donate to a cause that their teams are passionate about, because it is through true passion that Fitzgerald Subaru has been able to forge a bond with his community.
She only began to recognize the community’s shared interest in animals by reading the bulletin board in the retailer’s waiting area, where staff regularly post articles of interest about pets, such as food recalls, training and general information. She says customers started writing in their service surveys that they liked the board because “it tells me you all care about animals like me, so we continue to do business with you.
Harvard Business Review contributor Mark Bonchek has this to say about engaging customers through meaningful CSR: “Customers aren’t just consumers anymore; they are co-creators. They are not just passive members of an audience; they are active members of a community. They want to be part of something; to belong to; influence; to hire. It’s not enough for them to feel good about your goal. They want that to be their goal too.
But business benefits aren’t the reason Fitzgerald and his team continue to host pet adoption events. The goal is always to get as many animals as possible adopted – and, of course, to transform lives. She recalls a memorable moment from just this year at the retailer’s local Subaru Share the Love Event donation check presentation, where one of the retailer’s early adopters from years ago talked about her dog , Dylan. Fitzgerald recalled, “He’s a mix of pit bulls, and he obviously had someone who had to punch him in the face at one point, but a sweet, sweet, sweet dog. And her dad said the adoption actually saved her life.
Fitzgerald Subaru is not located in a small town where everyone knows each other. It’s right in the action of the Washington, DC metro area, but Fitzgerald lives just six miles round trip from the store. “I’m my own neighbor,” she says, and with that mindset, it’s no wonder she sees little division between business and community.
*Disclaimer: Subaru Retailers donated $100 for each dog or cat adoption from partner shelters from October 1, 2021 through October 31, 2021, up to $3,100 total.
This series of articles is sponsored by Subaru and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.
Image credits: New Africa/Adobe Stock and Subaru