Regardless of how well the self-storage industry is performing in many markets, operators still face their share of ups and downs. Between the pandemic, inflation and concerns over a looming recession, customers are struggling, which can be hard on facility staff and performance. Keeping teams motivated becomes more challenging in uncertain times like these, but one way to bring people together and boost morale is through company giving.
In fact, the simple act of giving can be life-changing, not only for the receiver but the giver, too, says Lonnie Bickford, the founder of Storage Gives, a nonprofit organization that helps self-storage operators support charitable causes. A lot of people use the term “giving back,” but that implies something has been taken away in return. “I like to think of it as just giving,” Bickford says.
Bickford and his team have taken the time to vet several charities and created easy ways for self-storage companies to participate. Operators can make direct cash contributions or donate through their facility auctions at any time and in any amount. “I look at each organization, its history and specifically what they do with their money,” Bickford says. Autism Speaks, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Water For Life and are just a few that have met the criteria.
Last year, Storage Gives met its goal of providing more than 500,000 meals to people in need and raised more than $150,000 to benefit organizations like Free Wheelchair Mission, which designs and manufactures cost-efficient, durable wheelchairs for disabled individuals in under-resourced nations. More than 300 self-storage properties are already participating in the program. Vendors are getting in on the action, too, making direct donations and becoming sponsors to support the mission.
The Importance of Cause Marketing
Companies that participate in Storage Gives tend to experience a positive culture shift as they come together to support others, Bickford says. Some even take the work to the next level, organizing events and fundraisers, which ultimately boosts morale and teamwork. They even enjoy greater facility performance. “Customers may be drawn to you because of what you believe in and what you do to back that up,” Bickford explains.
The approach is called “cause marketing,” and it’s used by brands like TOMS and Newman’s Own, which offer significant portions of their proceeds to designated charities. “I’m making lasagna tonight, and I intentionally bought Newman’s Own sauce because I know that they use 100% of their proceeds to help children in need,” Bickford says. The concept isn’t only beneficial to the companies that leverage it but to the organizations they support.
All the costs for Storage Gives, including administration, publicity and advertising, are covered by revenue generated by Bickford’s online-auction company, StorageAuctions.com. It isn’t easy, but Bickford says they do it because they’re committed to improving people’s lives. “We only give to life-changing causes,” he says.
The endeavor is very personal for Bickford and members of his team, as some feel very passionate about—and connected to—the causes Storage Gives supports. For example, business development manager Alonna Ross has a son on the autism spectrum who was having a tough time making friends. Autism Speaks visited his school and did a presentation in which they explained why some kids seem a little different. After that, the boy received his very first birthday-party invitation.
Donna Morgan-Esquibel, who handles outside sales for StorageAuctions, is a two-time breast-cancer survivor who’s endured multiple treatments and surgeries. “Charities like Susan G. Komen use funds for cancer research so that advancements can continue to take place,” Bickford says. “I know that what we are doing matters. For Donna and Alonna, this really matters.”
Bickford encourages all self-storage professionals to experience the benefits of giving. “Once you start, it takes a life of its own. It changes you and benefits so many others.”
To learn more about Storage Gives, including how it works and the organizations it supports, read this article. For information on how to contribute donations or become a program partner, email [email protected] or visit storagegives.org.
Jennifer Downer, a former newspaper journalist and owner of Cardinal Consulting, has held numerous positions in the self-storage industry over the last 15 years. Being the parent of two autistic sons, she’s passionate about supporting Storage Gives. She volunteers her time and resources to show her support.