CBRE Cares

By on Apr 9, 2013 in People

CBRE employees in Chicago gather for a Build Day assignment.

CBRE employees in Chicago gather for a Build Day assignment.

Delivering a birthday cake to a child celebrating their special day at a homeless shelter seems like a simple act of goodwill. For the CBRE real estate professionals who make time for such volunteerism regularly, it is much more.

“By the time I got to my truck I was crying and extremely shaken.  I made that little boy’s day and let me tell you it was the most rewarding experience I have EVER had,” said Cathy Carone, a CBRE employee from Illinois.

“It seems like such a small charity project, but they were so appreciative.  Suddenly the time we take to pick up and deliver those cakes seemed like a whole lot more — we are touching individuals who really need a little joy in their lives,” said Jeanne Olcott, who works for CBRE in Arizona.

Making a big difference in large and small ways is a hallmark of the CBRE Cares program, a nationally recognized effort by the commercial real estate firm that encompasses much more than just birthday cake delivery. Over the last three years, CBRE has rapidly grown its corporate philanthropy efforts nationwide with a new housing-focused effort. To date, over 4,000 employee volunteers have participated, contributing over 27,000 hours of service.

And that’s just the beginning.

“We wanted to give back to the community in a very real way,” said Kathleen Thompson, Director of the CBRE Foundation.

Focusing attention on the communities where their  people work and  live made great sense for one of the world’s largest full service real estate companies. CBRE has approximately 160 offices in the U.S. and around 20,000 employees in the Americas. Designing a charity outreach effort that could effectively harness the hearts and hands of so many was no easy task.

Employee energy is at the heart of the program, and giving back financially is also encouraged through CBRE’s Community Outreach program. Offices that raise funds for philanthropic causes – both from internal employee donations and external community effort – receive a partial match of their monies from the company. Then they decide as an office what local organizations they’d like to benefit with 75 percent of the funds raised. The other 25 percent is used for company-wide donations to causes like shelter housing and the environment.

Investing Sweat Equity

With this multi-faceted approach, the CBRE contributes both financially and through sweat equity to shelter services around the country. Employee participation in an annual volunteer work-service day, part of CBRE’s Shelter Program, has recently taken off.

CBRE office teams, comprised of everyone from C-level executives to administrative staff, have completed 70 remodeling and building projects for underserved and at-risk populations since 2010. September and October are the company’s designated “Build Months,” and employees can use a paid day out of the office to participate in a local project.

Dallas 5

A Dallas ribbon-cutting for a renovation project CBRE assisted with.

Shelter Program projects are coordinated in conjunction with two partner agencies – Rebuilding Together and HomeAid. Rebuilding Together completes renovations and repairs for low-income homeowners, often disabled adults, who are unable to afford to hire someone to help with maintenance needs. HomeAid builds facilities to help homeless Americans. One CBRE office, in Atlanta, completed builddays  for both non-profits this year.

“We knew that people were giving back to the community in their offices, that they were volunteering, but that they wanted to do more. We wanted to give them the opportunity to give more as a group with their colleagues, and have specific days where they could go out and give back to their community as colleagues together,” Thompson said.

Calvin W. Frese Jr., CBRE CEO – Americas, wanted to create a day of service for CBRE employees and helped conceptualize much of the Shelter Program vision. Along with other executives, he’s worked alongside CBRE employees on Build Day projects.

Recently, 280 CBRE volunteers spent the day refurbishing the Mt. Calvary Youth Center and Food Pantry on Chicago’s South Side.  Vendors and contractors who work with CBRE’s project management group also donated supplies and labor, contributing  new lighting, flooring, plumbing and a heating system for the center. CBRE employee volunteers worked on painting, replacing light fixtures and cabinets, installing white boards, and installing a new outdoor playset.

The Build Days, like the cake program that pulled CBRE employees toward shelter volunteering back in 2004, can lead to powerful emotional experiences.

“The (homeowner) looks in your eyes and they’re so thankful because they know they have heat now because of you. Or because you put new windows in their home, their heating bill will be half what it was before, and they can afford to run the furnace,” Thompson said.

Taking the cake

The CBRE Foundation’s “Birthday Cakes and More for Homeless Children” effort came about after the company’s annual CBRE World Conference in 2001. Myra E. Smith, CBRE’s Mid-Cap Strategy & Support Director for Transaction Management, spoke to the Women’s Networking Forum at the conference about her experience delivering cakes to a Houston homeless shelter. The idea sparked a nationwide initiative for CBRE offices.

“Some of these children have never had a birthday cake in their life,” Thompson explained. “Or, the only birthday cake they’ve ever received is the one they received from us, and it’s the only birthday gift they will receive.” And as dozens of testimonials from CBRE employees illustrate, the simple act of delivering a cake to a child can be a very significant moment.

“Young children often arrive at The Spring in the midst of extreme family crisis and upheaval. The joys of a birthday celebration can sometimes be overshadowed by the tensions these youngsters see going on between parents or their partners. Because of your commitment to make sure that birthdays are observed in a spirit of fun and delight, these special occasions are not forgotten,” said James B. Brace, a program director for a Tampa-area shelter.

The impact of the experience is strong for the cake-giver, too.

“Seeing these children so excited at a time in their life that is horrible is so sad. And yet you look at the love they are getting from the shelter and the entire community and you feel a sense of hope. It really is a very emotional thing,” said Ruth Braun, CBRE team member from Missouri.

New Orleans 2013_1

On the job at a painting project in New Orleans.

CBRE employees deliver cakes to 75 shelters in 50 U.S. cities.

Expanding efforts

Building on their recent growth and success, CBRE hopes to expand the Build Month program to all of the its U.S. brokerage offices.  “We would love to eventually have every CBRE employee participate in at least one Build project during their tenure with the company” said Thompson.

In recognition of their philanthropic work, CBRE was recently awarded a “Best Corporate-Community Partnership” honor from Ragan’s PR Daily, part of their 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility Awards. According to PR Daily, the Best Corporate-Community Partnership award is given to a company that has gone above and beyond in its corporate-community efforts, forming a partnership that has benefited both the company and the community.

“I think it’s so wonderful for our employees to see they are being recognized for their great work. That isn’t why they do it – they don’t do it to be recognized or receive accolades – but it is nice for them to see that people recognize that they have done something good in their communities. And it’s a wonderful thing for our company. We have a great company, and I don’t know that people know, philanthropically, what a wonderful place this is,” Thompson said.

Yardi commends CBRE, a Yardi client, for their exceptional efforts on behalf of their communities and  non-profit causes.