The need goes up; the funding goes down.

Tough economic times have more people seeking the services of non-profit organizations, but as government budgets continue to tighten, that aid is often becoming more difficult for those agencies to provide.

Enter the support of private business – an increasingly creative support.

Inter-Business Issues talked to the owner/managers of three local small businesses who have each committed to volunteer efforts in Peoria area not-for-profit organizations. Jim Barrack, vice president and general manager of Cater Inn, works with Heart of Illinois Harvest, an organization which picks up unserved food and delivers it to agencies with programs for feeding the hungry.

Scott Cochran, owner of the nine central Illinois Pip Printing Store, and publisher of Inter-Business Issues, has supported United Way Agencies for 10 years, and recently started serving as Peoria area district chairman for the Boy Scouts of America.

Bob Feinholz, President of OPC, has been actively involved with St. Jude Midwest Affiliate for the past 11 years, serving as president of the board for the last two years.

Each of you has expressed a need to choose one or two organizations to support, since you cannot be involved in everything. How do you decide what to give to whom?

Jim: As a very small company we don’t really have a set policy. We do like to associate with people or an organizations that we know. I think when the contact comes from an associate or friend, rather than from a cold-call, you are more likely to give something – whether money or in kind.

Bob: We are literally deluged with requests from charitable organizations. We have pretty much evolved into taking the policy that St. Jude is our primary organization in Central Illinois. We do also contribute to a couple of others if our budget allows. I think most businesses do have to make a decision: What charities do they want to sponsor this year? There are so many outstanding organizations in central Illinois…but I just think you have to make a decision as a business person. When we explain that to people who solicit us, most of them are very understanding.

Scott: We probably get a call a day, all funneled to me. Sometimes it is tremendously difficult to turn people down, but as a company with limited resources, we have to pick and choose what we feel we can do. We made a policy about 10 years ago: Every year we give each United Way agency in the Tri-County area a certificate good for one print project. Last year there were 60. We also try to pick one other local charity to offer some consideration, such as printing. We try to change that charity every other year or so.

People are obviously interested in your money, but they are also interested in what you can do in terms of our time or possibly a product. It’s a whole lot easier for us to give our printed product than dollars – and we can give a whole lot more.

Jim: I’ve found that true in our business as well. It’s much easier for us to give our party trays or provide our banquet facility for a meeting. Every year Easter Seals has a meeting for which I donate our facility.

Bob: To add to that, another thing that we at St. Jude have found important is community exposure. Our goal is to get as many patients as we can, to relieve the stress on as many families as possible. You may not want to give us money this year, but if you tell a friend who tells a friend who knows of a patient that needs us – part of our mission has been accomplished. It’s a constant educational process.

Do you feel there is sometimes an attitude of “Let the big companies do it?”

Scott: I think sometimes it is the problem of the organizations themselves. Everyone wants the Big Guns, the involvement of big companies. I can honestly say, other than groups such as Rotary, until six months ago, no one ever asked me. No one ever asked me to become involved in a major community project. I think the people are out there; they may not be the most recognized, the biggest executives in Peoria, but if they were asked they would be more than willing to volunteer some of their time.

Bob: I think the reason I don’t see that so much is because St. Jude has always been a ground roots organization where we go to homes with the teen march, ask people to donate a dollar – we cover the whole range of business within the community. If you give us a dollar, the appreciation is there, or if you give us $10,000 the appreciation is there.

Are there any guidelines you can suggest to businesses interested in selecting an organizations to sponsor?

Scott: Primarily, do a little research. Pick an agency you feel you can relate to. In the case of a small business, you can’t segment your finances so try to do as much as you can for a single agency.

Bob: I personally believe businesses should be aware of how much money goes to administrative needs and how much to the actual program. I think it’s important that people realize whether the money is staying in central Illinois in some fashion. I also think it’s good to see the proof of what the money is doing.

Business Managers are increasingly encouraged to become involved in not-for-profit work. What are the payoffs to you personally and to your businesses?

Bob: Personally, it’s a very heartwarming thing I do because of the kids and how much it means. It has given our company and employees something to be very proud of. I would be lying if I told you being a part of St. Jude hasn’t helped our business. It’s a very loyal organization and the word spreads and we do get business. I appreciate that – but it isn’t the reason any of us are doing this. When we get patients who just walk in our door and say thanks…we should be thanking them.

Scott: My philosophy is if you are in business in an area, you have to put something back into the community you serve. Personally, the Boy Scouts have been very satisfying. For the business, I don’t think it has meant anything directly, although I’m sure it has indirectly.

Jim: Personally I get the satisfaction that I am helping someone else. I think when you reach our and help someone it makes you feel good inside. Business? As everyone knows, having your name out in public is a positive thing that can’t hurt. You make a lot of contacts, meet a lot of people. I think people like to see companies, not just large but small, involved in projects and helping people.

Do you feel it is important for employees to become involved in volunteer work? Why?

Jim: I believe the pride aspect is excellent. I think what makes our community get is the volunteers and the people giving something back. I’ve found that once I explain the HOI Harvest to our chefs and kitchen personnel they understand more and do like to participate and help.

Bob: It goes back to a sense of pride that they and their company are doing something for another organizations. Our employees do things like raise money for the run and during the telethon we donate the whole computer system for their use. A lot of our people man the computers; the technical people are all down there and they spend the whole time at the telethon setting up the system and making sure it’s working correctly. Then they tear it down, take it back and help make sure the affiliate is getting all the information it wants. During telethon time there is a tremendous amount of pride around our company because the employees feel like they are a part of the success that St. Jude has had over the last 20 years. I think it provides a sense of ownership, that they are actually involved in something very positive for the community.

Scott: We as an organization encourage all of our management personnel to become involved in community activities. We’ve got a lot of young people and its difficult getting young people involved. I think volunteerism is a natural growth of age: as you get a little older you get more interested in being involved in the community.

How were you attracted to the organizations with which you work?

Bob: Our next door neighbor had a son who was the first patient at St. Jude; he was one of the unfortunate ones who didn’t make it. As I got older and wanted to find something to be involved in that meant a lot to me, our neighbor kept talking to me about St. Jude. I run, and when the Memphis to Peoria run started I began helping. Then I became more heavily involved, and when I was asked to be on the board of directors about six years ago our involvement increased even more. The thing that attracted me the most were the volunteer people for St. Jude; their families were very involved; I just really took that to heart.

Scott: I’ve only been involved with the Boy Scouts about six months. It’s a great program, it’s a means of getting involved in the community and working with children. I guess that’s my main goal. The involvement is fun, first of all. Secondly, it’s working with a tremendous number of volunteers. The Boy Scouts have several thousand workers which cover 14 counties surrounding the Peoria area. In our district there are about 2500 kids in the scouting program. I feel if I’m going to volunteer time to anyone in the community and reach a lot of people, it’s the Boy Scouts. Based on the times and the economy, a lot of young people want to participate in the program, but unfortunately for one reason or another are unable to do so.

Jim: As long as there have been people on the planet I guess there have been hungry people. Being in the food business we have always been trying to donate to the Salvation Army, the South Side Mission and the Children’s Home. Just recently, the HOI Harvest program came to Peoria. It is rather unique because it takes unserved food from caterers. Restaurants, hotels and grocery stores and delivers it to the places that feed the needy. I believe the total number of people in Peoria being served through the various organizations is about 11,000 weekly. During the holidays you hear a lot about the hungry needy people, but it’s a problem that exists throughout the year. This HOI Harvest program was a natural for my involvement and the involvement of our company. IBI