Chrysler in the Community: Strategic Community Investments

I recently interviewed Daphne V. Harris, Manager, Civic & Community Relations for Chrysler Group LLC about the company's community investment projects.

BCLC: Can you describe the types of corporate community investment projects that Chrysler implements in local U.S. communities?

Daphne Harris: At Chrysler Group we implement local health and human services several times during the year.   As we are recovering from the recession, our focus for the past couple of years has been to become more active in our local communities with our employees.  We have to be more strategic in the community support we provide, identify the greatest needs in our local communities so that we can make the largest impact on community development.

In the past year, Chrysler Group LLC supported the following programs through Chrysler employee volunteer initiatives:  Martin Luther King Week of Service, Vista Maria School for Girls, Habitat for Humanity Detroit Forgotten Harvest, Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring projects, Greening of Detroit tree plantings, Children’s Hospital of Detroit and Ann Arbor, the Kokomo Rescue Mission, Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, and The Children’s Center. We determine the different programs that we support with the help of the United Way of Southeastern Michigan along with the personal relationships that have been developed with community leaders.

BCLC: How do you benchmark the success of your programs?

DH: We don’t look to ‘compete’ with other organizations when it comes to our civic and community relations activities. Instead we look at the numbers to determine the impact we are having in the local community. We look at the number of children we impact at the Children’s Hospital, or the number of trees we plant during Greening of Detroit activities, or the number of people we feed through Forgotten Harvest food sorting activities. We believe these numbers speak volumes, so we focus our energy on increasing these metrics.

BCLC: What are some of the challenges you face?

DH: As mentioned, our biggest challenge is developing high-impact initiatives with limited funds.  We focus on looking at the business objective behind the programs that we support. Another challenge is the fact that we are asking our employees to take part in these programs during non-working hours, often on the weekend. Although I have found this to be a challenge, I have noticed the high retention rate with employees after doing a volunteer program. The wonderful aspect of our community relations program is that we offer volunteer programs based on a wide spectrum of issue areas, so an employee is likely to find a cause that they would like to support.

BCLC: The Super Bowl commercial with the “Imported from Detroit” campaign is getting a lot of attention. Can you explain the driving force behind the campaign?

DH: The two-minute commercial was initially intended to generate a conversation about the Chrysler brand and the new 2011 Chrysler 200. We are humbled that it has resonated throughout the country and that many people feel a connection to the attitude and work ethic portrayed in the spot. While the commercial focused on Detroit, in many ways, it encapsulated the spirit of the country and the comeback of the Chrysler brand and Chrysler Group LLC.  The Chrysler brand, the Company and its employees have adopted the principle that failure is not an option. And, we are proud of the fact that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of “Imported from Detroit” merchandise is going to four Detroit-area charities.

We have received very positive feedback from local leaders, including the Mayor of Detroit who featured the commercial during his State of the City address. In addition, in my travels to other communities, I constantly receive positive feedback from people of varying demographics about the great message that is conveyed about the City of Detroit and our company.