Loews Hotels: Good Neighbor

November 17, 2010

 

Loews Hotels employees say that CEO Jonathan Tisch formed the hotel industry’s first comprehensive community service and outreach program in 1990. Continuing to evolve each year, it still functions under the same name, “Good Neighbor program.”

Every employee is given the opportunity and means to take on the responsibility of being an ambassador or agent of active citizenship by engaging in the Good Neighbor program.

The pathway to being an active citizen philanthropist is a term framed in the book, Citizen You, Doing Your Part to Change the World, by Tisch with Karl Weber. It’s an idea that, according to the book, “Uses practical creativity and grassroots activism to solve seemingly intractable social problems… not as a choice but as a necessity.” Tisch first put that concept to work in his business some 20 years ago well ahead of writing a book.

Companies like Loews Hotels, with 6,800 employees spread throughout 19 hotels across the country, sit at the cross roads of where business and civic service meet.

When companies include a framework for community service for employees and customers, the business and individuals in the community all benefit. The Good Neighbor program provides an example of an over-arching opportunity where each employee and multiple stakeholders can contribute to and benefit from community involvement on a number of levels.

There are many on ramps for getting involved in the Good Neighbor program on various issues of social or environmental concerns. You can contribute or fund raise to support charities corporately, offer in-kind service, or initiate cause-marketing events. Each hotel destination is requested to conduct specific community service activities. For instance, at national and local levels the company and its employees work on a common issue like elementary education, as it is of universal importance to employees, with mechanisms to get involved in their own communities.

The types of activities the individual properties get involved in include:

  • Donating excess food to local food banks, shelters, and hunger relief programs.
  • Supporting local literacy programs by providing space for classes to be held and volunteer instructors from the hotels.
  • Recycling programs including office paper, newspapers, aluminum, plastic, and the purchase of recycled products when possible.
  • Donating used goods such as linens and furniture to local organizations and shelters.
  • Encouraging volunteer activities for hotel employees.
  • Implementing energy saving equipment in new hotels and in existing properties as they are renovated.

The structure of the Good Neighbor program becomes what we can term a ‘program mechanism’ which any business can mimic and set up to inculcate a culture of community service for its employees.

Richmond Heights Elementary

Take the life of an under-funded school in a disadvantaged area named Richmond Heights Elementary in Central Florida. It is the adopted school of Loews Hotels Orlando.

Says Jennifer Hodges, Orlando Director of Public Relations, ”Because education is important to each and every one of our Employees, we adopted the school originally through the Central Florida Lodging and Hotel Association and have stayed with it because we see the need and the opportunity to make a difference.”

Over the years Loews Hotels Orlando has continued it’s relationship with Richmond Heights Elementary at a variety of intersect points. These include an on-going mentoring program where a Loews Hotels employee can mentor a student usually one to two times a month, or contribute to school supply donation drive at the start of the school year, or participate in a read-a-thon at the school (where Loews Hotels employees can read for one hour in a classroom), to participation one year where employees also painted the school media center and gave it a facelift. These acts all involve low to no out-of-pocket cost; yet go a long way to impact the school and students positively without disturbing job performance.

Hodges says, “Just this October, thirty students came to our hotel to build a better lunchbox to commemorate the good eating message on our menu options for children. We set up food stations with all these healthy options for the food pyramid where the kids also learned through those food stations about foods that in many instances they’ve yet to try or be exposed to.”

The Build-a-Better-Lunchbox program Hodges references is part of the 20thyear celebration of the Good Neighbor Program. Rotating across Loews Hotels from October 24ththrough December 11thof this year, children and parents will have the opportunity to learn and enjoy how to build a healthier lunch together and at the same time support the community schools. Proceeds from these events will go to Loews Hotels' newest national charity partner, DonorsChoose.org, which is a web-based nonprofit that supports local school projects for individual sponsorship in an effort to help improve education.

From the Boardroom to the Hotel Floor and Out the Front Door

How do you go from the boardroom to the front door of the hotel and then into the local community all across the country to encourage individual acts of community service?

First of all in answer to this question, employees say, “Mr. Tisch has set the culture here for community involvement. And in our employees surveys people feel proud of and want their community to be associated the Good Neighbor Program.”

As the hotel business takes so many different departments to run the hotels, programs like the Good Neighbor program bring employees of all levels and department together at Good Neighbor events which may not otherwise be together in a working capacity. It therefore helps strengthen working relationships and sharing between employees at the company.

Second response to that question comes from Jenny Lucas, Loews Hotels’ Director of Education and Development who says,” We talk about the Loews Hotels Good Neighbor program on a new employees’ first day within the brand promise and principles, of which one is to embrace corporate social responsibility. We introduce the Loews Hotels Good Neighbor program in orientation and of our charity partner, DonorsChoose.org so that way each employee becomes familiar with and understands what we’re working towards.”

Each property has its own ethos and sub-culture as described by the Loews Hotels employees and yet everyone is united around the global brand vision of philanthropy for community citizenship and a shared cause to support public K-12 schools and education.

Third response to that question is from Emily Goldfisher, former Vice President of Public Relations  now based in the UK, who says, “We wanted to be able to give grants to people from all circumstances inclusive of modest needs grants and have meaningful conversation with staff at all levels from hourly workers to directors from all different departments about what would unite them is their passion for community service.”

To facilitate the Good Neighbor program further into the company’s cultural and operating DNA, employee-run Good Neighbor Councils at each hotel were formally standardized as a process across the brand in 2006. Previously, the company had established councils on each property, but left much of how they were structured up to the individuals. With the re-branding focus including a brand-wide national charity partners and commitment, Loews Hotels capitalized on the best practices as a whole brand despite that earlier councils had been in existence since the program first came to be 20 years ago.  

Any employee can serve on the governing Good Neighbor program Council and oversee the local level implementation of community service programs. Each council meets once a month to talk about the money raised, goal setting, progress and execution of the giving. Every year Loews Hotels even has an employee of the year from any hotel who can win a trip win to Florida with one criterion being their community service. However,there are no monetary incentives for community-minded employees.The perk is self-satisfaction and recognition.

As part of a corporate rebranding in 2007, a primary national charity partner was identified who could also complement ongoing local efforts in the Good Neighbor program. This first national partner was the Modest Needs Foundation, a web based charity with a critical mission to stop the cycle of poverty before it starts for low-income workers. The Modest Needs Foundation provides these hard-working people with grants to cover short-term emergency expenses.

DonorsChoose.org National Charity Partner

In 2010 as part of the 20th anniversary campaign for the Good Neighbor program, Loews Hotels announced a substitution and rotation to a new national, corporate philanthropic partnership with Donorschoose.org, also a web based charity. DonorsChoose.org is a mechanism for Loews Hotels to take any fundraising by individuals and have a delivery mechanism to get resources into the classroom.

DonorsChoose.org is founded by former teachers and serves public schools in all states in the U.S. and matches and engages any individual to be part of the Loews Hotels partnership. DonorsChoose.org is dedicated to helping public school students in need. Public school teachers post special project requests and through Donorschoose.org, they can receive the materials needed.  [Photo caption: Loews Lake Las Vegas’ Good Neighbor program communication board with thank you cards from students for materials funded through DonorsChoose.org

Originally Loews Hotels reached out to DonorsChoose.org and in the end structured a two-year partnership agreement that started in March of this year. As the first national hotel partner for DonorsChoose.org, Loews Hotels hopes to raise more than $200,000 in total for DonorsChoose.org in 2010.

Thalia Theodore Washington, Vice President, Partnerships & Business Development East Region, DonorsChoose.org, relates, “We love partners like Loews Hotels who are passionate about supporting public schools especially where they live and work and are innovative, open-minded, and savvy enough not to be scared of an internet based model charity model and leverage our model and technology.” 

It’s important in any partnership from global to local that each contributor and recipient be able to relate to one another. Through the DonorsChoose.org partnership, Loews Hotels employees can facilitate the impact of any funds raised for the classroom and also be able to receive photos and letters from the teachers and students telling them how they utilized the art book, digital camera and whatever the goods were.

Multiple Bottom Lines Create Multiple Impacts

A core belief of the Loews Hotels is that when employees feel good about their work and community, it will translate into positive attitudes and smiles by which to greet the guests that they serve. People make the difference in a customer service business like the hotel and travel industry. Loews Hotels has built on a venerable tradition within the Tisch family of civic responsibility that has been transported to business employees and partners.

Given the means and processes, Loews Hotels and its Employees demonstrate what creativity, problem-solving skills, and determination can do to tackle the problems our country faces, like the underserved in public K-12 education, right in our own backyards. Customers or guests, like many consumers can align themselves and choose to buy from more socially responsive businesses, inclusive of commitments to both communities and the environment. In this vein, customers can come to Loews Hotels knowing that they bought not only a night’s lodging or a Mom’s day brunch, but also supported a socially responsive company and workforce. Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch says, “Understanding our responsibility as a corporate citizen to our communities is vital, not just during a crisis, but every day. And it's not a luxury, it's a responsibility.”

The people who make up the Loews Hotels through the Good Neighbor program put a Winston Churchill quote into active practice – “We make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give.”

[Editor's Note: Loews Hotels is a 2010 finalist in the Chamber BCLC's annual Corporate Citizenship Awards, U.S. category.