Engage and Enhance

Stepping out of the box, Habitat for Humanity pairs donors with recipients.

For years, Habitat for Humanity Oakland County rolled out its affordable home program with little deviation — put out a call for corporate donors, gather volunteers, build or renovate dwellings, and hand the keys over to needy families.

“We got kind of insular,” admits Brad Irwin, director of partnerships for Habitat for Humanity in Pontiac. “We kept going to the same well, but we never looked at where our organization would be in 10 years. Plus, in some cases, a small number of our homeowners were losing their homes due to job losses, medical issues, or budgeting problems.”

Instead of driving the same nail in place, Habitat for Humanity changed course. “It occurred to me and others in our organization that we had 100-plus corporate partners with a goldmine of ideas, and we needed to engage them,” Irwin says. “For instance, how could we build better houses for less money?”

Enter the Business Builds Hope campaign in 2009. By soliciting small to large companies, especially those involved in construction, Habitat for Humanity developed novel programs that better match corporate leaders with Habitat families.

In addition, a new financial education effort has reduced recipient household debt by a collective $200,000 in Oakland County. More energy-efficient and higher-quality dwellings were built, as well.

Longtime corporate donors say the recent changes have improved Habitat’s overall value. “It’s a lot more rewarding to work with Habitat now,” says Doug Maibach, senior vice president of Southfield-based Barton Malow Co., the state’s largest contractor (by revenue). “It used to be we just gave money and volunteered, but now we’re a true partner through the entire process.”