For businesses like the Miami-based Institute for Regional Conservation that rely mostly on grant money to stay afloat, any extra funds are greatly welcomed and appreciated.
The IRC, whose mission is preventing the extinction of rare plants, animals and ecosystems in South Florida and the Caribbean, was the winner of Power Financial Credit Union's first annual small business makeover challenge last year. The business received a $1,000 Staples gift card, private financial consultations with Power Investments, a marketing consultation with the Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based CU's marketing department, a public relations audit from brainstorm2go inc. and financial literacy employee seminars.
The contest's awards went very far, said Patty Castillo, operations director and biologist at the IRC. The business was able to upgrade its front office operations with Staples products, including a shredder, laminator, guillotine paper trimmer, back-up hard drive, zip disks and general office supplies. The rest of the prize will be used to buy a new flat screen monitor, she added.
"Immediately upon winning the contest, Power Financial Credit Union met with us to learn more about our organization, particularly about our fundraising challenges, and shared with us some key financial strategies and growth plans to help us get on track to achieve our goals," Castillo said.
The $480 million Power Financial was so amazed with the success of the small business makeover challenge that it is holding the contest again this year. Businesses with less than 250 employees located in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties can enter by visiting www.powerfi.org and filling out an online entry form. Entries will be accepted through March 31 and the winner will be announced April 5.
Launching the contest sprang from seeing the number of small businesses that were struggling in the midst of a sluggish economy, said Brian Warfel, executive vice president of sales and service at Power Financial. During a tour of the IRC last year, he saw firsthand how the nonprofit firm's important work preserving the environment often doesn't get the attention it deserves.
"When we visited them last year, they were running totally on grant money," Warfel recalled. "With a lot of small companies that run on grants, no one talks with them about long-term marketing plans and the benefits of doing that."
After attending more than 30 town hall meetings last year where he met with personal and business members to find out how the CU could improve its services, Power Financial President/CEO Allan Prindle said that despite the tough economic conditions many were facing, they were open to learning how to navigate through.
"For more than 50 years, we've been dedicated to advancing the financial interests of our members, and this contest demonstrates how small business owners can apply good financial planning and budgeting strategies to help achieve success, even during difficult times," Prindle said.
Warfel said the CU received nearly 30 entries for last year's challenge and all had impressive qualities. He and a few other staffers read through the applications and Prindle picked the winner. Warfel said 2009's contest exceeded their expectations because they were only expecting a dozen or so entries. With the nation still trying to pull out of a recession, he foresees more applications this year. Branch managers have been getting the word out to the CU's select employee groups.
While the IRC is not one of Power Financial's SEGs, several of its employees are members. Warfel said its partnership with Staples is strong and the CU is looking to continue running the contest each year with the hopes of reaching out to even more small businesses.
"We think the makeover challenge does three things. It helps small businesses tell their story, it helps the credit union tell its story and it offers $1,000 to help small businesses get along," he said.