by Beau Arnason
Change for Charity, Steiner + Associates’ innovative and wildly successful community outreach and charitable giving program, recently celebrated its fifteenth anniversary, and the groundbreaking initiative shows no signs of slowing down. To the contrary, Change for Charity is reaching new heights, gifting more money to more charities and community programs, expanding to new venues, and finding new and creative ways to expand its mission and broaden its outreach. Its influence extends well beyond Easton Town Center, where the program originated, making an impact not only across the Steiner portfolio of projects–but also inspiring similar programs around the country.
Despite its influence, Change for Charity came from modest origins: the program started almost as a byproduct of design. While the vast majority of parking spaces at Easton Town Center are free, a small group of on-street parallel parking spaces were included–both for reasons of convenience and as an element that helped to activate the streetscape (an important detail for a project that relies heavily on the energy and dynamism of an animated retail environment). While this satisfied key design and development priorities, it created a potentially dysfunctional dynamic: Steiner CEO Yaromir Steiner and the Easton development team were concerned that prime spaces would be taken by early arriving office and retial tenants, and that these convenient and highly-sought-after spots would remain occupied all day. To discourage that dynamic and ensure appropriate turnover for customers, the development team decided to add time-limited parking meters to the on-street spaces. It was when Steiner went looking for a way to channel the parking proceeds in a community-minded way that it became clear that what had emerged was a unique opportunity: Change for Charity was born. It didn’t take long to see that the program was not only going to generate a significant stream of revenue, but was also an ideal fit for a developer whose philosophy of deep community engagement informs virtually every detail of the design and operation of its retail and mixed-use centers.
The concept behind Change for Charity is surprisingly straightforward: the proceeds from Easton’s metered on-street parking (and, to a lesser extent, any parking tickets that may be incurred) are donated to deserving local and regional charities and non-profit organizations. Each year, six organizations are selected from an extensive applicant pool to be featured as primary annual beneficiaries, while additional funds go toward supporting Easton’s Community Foundation and its charitable giving, community programming and special events. The numbers involved are staggering: since the program was first rolled out in 1999, Change for Charity has donated approximately $5 million directly to worthy local causes and organizations. In addition to the program’s direct charitable support, Easton’s Community Foundation recipients have leveraged those funds to raise an additional $10 million in donations and community events, all raised from the Change for Charity Program.
The 2015 recipients of Easton Town Center’s Change for Charity Program include:
- KIPP Columbus, an innovative schooling concept designed to provide students with access to a transformational education that empowers them with the knowledge, skills and character necessary for success in college and life.
- Maria Tiberi Foundation, an organization committed to facilitating better defensive driver training through resources and education.
- Godman Guild, a group that has been serving Central Ohio since 1898 and offers a variety of neighborhood and community programs.
- Cornerstone of Hope, a resource dedicated to providing support, education, acceptance and hope for the grieving.
The Center for Family Safety and Healing, an organization working to break the cycle of family violence.
- Harmony Project, a non-profit organization created to connect communities across social divides through art, education and volunteerism.
That adaptive flexibility has been part of the key to sustaining and growing the program’s success over the years. While the model remains consistent, the operational mechanics of Change for Charity vary somewhat between different Steiner centers to accommodate local conditions. At Liberty Town Center, which will open just outside of Cincinnati in October, Change for Charity funds will go toward charitable and community programming, both for the communities immediately surrounding the project as well as for the larger Cincinnati metro area.
Change for Charity is not a 501c3: the program simply uses a donor-advised fund and a partner organization (the well regarded Columbus Foundation) to help manage the program’s money and handle the distribution of funds.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect about Change for Charity is that the program is so much more than simply a distributor of funds. Change for Charity recipients benefit from exceptional onsite exposure, including promotional signage and visibility on LCD screens around each project.
Unsurprisingly, Change for Charity has been awarded the highest honor from Columbus Business First’s annual philanthropy/giving awards. But the program’s most important recognition comes much closer to home. As Steiner’s giving initiatives have expanded over the years, the entire program has deployed more than $5 million towards an extraordinary array of charitable organizations, local initiatives, special community events and outreach–including annual scholarship programs for local high schools. Steiner properties have also played host to many fundraising events outside of the program, generating an additional $10 million towards charity. That deep connection to the community has cemented Easton’s role as a true partner, and a local and regional resource with an impact that extends well beyond the bottom line.