How to maximize the benefits of good deeds

I know the value of good deeds. A product of nine years of parochial schooling, I grew up learning precepts such as "It is better to give than to receive" and "Virtue is its own reward." Skeptics might contend that this was nothing short of brainwashing and that the months my fellow Junior Catholic Daughters of America and I spent sewing bed pads for hospital patients were a waste of time. However, I respectfully disagree. I can be as self-centered as anyone, but on days when I take the time to offer my seat to an elderly person or pick up the glove that a stranger has dropped, I feel good about myself.

Let's face it, random acts of kindness make the doer and the recipient feel better. And when it comes to your club, such acts have another payoff: They are good for business. "You come to a point in your business and your life when you feel like you don't want it to be all take, take, take," says Tony de Leede, president of Australian Body Works, in Atlanta. "You want to try to leave a legacy of sorts and feel good about the world you're in and the business you're in.

"From the business perspective, we have to be involved in the world around us," de Leede adds. "Increasingly we will live in what Faith Popcorn calls the age of the 'vigilante consumer. ' People will more and more buy what you stand for and who is behind your product.

"Good deeds do more than improve your club's product; they can also enhance the reputation of the health club industry as a whole. "Many people want to do something to extend their lives," says de Leede, "but many have preconceived notions about health clubs. The more we can get out into the community and interact with all sorts of groups, the more we can create warm feelings about ourselves so that people will feel less afraid about walking through our doors."

How can you become a doer of good deeds and make the most of it? Here are some tips:

* Get the word out that you are willing and able to help out. "We put little blurbs in local newspapers and community newsletters about our club's fund-raising capabilities," says Shannon Salisbury, general manager, Clubfit, in Mechanicsville, Va.

* Target an organization or charity.Determine how many churches, schools and charitable organizations are within a three-mile radius of your club. Approach them and say, for example, " 'If you ever do a fund-raiser, we would be prepared to donate a membership,' " advises de Leede. "We're at the point now where we do so much of this."

For example, Egleston Hospital in Atlanta runs a Christmas Tree festival in which decorated trees are sold to the public. Australian Body Works donates a tree and runs an activity center for kids. In return, the club has the hospital's imprimatur to sell Merry Fitness packages, featuring different levels of personal training sessions.

* Keep it simple. "The easiest and most widely practiced deed out there is to give away free memberships," says de Leede. "We are approached constantly, literally daily, by charities and schools. And we rarely say no to anybody."

Rather than give away a yearly membership, however, de Leede sticks to three months. "It's a very effective way to generate business," he says. A three-month membership acts as a catalyst to get someone in the door, and when the membership is up, it's easy to then waive the initiation fee as an incentive to get that person to join. Another plus: While a charity may request a one-year membership, auctioning or raffling off three or four three-month memberships can help it raise even more money. (You, in turn, benefit from the goodwill that giving more than one membership generates and the fact that more than one potential member is experiencing your fitness facility.)

* Be creative. When one of de Leede's employees approached him a few years ago about donating money to her daughter's soccer team, de Leede brainstormed. "Giving money is not a good idea since organizations talk to one another," he notes. If one organization reports that you gave it money, then another will approach you and won't likely understand why you're unable to provide a donation.

Instead of giving money to the soccer team, de Leede decided to provide a tool it could use to raise funds. The result: A 10 for 10 card - 10 visits to the club for $10. (Five visits for $5 also works.) Australian Body Works paid for the printing of the card, and the team sold it.

"Within 30 days of that first promotion, 20 people started to use their 10 for 10s. About 12 joined almost immediately," de Leede re-calls. "This cost us virtually nothing, and we had the benefit of creating warm fuzzies and getting nearly a dozen people to join."

* Don't underestimate the value of getting your name on a flyer or poster along with the name of the local organization. You can buy an ad and leave an impression, but lending your name to a good cause gives you credibility and creates goodwill. "You can do a community deed and get what I call a quality impression," says de Leede. "A good deed is a far more valuable impression to leave on people's minds than an ad is."

* Promote good deeds within your club. At Clubfit, a program called Routine Excellent Service challenges employees "to go above and beyond normal customer service," says Salisbury. Staff members can be nominated for the award for changing a tire for a member on a rainy day or loaning a member who has forgotten her aerobic shoes a pair so she can take a class. Employees receive 15 points per deed and once they reach 100 points, they can choose from a list of 20 prizes - such as a gift certificate for a massage, retail store or restaurant. The program "is great as far as member retention goes," says Salisbury. "It makes the employee feel valued. It makes members feel good about the club. And members who are happy tell other people."

* Sponsor a volunteer T-shirt for an event, such as a race. "We provide some organizations with stuff to give to their volunteers," says de Leede. "We may supply 30 to 50 T-shirts and caps." The club also provides a pop-up tent with its logo that organizations can use to distribute bags and prizes. Not surprisingly it ends up as a back-drop in photos. It's more cost effective than a paid advertisement and generates a lot more good PR.

* Don't be afraid to publicize your good deed. Let the media know about your charitable acts, but exercise discretion. It helps to partner with another organization, notes Salisbury. Then your press release can report on the impending fund-raiser sponsored by, say, the local hospital and Clubfit.

* Get involved in the community personally. Salisbury is a member of the local Rotary Club. "It's a good way to keep tabs on the community and what it needs," she says. "You get to know people who have businesses and you all work together. Plus it's fun."