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Roya Sabri headshot

Think Your Team is ‘Too Busy’ to Give Back to Your Community? This Subaru Retailer Has Some Advice

Any leader who thinks they don’t have the bandwidth to pursue community action should talk to Dottie Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Subaru in Gaithersburg, Maryland, who has made championing pet adoption central to her business.
By Roya Sabri
pet adoption

Any business leader who thinks they don’t have the time, energy or manpower to pursue community action should talk to Dottie Fitzgerald, the president and dealer principal of Fitzgerald Subaru of Gaithersburg, Maryland. Her automotive retail group has been putting on a pet adoption event once a month on a Saturday (the busiest day of the sales week) since 2014, right in the showroom. 

Yes, it’s taken a lot of committed effort, but her business has seen a net gain, Fitzgerald told TriplePundit. First of all, she’s happy her auto group can contribute to a cause she cares about — that’s how this all started — but she’s also seen her business thrive as it serves its community in meaningful ways. She says when customers see their store donating resources to a cause they care about, they feel better about their purchases and about the niche the business occupies in the community. And as far as the auto group’s employees go, well, Fitzgerald says it’s all hands-on deck at these pet adoption events. Teams are engaged and ready to help when a need arises. 

When asked whether other businesses would benefit from giving to their communities, even if it seems they just don’t have the bandwidth, Fitzgerald gave a resounding “yes” — and she has a story to prove it. When the retailer’s shelter partner, the Humane Rescue Alliance, asked Fitzgerald to help them find another retailer to support adoptions, she made calls on their behalf. In speaking to one retailer, noticing the leadership’s absorption with work, she said: “Look, I know how busy it is, so let me tell you about what it’s like to do an adoption event.” That team has since put on at least three pet adoption events, receiving great turnout and feedback. 

Beginning with the seed of an idea and persisting 

Fitzgerald Subaru didn’t begin its philanthropic activities with pet adoption. In addition to other pursuits, the retailer has long participated in the Subaru Share the Love Event, through which retailers donate to a charity of their customers’ choosing. One year, customers across the brand’s retail network overwhelmingly chose The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which inspired Fitzgerald to align her passion for protecting animals with her work. Her team contacted the ASPCA for advice on how to go about setting up an adoption event a few years later. Since then, there hasn’t been much to hold the events back, besides pandemic restrictions. The Fitzgerald auto group extends into three states, and monthly events rotate across the locations. 

As you might expect, Fitzgerald’s team also goes above and beyond during Subaru Loves Pets month, the automaker’s pet adoption campaign held annually in October. Having prepared all year, Fitzgerald Subaru is ready to jump into action when the time comes. To celebrate the automaker’s dedication to supporting “Underdogs,” pets with special needs, the team created T-shirts listing senior dogs, blind dogs, deaf dogs, tripod dogs, and shelter dogs as examples of special needs pooches in need of loving homes. Fitzgerald sees every shelter dog as an Underdog, ready for love. 

Last year, over 20,000 pets found homes during the Subaru Loves Pets event, including thousands of Underdogs. More than 600 participating Subaru retailers nationwide donate $100* to a local partner shelter for every dog or cat adopted during Subaru Loves Pets. Over the years, Subaru and its retailers have donated more than $30 million to support the adoption, rescue, transport and health of more than 250,000 animals. 

underdogs - special needs pet adoption
Over 20,000 pets found homes during the Subaru Loves Pets event in 2020, including thousands of pets with special needs, who the company lovingly refers to as "Underdogs."

Why not be a good neighbor to yourself?

The effects of active corporate social responsibility (CSR) are multifold, touching the entire business, as well as the community, Fitzgerald says. She recommends that businesses give to a cause their teams are passionate about, as it’s through genuine passion that Fitzgerald Subaru has been able to forge a connection with its community. 

She only began to recognize the community’s shared interest in animals by reading the retailer’s waiting area bulletin board, where staff regularly posts items of interest about pets, such as food recalls, training and general information. She says customers started to write in their service surveys that they appreciate the board because, “It tells me that you all care about animals like I do, so we continue to do business with you.”

Harvard Business Review contributor Mark Bonchek has this to say about engaging customers through meaningful CSR: “Customers are no longer just consumers; they’re co-creators. They aren’t just passive members of an audience; they are active members of a community. They want to be a part of something; to belong; to influence; to engage. It’s not enough that they feel good about your purpose. They want it to be their purpose too.” 

But the business benefits aren’t why Fitzgerald and her team continue to put on pet adoption events. The goal is always to get as many pets adopted as possible — and, of course, to transform lives. She recalls one memorable moment from just this year during the retailer’s local Subaru Share the Love Event donation check presentation, where one of the retailer’s early adopters from years ago spoke about his dog, Dylan. Fitzgerald recalls, “He's a pit bull mix, and he's obviously had somebody who must have clopped him in the face at some point, but a sweet, sweet, sweet dog. And his father said the adoption actually saved his life.”

Fitzgerald Subaru isn’t located in a small town where everyone knows each other. It’s right in the action of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, but Fitzgerald lives only six miles roundtrip from the store. “I am my own neighbor,” she says, and with that mindset, there’s no wonder she sees little division between business and community. 

*Disclaimer: Subaru Retailers donated $100 for every dog or cat adoption from partner shelters from October 1, 2021 through October 31, 2021, up to $3,100 in total.

This article series is sponsored by Subaru and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team. 

Image credits: New Africa/Adobe Stock and Subaru

Roya Sabri headshot

Roya Sabri is a writer and graphic designer based in Illinois. She writes about the circular economy, advancements in CSR, the environment and equity. As a freelancer, she has worked on communications for nonprofits and multinational organizations. Find her on LinkedIn

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