Melissa Hazelwood and Kelsey Bergan explained how the Ferguson Cares program has been able to expand its impact by narrowing its focus

Ferguson Cares Manager Melissa Hazelwood and Director of Sustainability Kelsey Bergan recently worked together to reinvigorate the Ferguson Cares program by taking a more strategic approach.

When Melissa joined Ferguson Enterprises and helped formulate the Ferguson Cares program, its goal was to make more of an impact on their community — and go beyond textbook philanthropy.

We’re more focused than we’ve ever been, and because we're more focused, we're making much larger impacts. Kelsey Bergan
The program has existed at the company for six years, and its mission is to better the communities where they're located with a focus on five things: hunger, housing, disaster relief, clean water and sanitation, and skilled trades.

“We talked to our customers, associates, and management team and asked, ‘Where do you want us to donate our money?'” Melissa explained. “Because that's where it'll have the most impact, when they're passionate about it.”

Because of the program's ongoing success and Ferguson's growth, they've had the opportunity to expand.

“In the past, our Ferguson Cares efforts were largely focused on the community where our headquarters is located,” Melissa said. “It's our hometown and important for us to support the local nonprofits doing great work in our backyard.”

Ferguson Enterprises has grown nationally in recent decades and now has over 1,400 locations across the country — so the Ferguson Cares team is trying to work with more of them.

“They have largely remained autonomous until now,” she said. “They'll still have the independence to establish partnerships that are meaningful in their community, but we're thinking about how we can help them be a better partner.”

“Virginia will always be our home, but we feel passionate about making an impact in all the communities we serve,” Kelsey said.

While expanding the program's scope, they narrowed their focus by limiting themselves to causes authentic to Ferguson Enterprises.

Originally, Ferguson Cares was involved in all types of causes, but Melissa and Kelsey pointed out they just didn't resonate with the Ferguson brand, their customers, or their associates.

Before, we tried to be everything to everybody, and we weren't making a real impact. Melissa Hazelwood
“Before, we tried to be everything to everybody, and we weren't making a real impact,” Melissa said.

To increase their authenticity, the Ferguson Cares team looked at their business. “We have home, utilities, and industrial products — anything water touches,” Melissa said. She explained they also considered their associates — the “Ferguson Family” — and what they could do to help them during times of hardship or natural disasters.

“We're more focused than we've ever been, and because we're more focused, we're making much larger impacts,” Kelsey said.

They've also improved their communication with customers about Ferguson Enterprises' philanthropy efforts.

“We're starting to talk to our customers about the philanthropy that we do,” Kelsey said. The team has always communicated their efforts to the associates within the organization, but externally, many of their customers don't know about the work they're doing.

“As our philanthropic efforts have grown over time, it's become part of our identity. We feel it's important to share this aspect of Ferguson with our customers as well as our associates,” she said.

Kelsey explained that they've made the shift not only to be more authentic to Ferguson's business strategy, but also to help solve some of their customers' problems — especially when it comes to skilled trades.

They've made a point to gather feedback through Ferguson's customer insights team.

That team travels all across the country, talking to and surveying Ferguson customers to help maintain a high level of service.

“But there's a community piece as a part of the overall survey,” Melissa explained. “It asks what the biggest challenge in the business is right now. And often, they say they can't find any labor, much less quality labor.”

As a customer service-focused company, they wanted to help make more of an impact on programs helping to fill skilled trades pipelines.

With a more focused strategy and more communities to cover, the team has moved toward more national partnerships.

We’ve had to educate our external partners as well as our associates about why we are making this shift in direction. Kelsey Bergan
“Those larger partnerships have staff and resources dedicated full time to these issues,” Kelsey said. “They've been operating in the space for a long time and can do a lot more with our partnership than we could do individually.”

They've started to partner with large organizations doing transformational work, including leaders in the skilled trades space like SkillsUSA and mikeroweWORKS Foundation.

“We're currently researching organizations that are addressing clean water and sanitation in the United States,” she said. “This is our newest partnership initiative and one that we are very excited about.”

To establish those types of partnerships, the team goes through an extensive research process.

According to Melissa, they look at financial statements, annual reports, and websites. “And we talk to a lot of people,” she said.

The Ferguson Cares committee has quarterly meetings to discuss grant requests, which is where the team makes recommendations for partnerships. “We say, ‘Here's all our research on these different organizations. I would suggest bringing in A, B, and C,'” Melissa explained.

Then, they invite the organizations in with a broader group, comprised of people from Ferguson's marketing, PR, sustainability, and communications teams — as well as senior leadership.

“We have the nonprofit present to us, then we take a vote on who we think would be the best one from all those different aspects. And then we move forward with them,” she said.

While the program's shift has been a challenge in some regards, overall, it's been well-received.

We built something special that’s recognized in the community. Melissa Hazelwood
As with any major change, there have been some growing pains. “We've had to educate our external partners as well as our associates about why we are making this shift in direction,” Kelsey said.

But, in general, the updates have been welcomed internally at Ferguson. “Over time, people fell into a giving ‘rut,'” she said. “So now they are glad we're digging more into our funding requests and supporting things that are more aligned with our business.”

Melissa explained it's been exciting to take an already successful program and make it more successful.

“We built something special that's recognized in the community,” she said. “It's fun to see the transformation of being everything to everybody, to this well-rounded program that is still very meaningful, but has a tremendous amount of impact.”

Kelsey emphasized how important a metrics-based approach has been to reinvigorate the program. “We're looking at measurable results and that means following up with all the partners we're funding and understanding if they use the investment the way that we intended,” she said. “We're able to understand how many lives have transformed.”

According to Melissa and Kelsey, the sky's the limit for Ferguson Cares.

Moving forward, the team is committed to make an impact in the clean water space, because just under two-million people in the United States don't have access to clean water or sanitation.

I think the most insightful thing we've done is talk to our customers and understand their challenges, because that's really what has created the backbone for our program. Kelsey Bergan
Melissa also hopes to help connect Ferguson customers with more students and change the way people see skilled trades. “It is a great career path if you want to work with your hands,” she said. “We really want to change the mindset and refill the pipeline of skilled trade professionals.”

“Young people are looking to get into careers that are steady and reliable, and they don't want to take on a lot of college debt,” Kelsey added. “We're seeing that for once the stars are aligning for the skilled trade deficit to really be addressed.”

She's also excited about a new associates' action program the Ferguson Cares team is implementing, where they make a donation to the nonprofit of the associate's choice for a certain number of hours they work in the community.

For other brands looking to revitalize their philanthropy efforts, Melissa and Kelsey's emphasized the importance of communication and patience.

“We're really fortunate in that our mission, vision, and values are very purpose driven,” Kelsey said. “And we know the heart of our business is centered around our customers. So, I think the most insightful thing we've done is talk to our customers and understand their challenges, because that's really what has created the backbone for our program.”

She also explained that change doesn't have to be a bad thing. “Some of the things we've implemented are certainly different from what we did previously, but we're now starting to make real strides towards our philanthropic goals and can see the impact of the change.”

And Melissa added that patience is key when transforming a program like this. “We've learned that it can really take between five and 10 years to make that shift,” she said. “Be patient.”

Melissa Hazelwood and Kelsey Bergan have been members of the CSR Board since 2019. You can connect with Melissa and Kelsey on LinkedIn.