The power of local: Chris Doucet with Ace Hardware shares how they developed an impactful partnership with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals

The first thing I did was go on a two-year roadshow explaining where the money goes, because so many of our stores still thought their funds were going to a national charity. Christine Doucet
According to Ace Foundation Director Chris Doucet, the foundation got started in 1991 when their board of directors realized they were supporting hundreds of different charities — but were making little impact.

They decided to search for and increase their impact with one main charitable partner: Children's Miracle Network Hospitals (CMN).

Chris said they chose CMN because they both share a belief in “the power of local.”

“CMN's mantra is that the money stays where it's raised,” she said. “That was important to our store owners because our stores are individually owned and operated, and they feel strongly about giving back locally. We are your local hardware store.”

She said that mentality fit strongly with CMN, as they're one of the only national charities with a local impact — which means that 100% of the money raised benefits the local CMN Hospital, helping kids and families in that community. She emphasized, because of this structure, none of the money raised in stores goes to overhead or the CMN national office.

In 1991, they raised $25,000. And, in 2019, that number grew to $15.6 million.

That brought their total since 1991 to over $122 million. And, according to Chris, that money comes from three different buckets. For example, of the $15.6 million in 2019, $9 million was donated in-store, $5 million was from their vendor partners, and the rest was from corporate team members in Ace's offices and warehouses, who raised a little over a million dollars.

That annual donation number started steadily increasing in 2012, when the Foundation team began identifying growth opportunities — specifically their stores across the country.

Educating them on how to fundraise, providing the tools, and making it simple has been key. That's our job in the foundation. Christine Doucet
At that time, less than 1,000 of the domestic Ace stores were raising approximately $800,000 annually.

“There'd never been someone focused on the stores, and they felt like there was a huge opportunity to grow donations there. Thus my role was born,” she said. “The first thing I did was go on a two-year roadshow explaining where the money goes, because so many of our stores still thought their funds were going to a national charity.”

She began educating their stores on the structure of the partnership and introduced them to their local hospital.

Then, they began creating the necessary tools to make gathering donations in stores as easy as possible. That meant incorporating the donation tool within their point of sale system.

“It's something they turn on and off at the register whenever they want,” she said. “Our store owners have a lot going on. Because they're small business owners, we needed to make it as easy as possible. So, educating them on how to fundraise, providing the tools, and making it simple has been key. That's our job in the foundation.”

Within the first few years of this in-store fundraising focus, they saw the numbers start to go up.

Chris said it's continued to grow tremendously over the years with over 3700 of their domestic stores donating funds to their local CMN Hospital in 2019.

If I can get those cashiers to the hospital to meet a family, give them those local statistics, and show them where the money's going, that changes everything. Christine Doucet
“We've worked hard to educate our entire company on the why and how, but it's been especially important in our stores,” she said. “Consumers today expect to be asked for a donation at checkout. And they also expect companies to be talking about how they're giving back. So, by spending more time on communicating what we're doing, in the last several years we've seen tremendous increases in store fundraising.”

She said it's also been important for them to empower their cashiers with the information they need, because they're on the front lines and they need to feel confident.

“You're only as comfortable as information you have,” said Chris. “If I can get those cashiers to the hospital to meet a family, give them those local statistics, and show them where the money's going, that changes everything. Because then they understand the ‘why.'”

Chris emphasized that developing the partnerships with CMN and their 154 hospitals has been equally important to their success.

Every local CMN hospital has a team member who works on the Ace Hardware account. The Ace Foundation team works to connect the local hospital representatives with the local store owners.

“My team consists of four people, but we can't do it all,” she said. “We have a strong partnership with the hospitals across the country, and we rely on them to work with whoever is in their market from Ace to raise funds and awareness for their hospital.”

Beyond their in-store efforts, Chris said they've worked to spread awareness throughout the company, and now their CMN partnership is truly part of their culture.

“People want to be part of something meaningful,” she said. “Whether that's understanding how your job contributes to the success of the company or being proud of the work we do for our charitable partners. Our partnership with CMN is a huge engagement piece for the entire company.”

But, she said, you can't force that kind of culture shift — it has to happen gradually and authentically.

Our partnership with CMN is a huge engagement piece for the entire company. Christine Doucet
“We always tell our stores, ‘Make CMN and fundraising what sets you apart,'” said Chris. “That charitable spirit means a lot to the younger generation because they want to know what you're doing to give back and how they can be a part of that. Now, fundraising has become something both at corporate and in our stores we talk about to prospective employees and it's genuine. That's how it becomes part of your culture, when your people are actually contributing to the cause, feel connected to it and understand the ‘why.'”

In order to forge a partnership as strong as theirs with CMN, she said it was necessary to understand what their priorities are.

We need to be completely transparent about where the funds go and how they're being used if we're going to earn the trust of our consumers as well as our employees. Christine Doucet
“They have goals and programs they're trying to grow just like any business does — and we need to be supportive of that,” she said. “One of their big growth programs is dance marathons, which are fundraising events that take place at college campuses across the country. We built that into our plan for last year and this year.”

Chris said it's a priority for them to ensure their partnership with CMN is mutually beneficial, and they have a dedicated team member with the account who she communicates with almost daily to ensure that relationship keeps growing — beyond just the dollars.

From her work developing this partnership over the past seven years, Chris said her main takeaways are that education and transparency are key.

“There's a lot of speculation by consumers about where their money's really going,” she said.

“That's why that 100-percent message is so critical. We need to be completely transparent about where the funds go and how they're being used if we're going to earn the trust of our consumers as well as our employees.”

She also emphasized the importance of sharing the same mission as your partner.

Success is about relationship building, educating, and setting that groundwork. Then the dollars follow. Christine Doucet
“There has to be an authentic reason you're working together,” said Chris. “It can't just be the charity of the moment. Agreeing on the ‘why' is important. For us, our work with CMN Hospitals just further exemplifies our mantra of being the helpful place. We believe there's nothing more helpful than helping kids and families when they need it most.”

She added that it needs to be a two-way partnership where you're supporting each other.

“It'd be hard to do this alone, and it wouldn't feel as good,” she said. “Success is about relationship building, educating, and setting that groundwork. Then the dollars follow.”

Chris Doucet has been a member of the CSR Board since 2019. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.