The spa industry is well-acquainted with the concept of giving back, but as the country becomes increasingly divided, some spas are feeling more compelled than ever to incorporate a charitable-giving element into their businesses. “With the American political divide and the polarized media, I believe we are all just done with it,” says Michael G. Tompkins, founder of St.ART St. Louis and executive recruiter for Hutchinson Consulting. “The anger needs to be replaced by kindness.” For spas like Sanctuary Spa at Bay Club Redwood Shores (Redwood City, CA), supporting charities and giving back to the local community is an important part of the business model, says lead esthetician Genevieve Billante. “As a local spa, our guests welcome the opportunity to be involved along with us, whether it’s volunteering time, donating products, or hosting a fundraiser event or promotion. Supporting charities is a relationship-building opportunity for our guests and community and attracts new guests to our spa,” she says. Billante supports Project Glimmer, an organization that inspires at-risk teenage girls and women to believe in themselves by giving gifts of beauty products, jewelry, and accessories through nonprofit partners nationwide and hopes to engage with spas on events, product promotions, and other opportunities in the future. “As the majority of our staff and guests are women, supporting a female-focused charity like Project Glimmer aligns
with who we are, helping to inspire and make our guests look and feel beautiful,” she says.
Picking a Cause
Too many options? Experienced spa owners help narrow it down:
“Choose an issue that is close to home and represents your mission. We choose to give back to our community as a sign of our appreciation that it’s the community and their support that has led to our success.”—Tina Morschauser, co-owner, Rejuvenation Spa
“Definitely vet the charity on many levels: Does it speak to your target audience? Is it well run? Attend one of their events, and see how efficient it is. There is nothing worse than poorly run charities wasting hard-earned money. Will you get reasonable exposure from your support? It’s not unreasonable to expect some recognition for your donation of time, money, services, or other resources. We also prefer to donate to causes that are presented by current guests as our thank you to them for their patronage and community spirit.”—Angela Cortright, founder and principal, Spa Gregorie’s
“First and foremost, we choose charities that are aligned with our spa’s values of authenticity and integrity. We also look for charities that have employees and members that will help us with the planning, promotion, and execution of the actual event. Many hands make light work, and it’s always important to have assistance when you do not have a large labor budget.”—Catherine Strange Warren, spa director, Eau Spa
Charity Starts at Home
For many spas, their communities provide the most inspiration. Pueblo Bonito Pacifica Golf & Spa Resort (Cabo San Lucas, Mexico) partners with two organizations that benefit the poor in the surrounding area via a Siesta Turndown Service for guests at The Towers at Pacifica, where suites are stocked with handmade blankets (serapes) available for purchase. The serapes are courtesy of Siestas for Fiestas, a company that promises a Christmas dinner to a disadvantaged Mexican family for every blanket sold, and the resort also donates a portion of the service proceeds to a local charity. Spa Gregorie’s (Newport Beach, CA) supports Susan G. Komen for the Cure. “Breast cancer affects one in eight women in our community—definitely our target audience,” says principal and founder Angela Cortright, whose spa raises close to $50,000 annually for its chosen causes. Be-You-tiful Sol Salon & Med Spa (Lakeville, MN) plans events for a local cause every few months—everything from food drives to free haircuts for veterans to a successful benefit for Wags & Whiskers Animal Rescue. “People love to see local small businesses give back to the community,” says owner Lisa Crouley. Rejuvenation Spa (Madison, WI) also goes with a local approach, allocating monthly funds for silent auctions throughout the community, donating haircuts, and doing back-to-school promotions with an economically challenged area school, says co-owner Tina Morschauser. But the spa’s most successful fundraiser was perhaps its most personal: When a stylist’s daughter was diagnosed with a rare disease, the spa sprung into action, spearheading a crowdfunding effort that raised nearly $25,000 for her expenses. Says Morschauser, “The outpouring of the community went beyond our expectations.”
Choosing a cause you believe in that aligns with community values will also likely appeal to your clientele. Philanthropy doesn’t go unnoticed. According to Spa Gregorie’s Angela Cortright, guests often cite community support as the reason for their patronage. The folks at Rejuvenation Spa (Madison, WI) have received similar feedback. “I’ve met first-time clients who told me they chose to come to our spa due to an event we’ve done or a charity event we’ve donated to,” says Tina Morschauser. Indeed, if executed properly, charitable activities provide more than just a do-good glow. They’re also a great opportunity for self-promotion. “I would say that the majority of our year-over-year growth would be attributed to events, as we do not invest much at all in advertising in print, radio, or television,” says Eau Spa’s Catherine Strange Warren. “If you can promote yourself and generate revenue and interest for local charities, then it is really the best possible scenario.” For Sundae Spa (multiple locations in CT), charitable partnerships such as a monthly team-up with the Make-A-Wish Foundation have proved fruitful in more ways than one. Owner Kimberly Swan estimates that half of her event attendees are new although they do return as clients. “We booked events and parties from our charitable event,” she says. “People didn’t realize we did private parties as well as individual appointment services.” And for spas willing to capitalize on these new connections, charity work comes with a built-in target audience and offers the chance to convert one-off event attendees into regulars. “When we donate to a silent auction event, we require that each attendee receive a Spa Gregorie’s gift card,” says Cortright. “We get repeat traffic as a result, and they’re loyal.”
Follow Your Gut
Even seemingly uncontroversial causes can bring plenty of buzz, both positive and negative, as the Rejuvenation Spa team discovered a few years back. The spa received backlash when it offered a discount to public school teachers battling over health insurance, pay cuts, and pensions, says co-owner Tina Morschauser. Clients complained, but they didn’t take their business elsewhere. “For all the people being snarky, we had the benefit of more teachers respecting us,” she says. Having the courage of your convictions is key, says Catherine Strange Warren, spa director at Eau Spa (Manalapan, FL). “We support what is true and genuine, and the philanthropies we select actually support people, not causes.”
Case Study: A wellness visionary builds a nonprofit from the ground up.
When Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, MO, in 2014 and subjects like institutional racism, police shootings, and social injustice were brought to the forefront of the national conversation, St. Louis resident and industry insider Michael G. Tompkins was moved to make a difference. “I was saddened, living in my own community in St. Louis and witnessing firsthand the strife, racism, and social disparity,” he says. “I wanted to do something, but I came up empty again and again.” During the 2015 ISPA Conference, he sought guidance from keynote speaker Scott Harrison, who advised him “to make the goal small and the big-picture umbrella big, find others who believe in the mission, then engage them to help get funding.” With that, the seeds for St.ART St. Louis—a two-day street-art festival to encourage hope, healing, and positive dialogue through art, scheduled for this fall—were planted.
Tompkins soon turned to grassroots fundraising, much of which has come from the spa world. “I talked to people in our industry who knew me and understood that I wouldn’t ask for money and spend that money if I couldn’t get something done,” he says. It helps that he’s a true believer. “Spa and wellness have been a respite to the outside factors we all face every day, but in many opinions, spa is still viewed as elitist, for rich white American women who want to be pampered,” he says. “We’ve recently turned a huge corner with men and with going from spa being viewed as a luxury to being viewed as a necessity. I’d like to see it now expanded to being available to everyone. Let’s extend a hand to those in need and explore the opportunity to expand diversity. Let’s have spa lead with open arms and offer more options for people of color, find ways for everyone to have the spa experience of their choice, and welcome the world into our doors.” If all goes as planned, St.ART, which takes place Sept. 30 to Oct 1, will raise nearly $700,000 for inner-city and public-sector resiliency programs in St. Louis, says Tompkins.
Learn more about how St.ART was founded and how your spa can get involved.
Travel for Good
As consciousness toward charitable giving increases, wellness travelers are seeking truly altruistic experiences. “They really want to get hands-on, so whether it’s planting food or helping build a house, we’ve noticed there’s a big rise in social-impact travel where people want to get their hands dirty,” says Edward Zaydelman, cofounder of Puerta a la Vida (Costa Rica), a retreat center with a mission of social impact, wellness, and education. He’s noticed a trend toward all-encompassing causes. “Sustainability and wellness are completely intertwined today,” he says. In that same vein, many companies are currently supporting clean water initiatives, says Eau Spa’s Catherine Strange Warren. “WTS International has done a phenomenal job of fundraising in partnership with the Green Spa Network and Global Wellness Day, and their goal is to deliver clean, safe drinking water to developing nations,” she says. “It costs the organization approximately $10,000 to install a community well, and WTS is aiming to raise this amount in partnership with its spas, vendors, and partners.”