By Deb Boucher Stetson

The annual Seaside Le Mans “Race for the Cape Cod Community” is an excellent model for business and nonprofit partnerships, because it has all the elements for success. First off, it’s fun, making it a natural draw for participants, spectators and sponsors. Second, it helps a wide range of programs — each year, five different nonprofits are selected as beneficiaries. Third, it is both consistent and varied. Held every September at Mashpee Commons, the event features teams of sponsors driving Formula One karts during a four-hour endurance race, with all sorts of opportunities for people to get involved. Although the basic format is the same each year, it’s flexible enough for additions — like the new “build a bike” introduced this year.

It also goes a long way in building relationships, which seems to be a key component for any business that wants to do well by doing good.

The popular annual event was launched in 2001 by The Davenport Companies after the firm held a corporate team-building exercise at the X1Boston indoor kart-racing facility in Braintree. Participants enjoyed it so much fun that managers decided an outdoor kart race would make a great fundraiser.

And it certainly did: 17 years in, the event has generated over $6.5 million through sponsorships and matching gifts for more than 50 local nonprofits working in the areas of health and human services, social services and children’s services.

The race was created “to encourage active philanthropy in the business community on Cape Cod in a fun, unique and new form,” says Kelsey Ellis, event director at Davenport Companies. “The race is an opportunity to link the mission-driven needs of the nonprofit community and the generosity of local business sponsors.”

Seaside Le Mans is organized and underwritten by The Davenport Companies, working with X1 Boston to provide the karts and manage the race. The firm partners with the Cape Cod Foundation to distribute the funds. Choosing the beneficiaries for each year’s race is the work of The Davenport Companies’ Charitable Giving Committee. Ellis notes it is a rotating committee, made up of a dozen employees representing different aspects of the business. The committee meets throughout the year “to discuss the needs and news in the community,” to determine which organizations will be funded.

“Part of their role is to delve deep into possible nonprofit partners,” Ellis says of the committee. Once the committee chooses the five beneficiaries, it then works with each one to choose a specific funding focus and come up with a plan to match the funding.

Key to the event’s success is involvement by the race beneficiaries — once a nonprofit is selected, it begins recruiting volunteers and spreading the word to supporters, generating excitement. Meanwhile, local businesses are signing up for sponsorships at different levels, single-driver to half-kart and full-kart sponsorships, and sponsors begin networking with the nonprofit beneficiaries, forging new relationships.

“The race engages volunteers and sponsors throughout the year,” Ellis says. Following a kickoff event to announce the beneficiaries, there’s a volunteer orientation, appreciation events to help participants stay connected, and finally a race practice and driver dinner before the actual race day.

Local businesses that sponsor the race form teams and get their employees involved — and the underwriting firm follows suit. At The Davenport Companies, employee involvement in the race is big. While Seaside Le Mans “is an all-hands on deck event for the company,” employees need little prompting to help. Employees from all parts of the company come together to build the track, organize raffles, cover track supervision, help the beneficiaries and connect with spectators.

“It’s a day that so many employees look forward to each year,” Ellis observes, adding, “It is definitely a point of pride to wear an official Pit Crew volunteer T-shirt the day of the race.”

While the overarching goal is to raise money for nonprofits, the Seaside Le Mans also raises awareness of community needs, encourages relationships between businesses and nonprofits and offers employees of both Davenport and sponsoring businesses a way to get involved. That’s important for businesses for a number of reasons.

Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod: Giving Back

At the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod, “It’s not enough to offer exceptional customer service, or the products that help to solve every day problems, people want transparency in the way companies are conducting business, from how they treat their employees, what their environmental impact is, and whether or not they’re contributing charitably,” says Christina Bologna, the bank’s marketing officer. “Especially on the Cape, where we have over 1,500 nonprofits … part of doing business is giving back.”

In forming relationships with local nonprofits, the bank looks to partner with “organizations that are truly making an impact in the community and helping to move the needle on some of the largest issues that face Cape Codders,” she says. In addition, of course, the bank wants to help organizations that have shown fiscal responsibility and have a track record of growth and outreach. “And we also look to partner with organizations that are invested in building their relationship with us,” Bologna says. “That means working with us to find the right fit with sponsorships and grants and allowing us to be part of the positive change they’re creating in our communities.”

The Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod’s Charitable Giving Program is varied and wide-ranging, having donated over $100,000 to local nonprofits since 2009 through the bank’s “Jeans Day” program; purchasing bags used by Cape Kid Meals for the last three years, and supporting more than 200 nonprofits from a Little League team to the United Way.

But equally important to the Coop is the 500-plus hours in employee volunteer time it logs each year. “Our employees aren’t just bankers, they’re community bankers,” Bologna says. “They genuinely want to make our communities better, so we give them as much opportunity as we can by advertising when a nonprofit organization needs new board members, or has volunteer opportunities.” The bank also pays its employees to spend a day volunteering in the United Way Day of Caring.

Volunteer opportunities, she notes, also strengthen the bank as a team, creating camaraderie among employees from different branches and departments who might not normally work together, and helping new employees meet people.

Citrin Cooperman: A Culture of Philanthropy

At Citrin Cooperman, accountants and advisors, “We believe that we have a responsibility to share our success by helping to support not-for-profit organizations in our local communities,” says Alexandria Regan, a partner based at the firm’s Boston Metro office in Braintree. To that end, Citrin Cooperman has an internal committee, CC Cares, that is dedicated to philanthropic efforts. The committee provides opportunities throughout the year for members of the firm to get involved in giving back to their local communities, and also holds annual day of giving, when the firm is closed for the day to allow partners and employees volunteer together at several nonprofit organizations.

“We find that giving back provides us with a unique opportunity to build a team atmosphere and boost morale,” Regan explains. “Community participation enriches our partners’ and employees’ experience which contributes to staff development and enables us to provide well-rounded services to clients.”

What’s good for the community and good for employees is also good for business. “Over the years, we’ve learned that the more we get involved in giving back to the community, the more our networks grow as we develop long-term relationships with organizations and local businesses who share similar values,” Regan observes. “If we can accomplish all of these things while helping to achieve the missions of our local nonprofits and make our communities a better place, everybody wins.”

Sharing this philosophy comes into play in hiring new employees, Regan says, noting its built-in giving model is a draw for top talent. “The firm’s involvement in volunteer and charitable works not only benefits the communities we are in, but also helps to attract and retain like-minded individuals who want to work at a company that prioritizes philanthropy,” she says.

Bringing Organizations Together

This is not surprising to Kristin O’Malley, president and CEO of the Cape Cod Foundation. “Research shows that promoting and providing meaningful volunteer opportunities helps businesses attract top talent and to engage, develop, and retain employees,” she notes.

The Cape Cod Foundation’s involvement in the Seaside Le Mans is a natural, as the Foundation has plenty of expertise in connecting businesses with area nonprofits. Most local businesses are not large enough to run their own philanthropy or community service departments, but by partnering with the Cape Cod Foundation, “They have access to various tools, resources, professionals, and investment strategies that they may not have on their own,” O’Malley says.

Equally important, the Foundation has a big-picture perspective, with knowledge and understanding of the community as a whole and the issues it faces, along with lots of connections. “Because of our unique vantage point, we can work within our networks to create opportunities, forge relationships and leverage impact on a broader scale,” O’Malley explains.

“Every aspect of our community is connected,” she says, and it’s a safe bet the Foundation has touched every aspect in its nearly 30-year history. Since its founding in 1989, the Foundation has distributed more than $65 million in grants and scholarships from a range of more than 300 funds, each established by a business or individual to benefit local organizations. The funds support a wide variety of community causes, including arts and culture; health and human services; education; the environment; housing; community and economic development; and children, youth and families.

Many of the funds are set up by local businesses. “Most businesses establish a fund with us as an alternative to creating their own foundation,” she says. “We help them develop their community engagement strategy and provide critical ‘back office’ support. We also facilitate educational sessions and discussions around community needs for individual fund holders or a collective of donors.”

O’Malley says in her experience, businesses want to do good and make a difference in the community, but don’t always know how to go about it. The Cape Cod Foundation helps them identify what’s important to them. “No two businesses are alike, but every conversation begins the same way: What fuels your passion? Once we know that, our job is to make giving meaningful — and easy,” she says.

Giving back to the community makes a difference on more than one level, she says, noting it not only helps the community, it benefits employees and the businesses themselves.

“Naturally, from a financial standpoint, social responsibility is good for a business’s bottom line and public image,” O’Malley says. “But we are fortunate to be part of a community whose businesses have much greater social insight. They’re investing in our local nonprofit organizations because they provide critical services and programs to all facets of our community, including their employees. It’s a symbiotic relationship; we are all stronger because we work together.”