Doing Good Is Good for Business

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By Betta Ferrendelli

Mother Teresa once said, "We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love."

When one gives monetarily or of their time and effort, the benefits in return are often difficult to measure in words.

Just ask Kate Shipley, CP.

Kate Shipley

Kate Shipley, prepares to fit an AFO on a patient in Haiti.
(Photograph courtesy of Katie Moraco.)

The 28-year-old, who works for De La Torre Orthotics and Prosthetics, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, attended a lecture in 2010 by a colleague who shared his experiences about helping in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake.

"This inspired me to want to go myself," she says. "I felt called to help."

Being in the O&P profession has created "a soft spot in my heart for amputees," says Shipley, who also is part of a family where helping others is second nature. When she was 14 years old, she spent a week on an Indian reservation helping to build a house. "I believe we are obligated to give of ourselves and [our] talents to those less fortunate," she says.

Shipley approached her bosses with the desire to travel to Haiti as a volunteer. She says she asked for one more week of vacation to take the trip. The company, which has a philanthropic history dating back to 1962 with founder Manuel De La Torre, didn't have to think long about her request.

"The management team created a policy to give one employee per year up to one additional week of paid time off to volunteer in an orthotic and/or prosthetic capacity," she says.

In the fall of 2010, Shipley volunteered at Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. No matter how prepared she thought she was, however, she wasn't. "We saw poverty all around," she remembers. "It was worse than I thought it was going to be. No matter how many people I talked to, I still wasn't prepared for what I saw."

14-year-old Haitian girl and her brother

This 14-year-old Haitian girl and her brother went to Hospital Bernard Mevs Project Medishare for her transfemoral prosthesis fitting in the fall of 2010. (Photograph courtesy of Kate Shipley.)

She worked long hours and was provided two meals daily. Most of the time, however, Shipley, like the other volunteers, gave her food away to individuals who were at the hospital waiting for their family member to be treated, she says.

Then Shipley met a 14-year-old girl who came to the hospital for a transfemoral prosthesis fitting. "You could tell that they had taken their time to dress their best that day: dress shoes, slacks, and shirt," says Shipley, who became interested in the O&P profession while attending a college fair in high school.

The socket fit well, and the young girl was able to walk within 30 minutes of trying the prosthesis on for the first time, she says. She left with a smile on her face. "I was moved to tears and blown away at the same time," Shipley remembers. "The girl was very quiet, but you could see her emotions running across her face. I didn't need to speak Creole to know that she was very excited to be walking again."

When Shipley returned home, she says she felt guilty for "the house I had, the car I drove, clean clothes, all the food I had in the refrigerator." Though she would return to Haiti in a "heartbeat," she presently can't afford the cost of another trip. When Shipley is able to return to Haiti to volunteer again, she will go a little more prepared. "I'll bring more stuff to give away," she says.

Not only do trips like Shipley's provide a sense of personal satisfaction, they also can be beneficial for your business. According to a 2010 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Branding Survey, 75 percent of those who have read about a company's social-responsibility agenda on its website reported it made them more likely to purchase products or services from that particular company. Consumers who take a positive view of a company's social investment are more inclined to make recommendations to friends and remain loyal customers, the survey said.

Micki Pawlowski, who has managed the administrative, marketing, and patient-relations aspects for Calumet Orthopedic & Prosthetics, Hobart, Indiana, for nearly 20 years, explains her philosophy regarding philanthropic involvement. "As a small-business owner, we consider our company an investment," she says. "With this philosophy, it's important to recognize the work one has to do to maintain the company's reputation and professional standing in order to remain successful."

Being philanthropic also sends a positive message to the community, Pawlowski says. "It says you're here for the long haul, and you are willing to invest and support the less fortunate."

A Light in Dark Times

Paul De La Torre, CPO, CPed, chairman, De La Torre O&P, follows his family's philosophy when it comes to giving back."With all the disasters that have occurred worldwide, it has given our profession an opportunity to be a light to the world in dark times," he says. "A simple but true statement is 'I'm just giving back.' It sounds simple and mundane, but it's true. I'm a second-generation practitioner, and I have been very blessed. I'm just trying to use my God-given talents to help people in need."

His company, has been part of a medical team that has made humanitarian trips to a small city in Mexico for the last 20 years. On his first trip in 2006, he played "optometrist," and helped to give away more than 2,000 pairs of glasses. "It was amazing to see the looks on their faces when we would put glasses on [them] and they could see the finer print," he says. "The sad part is that whatever we do is just a Band-Aid for these folks' wounds. That's why we go every year."

People Find a Way to Give, Despite the Economy

Though the financial downturn of the last several years has forced many to scale back when it comes to giving, businesses and their employees still find a way.

Ted Muilenburg, CP, LP, FAAOP, president of Muilenburg Prosthetics, Houston, Texas, had to change the way his business gives back to his community.

"With changing times, we've had to shift from providing monetary contributions to providing free services," he says. "What we are doing now is learning how to become more involved with the community." When a business contributes to charitable causes related to its field, Muilenburg says, its value does increase. His company also supports a caring environment toward patients, he says.

"I believe caring individuals in your company support a caring service that leads to return business," he says. "If you do good things for others, good things will come in return."

Muilenburg Prosthetics' past efforts include sponsoring one family after a flood and supplying Christmas gifts to another family. In 2010, the company also provided a free prosthesis to a 42-year-old mother from Kingwood, Texas, who, shortly after giving birth to her third child, contracted streptococcal A and underwent bilateral upper- and lower-limb amputations, Muilenburg says.

One thing has not gotten lost with Muilenburg's O&P business, no matter how hard times have been or will be, he says. "It is our mission to provide the best prosthesis possible. If we can't get it to fit right, we will replace it free as many times as needed."

He says that philosophy leads to customers and clients viewing the business as a place they would be proud to come and would be willing to refer friends. It's important to not only do the right things within the walls of your company but beyond the brick and mortar, Muilenburg says. "Don't help and do things for the publicity or money as [the public] and your employees will see through you," he says. "Not all good intentions work out as planned, but when they are for a good cause, you will retain trust, which is the key to long-term success and the bottom line."

Fund-raiser Continues to Grow

The first Sunday in October for the last eight years, Pawlowski has worked with a group coordinating a wine tasting and silent auction fund-raising event that benefits children in the Hobart, Indiana, area by providing winter clothing. The first year, volunteers raised about $3,000, she says. The most recent fund-raiser netted more than $40,000.

The event grows more successful each year. She says, "It generates good will in the community. Not just by writing a check, but by participating."

Of course, referrals and repeat business do add to a business' bottom line, but it is much more than that, Pawlowski says. "Your company becomes more than just a fancy building on the corner, it becomes human."

Three Iron Equals Charitable Giving

When it comes to charitable giving, a three iron is one of the first things that comes to mind for Rod Cheney, CPO, FAAOP, executive vice president of American Prosthetics & Orthotics (APO), Des Moines, Iowa. His company has been part of the Iowa Amputee Golf Association (IAGA) for the last 20 years. APO provides volunteers, gift-in-kind marketing services, and financial resources annually for the event, Cheney says.

"My father, brother, and I enjoy golf. We have a real soft spot for this organization," he says.

In 2011, APO also started a new venture of giving, the Veterans' Honor Hunt, which helps disabled veterans hunt via adaptations to their equipment. "This is new to us, but here in Iowa hunting is very popular," he says.

For the last two years, APO has been part of the Ponseti Races in Iowa City, Iowa. The race is in honor of a physician who helped children with clubfoot deformities through the University of Iowa, Iowa City, Cheney says. "Our company supports this as a major fund-raiser, along with staff who runs the race."

Cheney says APO recognizes the importance of giving back to the community and, in turn, the benefits for the family-owned business.

The amputee patients APO serves tend to be long-term customers, and, especially in prosthetics, return patients are vital, Cheney says. "Doing any type of charity or philantropic work is good for our bottom line."

Betta Ferrendelli can be reached at